The rapid establishment of rubberwood as an important wood product in furniture and furniture manufacturing, as well as its increasing use in the wood-based panel industry has justifiably been called a `success story.' While Malaysia has been at the forefront of this development, other rubber producing countries in the Asia-Pacific countries have yet to make full use of their potential. What follows below is a list of aspects that will impact on the development of rubberwood's role to the year 2010.
Factors contributing to a positive outlook for rubberwood include:
· Rubberwood's properties, particularly its light color and easy machining will continue to make it a popular substitute for wood from increasingly scarce natural forest trees. Modern heat/steam/vacuum systems have largely mitigated the problems associated with the wood' latex content.
· Environmental concerns in consumer markets will increasingly shift preferences to wood products obtained from plantations. This will give rubberwood an advantage over some of the more traditional tropical woods used in furniture and wood-based panel manufacturing. Recent strides in rubberwood plantation certification confirm this development. On the other hand, rubberwood has to be able to compete with increasingly abundant softwood plantation species, particularly New Zealand pine.
· Where rubber tree planting programs are effective and economically accessible, rubber plantation areas can be maintained, as in Thailand, secure rubberwood supplies can provide the investment security necessary for expanded rubberwood utilization. In Thailand, for instance, potential sawlog and sawnwood availability is projected to increase from 2.8 million m3 to 4.18 million m3 and 0.84 million m3 to 1.25 million m3 from 1997 to 2012, respectively.
Obstacles to increased rubberwood utilization comprise:
· Rubberwood's susceptibility to insect and fungal attacks will continue to make it economically unviable for the majority of rubber producers. Increased accessibility will only come with general socio-economic development, particularly in the transportation sector.
· Trends in the ownership structure indicate that an increasing share of rubber will be produced by smallholders. Their difficulties in profitably utilizing rubberwood will likely bring about shortages where demand outstrips what estates can supply. In Malaysia, for instance, where both estate and smallholding areas have been declining since the 1980s, sawlog availability is expected to decrease from more than 1.3 million m3 in 2000 to less than 0.5 million m3 in 2010 and sawnwood availability from more than 300,000 m3 to just over 100,000 m3. In Indonesia, estate areas have declining as well, but improving current underutilization may compensate for the smaller volume of mature trees available to 2010.
· Localized supply shortages and associated price developments may end rubberwood's comparative advantage over other wood species. Since rubberwood comes in small sizes, it is suitable for the wood-based panel industry. If Malaysia's OSB trials become applied at larger scales, for instance, competition for rubberwood between furniture and panel manufacturers may lead to further price hikes.
As has been indicated earlier, the relative lack of information makes more specific projections impossible. It is to be hoped that the effort displayed in this article can serve as a motivation for future in-depth work.