Rubber Tappers on Koh Yao Noi
In Southern Thailand, rubber is the main cash crop for many farmers. This is also true for Koh Yao Noi in Phang Nga which I visited at the weekend. On this island, only 30% are fishermen and 60% are rubber tappers. But, I think it is the kind of occupation that you need to support with other work like fishing. Not only has the price of rubber halved in recent years, but tappers cannot work if it is raining.
On Koh Yao Noi, most trees seem to be either rubber trees or coconut trees. Rubber trees are ready for tapping after about 5-6 years. This can then continue for about 25-30 years. Rubber tree plantations are easy to spot as the trees are tall and thin and evenly spaced. The big giveaway, though, are the cups that are fixed around the trunk of tree. These are sometimes made from coconut shells cut in half.
Rubber tapping is usually done during the cool of night as that is when the latex from the trees flows more easily. The rubber tapper uses a special knife to quickly go from tree to tree to cut and remove a thin layer of bark in a downward spiral around the trunk. At the bottom of this are the cups ready to catch the latex. This is done on one side for five years and then they switch to the other side. This allows the tree to recover.
After the latex stops flowing, it is then collected in a bigger container. Chemicals are then mixed with the latex before it is passed through presses which look a bit like an old fashioned wringer that was used in the past to squeeze water from clothes. On this trip I didn’t see any rubber tappers at work. It was mainly empty cups attached to the trees and these sheets of rubbers hanging up to dry. Notice the two different colours. The pure white sheets were recently produced while the others had already been hanging for several weeks.
If you can add any more information then please post in the comments. I am always open to learn something new or to be corrected.
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Nowadays, in Malaysia, there punch a hole on the tree and pumps in ethylene to increase the production of latex.