Business Times

Additional income from rubber plantations and new carbon negative concept

By Dr L M K Tillekeratne

When rubber prices were below Rs. 40/kg in 2002, an attempt was made by some plantation companies, supported by some of the state organizations, to diversify their rubber lands into the so called “Golden Crop” or the “Sunrise Crop” oil palm.

This was countered by an effective protest campaign launched by the RRI Sri Lanka to protect the rubber industry by showing statistics of increasing global demand for rubber, and hence predicting a price of over Rs. 100/kg of rubber by 2005. As predicted by RRI scientists, the rubber prices started improving from the 3rd quarter of 2004 and reached Rs 150/kg in a few months and by now it has exceeded Rs 350/per kg levels. Thanks to this solitary effort of the RRI, the plantation companies are benefiting today from increased income from their rubber plantations, which is over and above the income from any other agricultural crop in Sri Lanka. The global demand for rubber is still increasing and prices of rubber are expected to go up further in the future.

This article looks at another unexpected source of income for rubber planters by way of carbon trading to offset global warming caused by the accumulation of carbon dioxide gas in the upper atmosphere. This phenomenon, commonly known as the “Green House Effect,” is also contributed to by other gases such as marsh gas or methane and the oxides of nitrogen liberated during lightning and from industries. Out of these greenhouse gases the major contributory gas is carbon dioxide, which fortunately can be removed by chemical or natural means. Mother Nature’s method of removing carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere is by converting it to cellulose by perennial trees, a phenomenon known as carbon sequestration. Hence, a major focus of all environmentalists in the world today is on carbon sequestration, in order to prevent the submergence of nearly 3% of the land area of the entire world by the sea, predicted to be caused by a rise in temperature of the upper atmosphere by 2 to 5 degrees Celsius by the turn of the 21st century.

To qualify for carbon trading under the Clean Development Mechanism, approval of the Designated Natural Authority must be obtained for the project report and to qualify for trading, further actions must be taken to verify emission reductions. Rubber timber harvested after the 25 -30 year cycle of the rubber tree should not be burnt to release the sequestrated carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Conversion of the harvested trees to treated rubber wood furniture is a necessity to qualify for carbon trading.
According to internationally accepted carbon sequestration figures, during the 25 year cycle of the rubber tree in the field, tree bio mass contributes to 139 tons of carbon per hectare in 25 years, assuming that there are 415 mature trees surviving in te field. In addition, the leaves and branches account for another 50 tons, top soil accounts for 49 tons and the latex harvested over this period contributes to another 28.66 tons, thereby making a total bio mass of 266.6 tons over 25 years or 10.66 tons of carbon per hectare per year. Hence, in proportion to carbon in carbon dioxide, the total amount of carbon dioxide sequestrated by a hectare of rubber per year is 39.02 tons.

Based on the initial rate of US $ 22 proposed for trading a kilo of carbon dioxide, the additional income that can be earned from a hectare of rubber per year is US$ 5856.4 (Rs.667,629.60). This is in addition to the income generated by tapping and selling rubber at the market price over the total mature period of nearly 20 years and also in addition to the price gained by selling old trees for furniture manufacture. In essence, this most environmentally-friendly crop, which was labeled as a “Sun Set” crop eight years ago, will provide income to the farmer from latex sale, timber sale and over and above all that from carbon trading, while enabling the citizens to have an uninterrupted power supply and sufficient drinking water in the future too.

Carbon Negative Concept

Carbon Negative Mechanism is a new concept developed by Nippon Nature Foams International of Sri Lanka, and it has now been registered in the US for copy rights. According to this mechanism, the net carbon dioxide effect in the production of a commodity product like a latex foam mattress or a foam pillow is indicated by a number, which is the difference between the total carbon dioxide absorbed by the tree to produce the latex required for the manufacture of that product and the total carbon dioxide emitted in manufacturing the product from the point of collection of latex to manufacturing the final product, including the electricity and furnace oil used and even carbon dioxide released in packing and transportation of the product. It has been found that in the case of latex products the net figure is negative and is represented as the carbon negative factor for that product.

Based on a set of indices, the negative factor (figure) will be displayed on the product packing in order to give the consumer a feel about the magnitude of his contribution to save the world from submerging in water towards the turn of this century.

It is believed that this new concept will be a major tool for minimizing greenhouse effect.

(The writer was the Former Director, Rubber Research Institute)

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