Natural Rubber Industry

In the late 1800's the advent of autos and bicycles created a need for rubber or latex products.

Facts and Figures

Natural Rubber comes from the Rainforest.

Rubber gives us surgical gloves, balloons, band-aids, sporting goods, tennis shoes, and chewing gum. Imagine a world without sneakers and bubble gum.

Natural rubber resists heat. If you have ever flown in a aeroplane , you landed safely on tyres made of natural rubber.

Rubber trees are among the taller trees in the rain forest. Just under the bark of the rubber trees is a soft tissue that is rich with a creamy liquid called latex. Slanting cuts in the bark of a rubber tree guide the sap into a small cup which is then gathered by Rubber Tappers.

Most Amazonian rubber is still produced in the same way it was 100 years ago. The latex collected in the forest is slowly dripped on a pole, which is turned by hand in the smoke of a palm nut fire. The latex hardens to a tough, rubbery mass.

There can be as many as six hundred wild rubber trees in one thousand acres of rainforest. Because these trees are widely scattered in the forest, they are more resistant to disease.

When they are planted close together in rows on rubber plantations, they are susceptible to a fungus called the South America leaf blight.

Rubber trees must be about 5 years old before they produce latex.


Wild rubber trees grow throughout the forest and thrive only in these conditions in South America. In Asia plantations are possible without the danger of the leaf blight which occurs in South America.

Many indigenous peoples earn their living in the Amazon through this rubber tapping and through gathering other things like nuts, herbs and medicines, spices, fruits, fish etc,. They do this without harming the delicate balance of the rainforest.

Rubber tappers are called 'Seringueiros' - Say-rin-gay-eros.

Today, the Seringueiros maintain a higher standard of living than do the slash and burn farmers. They have also lost only 4% of their forests.

Chico Mendes was the leader of the Tappers union and he survived 5 attempts on his life. Chico Mendes defended the rubber tappers way of life. He was killed at age 44 by gunmen hired by ranchers.

Mendes organized a cooperative and literacy campaign to help the tappers market and compete directly. He formed the National Council of Rubber Tappers.

The rubber barons and bosses enslaved many indigenous peoples. When many tribes retreated into the forest, they brought peasants into their camps and locked them into a debt for goods scheme, similar to miners of that day. Tappers who questioned authority were tortured or killed.

in 1985, the rubber tappers met and demanded better health care, education, credit, price guarantees, research on sustainable forest products and a suspension of tax breaks for ranchers and loggers.

'Extractive Reserve' is the name given to land saved for sustainable forest gatherers. Extractive Reserves allow residents families to collect rain forest products, such as natural rubber and Brazil nuts. Sustainable rainforest practices offer the solution to rainforest destruction.

In Brazil, more than 700,000 acres of land have been preserved through creating these reserves.