The news that Bridgestone, the world’s leading tyre manufacturer, has started producing natural rubber models should not mislead us. This is mainly due to the fact that oil’s price, with which tyres have always been manufactured, has increased disproportionately, as has the demand from China.
The plant in question is Hevea Brasiliensis, originally from the Amazon, but imported in 1800 to Asia, whose latex, thanks to its elastic and water-repellent properties, makes it ideal for the production of clothing, medical materials, road tyres, mechanical seals, etc..
Today, Vietnam, China, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia meet 90% of the world’s natural rubber requirements.
The strong increase in demand has led the producing countries to look around for arable areas available to meet them and Laos and Cambodia, given their perennial state of poverty, have seized the opportunity to fly and have applied promptly to become two giant plantations of natural rubber.
It has been estimated that in Laos today 5% of the national territory is in the hands of foreign multinationals with interests in the natural rubber business.
Although these large-scale concessions bring money into the country, the damage they cause is priceless. Deforestation to make room for rubber trees is destroying the ecosystem of the entire forest, erasing the natural habitat of animals and plants. The water basins used for irrigation are almost drained and rural villages have also begun to make room for infrastructure that is useful for cultivation.
Estimates indicate that needs will continue to increase and – despite the fact that this conversion to rubber represents a very serious damage for rural communities – these populations are helpless in front of multinational companies and even those few timid revolts are silenced by force.