A project by the Department of Science and Technology-Forest Products Research and Development Institute (DOST-FPRDI) in Zamboanga Sibugay has provided a boost to the Philippine rubber industry, helping one of the province’s two processing plants produce export-quality rubber.
The Philippine Pioneer Rubber Products Corporation (PPRPC) in Zamboanga Sibugay now makes high quality rubber products, thanks to a project called “Optimization and Improvement of Processes in the Production of Technically Specified Rubber (TSR) and Demonstration of the Improved Facilities in Zamboanga Peninsula.”
“Our natural rubber sector has long been bugged by all kinds of problems – improper harvesting, old machines, poor rubber quality and lack of competitive products,” said project leader Belen B. Bisana.
“With funds from the DOST-Small Enterprises Technology Upgrading Program (DOST-SETUP), the plant was able to replace its old machines with modern ones,” Bisana said.
“Our project, on the other hand, introduced better processing methods which helped upgrade its production system. It can now remove large particle adulterants from rubber cup lumps, reduce the size and clean these lumps, and make evenly dried, uniformly sized and shaped TSR. It now produces high quality rubber that meets world standards, and PPRPC is now a full-scale demonstration plant of some of the best practices in rubber processing,” she added.
Grown in plantations in tropical countries, the rubber tree produces latex, a sticky, milky sap that is collected once the tree matures. Tappers make cuts in the bark to extract the sap, with mature trees able to produce latex for about 25 years.
Once it thickens into a semi-solid state, the latex is manufactured into a form that passes accepted standards (called technically specified rubber or TSR). TSR is used in a wide range of products, either alone or mixed with other materials.
Of the 15 billion kilos of rubber produced globally each year, only about one-third is natural rubber; the majority is produced from petroleum by-products. The biggest user of global rubber production, both man-made and natural, is the automotive industry.
Bisana explained, “FPRDI initiated the project because it sees the huge potential of the country’s natural rubber industry. According to experts, the 2015 world deficit in natural rubber amounted to 125,000 metric tons, and could balloon to 1.067 million metric tons by 2030. This big possible market is something we must take advantage of.”
Rubber trees are grown on 217,000 hectares in various parts of the country, but mostly in Mindanao. Of the 450,000 metric tons of rubber produced in the Philippines in 2014, about half came from the Zamboanga provinces.
The Zamboanga project ran from October 2013 to June 2016 and was funded by DOST grants-in-aid. Aside from the PPRPC upgrading, the project also published training manuals and trained rubber farmers, tappers, and rubber processing plant workers in tending and harvesting rubber trees.