Rubber Industry has emerged as a growing sector in Bangladesh following the massive rubber plantation in the eastern and north-eastern hilly regions. The land of these regions is least fertile, but more suitable for rubber and tea plantation and afforestation than the growing of regular crops. However, rubber plantation is more profitable than afforesfation and tea plantation in terms of optimum utilisation of land, higher employment generation, less investment of foreign currency and better environment management.
The Department of Forest in Bangladesh brought several thousand rubber seeds and some budded saplings from Malaysia and Sri Lanka in 1952 and planted those on experimental basis in Chittagong and Madhupur (Tangail) areas. In 1959 rubber expert of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) conducted a feasibility study on the potentiality of rubber plantation in Bangladesh and on the basis of his recommendation, the then government decided to launch commercial rubber plantation in this country. The Department of Forest took up a pilot project, 'Rubber Plantation Programme' in 1960 on 710 acres of land. During the implementation period, the 5-year long project was amended for the expansion of its command area from 710 to 3000 acres. In 1962, the Forest Industries Development Corporation (present BFIDC) was made the implementing agency of the project. The success of the pilot project inspired the government to take another 5-year long project in 1965 for rubber plantation on 10,500 acres of land with processing of rubber.
During 1960-1973, BFIDC earmarked a total of 7,700 acres of forest land of Chittagong and Sylhet to develop rubber gardens there. But rubber gardens could be set up on 2000 acres of which only 400 acres became matured to yield within the project period. In this context in 1974, the government took up a rehabilitation programme for the rubber plantation project with provisions of more investment, infrastructural development, re-plantation of rubber trees, and research and training facilities.
The government took up a plan to create rubber gardens over 70,000 acres of fallow and infertile land, unsuitable for yielding of food grain and other crops during the second 5 year plan period (1980-81 to 1984-85) of which 40,000 acres belonged to the government and the rest was private land. BFIDC began to plant high yielding variety of rubber saplings from 1980-81, and by 1997 it developed 16 rubber gardens on an area of 32,635 acres in Chittagong, Sylhet and Madhupur regions. About 80% saplings of rubber gardens raised by BFIDC were RRIM-600 and PB-235 clone varieties of Malaysia. Each of the clone trees yields about 3 kg of rubber per year. At present (2011), there are 3.5 million rubber trees in the BFIDC gardens of which 2 million trees have attained the production-stage.
Meanwhile a total of 32,550 acres of land of Bandarban Hill District were allotted to 1302 individuals and organisations (25 acres per head) for rubber plantation. An 18 member standing committee was formed with the Commissioner of Chittagong Division as its chief to select the potential rubber planters and to allot them land for rubber gardens. Moreover, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board has developed rubber gardens on 13,000 acres of land. Various multinational companies, small and medium private enterprises including tea garden areas have rubber gardens of 20,800 acres.
BFIDC went into commercial production of rubber for the first time in the country in 1967-68 and produced 0.7 metric tons of rubber. BFIDC's annual production of rubber which was 55 metric tons in 1972-73, increased to 429 metric tons in 1978-79. Eventually this figure went up to 6,100 metric tons in 2008-09. Private sector gardens also produced 5,500 metric tons in the same year. BFIDC sold out its rubber at the rate of taka 220-250 per kg in open tender. Accordingly it is assumed that only in 2008-09, the country had earned 2550 million taka from 11,600 metric tons of rubber.
The average life of a rubber plant is generally 32 to 34 years. On the expiry of the period the old trees are replaced by new plantation. Every tree gives 5 to 8 cubic feet of timber. There is no authentic data on total production and consumption of natural rubber and the number of rubber-based industrial plants established in the country so far. The following table shows the trend of total production and consumption of rubber in Bangladesh per year (in metric ton):
In the pre-liberation period, there were 10 to 15 rubber based factories in East Pakistan. After the liberation nearly 400 small and medium scale factories were set up in private sector with the increase of production and demand of rubber. These plants are producing tyre-tube of rickshaws and other light vehicles, shoes, foot wears, pipe, bucket, gasket, wellseal, automobile parts, jute and textile spares etc using the locally extracted rubber as raw material. Meanwhile, a high-tech latex (rubber) concentrated plant has been established by a private entrepreneur at Chakoria in Cox's Bazar district.
Rubber timber was used as fire-wood in Bangladesh in near past. But now, timber extracted from BFIDC's rubber gardens is processed scientifically by its Timber Treatment and Seasoning Unit to make high class furniture and home decors like doors and windows. Rubber timber is as like as high class timber in terms of quality and durability. [Md Elias]