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Amazon rubber tappers tell their story

 

Deep within the Amazon, rubber trees grow wild in their native rainforest home. They provide the livelihood for rubber tappers, who have developed an intimate and caring relationship with the rubber trees and their rainforest surroundings. They tell their story here, through two short videos.

In this video rubber tapper Sebastiao speaks of the importance of the rainforest to him. The rainforest is alive and perfect in every way.

“The rubber tree is the mother who has raised many nations” –  Raimundo, rubber tapper.

WWF, as part of our partnership with Sky, has been supporting Sebastiao, Pedro, Raimundo and Andrea and others like them in four associations of rubber tappers in Acre state, Brazil to produce a higher value form of rubber sheet in-situ – using a process that can be seen in the two videos.

Sebastiao and Raimundo speak of the difference this has made to their lives, such as the home improvements that have been possible thanks to having better market conditions for their rubber.

Andrea speaks of how women also play a vital role in the process of producing the wild rubber sheets and are now starting to create their own handicrafts with this sustainable rainforest material.

Challenges not to be sniffed at

Taking a partnership approach has been central to this work. For example, a key partner has been Floriano Pastore at the University of Brasilia. Floriano is the rubber expert who first developed the techniques for producing value-added rubber sheets. Recently Floriano has been working with us to address a particular challenge: the fact that rubber smells very rubbery!

The rubbery smell is not much of a concern for some buyers, for example when it gets processed into shoe soles. But we are also supporting the production of coloured rubber sheets that are turned into final products without any other processing than that which happens in the forest by the rubber tappers themselves. This rubber is crafted into beautiful jewellery by designer Flavia Amadeu and can be used for other handicraft products.

Female rubber tapper hanging rubber strips out to dry © Adrian SteirnFemale rubber tapper hanging rubber strips out to dry © Adrian Steirn

Floriano has spent many months researching different methods of reducing the natural rubber smell and perfuming the sheets with natural essences. He was recently able to take the results of his research into the Sky Rainforest Rescue project area, to share with the rubber tappers. The second film has footage of the first sheets being produced using this new approach. Of the essences tested, the best results were from wild flowers, green leaves and Brazil nuts. Brazil nuts and wild rubber are both sustainably harvested forest products important to Acre’s economy, so it’s a match made in rainforest heaven!

And at the same time, another important advance was made. The key ingredient for turning liquid latex into rubber sheets is a type of acid made from the burning of wood, known locally as “liquid smoke”. This ingredient has only been available from a state located 2,500 miles away from Acre. You can imagine how difficult and costly this has made its purchase for rubber tappers living in remote areas of the rainforest. There is now a fully operational kiln set up in the local town of Tarauaca, close to our project area, and another in construction in another part of the state. The local cooperatives in charge of production are testing the use of rainforest bamboo instead of timber to produce this vital ingredient. These two kilns will supply rubber tappers across the whole of Acre state, bringing costs down and improving the sustainability of this supply chain.

Overcoming these challenges has been possible thanks to the Sky Rainforest Rescue project and partnership such as the one with Floriano. With each piece of progress, we open up new and exciting opportunities for sustainable rainforest products such as wild rubber to improve lives and help keep rainforest standing.

Visit our Amazon pages to learn more about our work in the Amazon

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