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CAB Reviews

A reviews journal covering agriculture, global health, nutrition, natural resources and veterinary science

CAB Review

Environmental and socio-economic impacts of rubber cultivation in the Mekong region: challenges for sustainable land use.


More than 90% of the global natural rubber production originates from monoculture plantations in tropical Asia, especially from countries forming the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). Rubber cultivation is expected to further increase strongly in the near future, particularly at the expense of natural forests, and is accompanied by various problems and threats to farmers and the environment. Implications on carbon balance and hydrological conditions as well as socio-economic consequences referring to the situation in the GMS are reviewed. Results indicate considerable changes in ecosystem functions and services at different spatial and temporal scales with impacts on carbon stocks and sequestration, water quality and quantity, runoff and soil erosion. The long-term dependency on rubber as a single crop affects the socio-economic conditions and livelihood of the farmers and exposes them to economic and ecological hazards. Solutions for these interrelated problems require the development of alternative land-use systems and safeguarding important ecosystem functions and services on the one hand as well as providing economic viability on the other. Common suggestions include crop diversification and improved plantation management on the farm scale, and alternative land-use strategies including conservation and restoration of forest on the landscape scale. Successful implementation of more sustainable concepts is only feasible within a socio-economic framework, involving farmers and political decision-makers in the conceptualization process and the identification of trade-offs between ecological requirements and economic feasibility.