Cultivating inequality? Regional rubber dynamics and implications for voluntary sustainability programs in Lao PDR

TitleCultivating inequality? Regional rubber dynamics and implications for voluntary sustainability programs in Lao PDR
Annotated RecordNot Annotated
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsTraldi R, Silva JA, Potapov P, Tyukavina A, Epprecht M, Gore ML, Phompila C
Secondary TitleWorld Development
PublisherThe Author(s)
Key themesCivilSociety-Donors, Dispossession-grabbing, Distribution, Environment, FDI

The Southeast Asian rubber boom beginning in the early 2000′s shaped a myriad of socioeconomic and environmental consequences, including deforestation, ecosystem impacts, shifts in community livelihoods, and altered local access to land and resources. Although there has been significant research assessing rubber production in this region, there has been less focus on economic inequality and polarization outcomes in rubber producing areas. This analysis explores the extent to which rubber production growth was associated with changes in rural economic inequality and polarization from 2007/08 to 2012/13, using Lao PDR as a case study. We also investigate the implications of these changes for voluntary sustainability programs focused on rubber production. We achieve this through a synthesis of land-use change and economic data. First, we estimate rubber plantation extent based on Landsat time series data and supervised classification. We combine this with household expenditures data from the Laos Expenditure and Consumption Survey from 2007/08 to 2012/13, conducting Gini decomposition and Duclos Esteban Ray Index calculations to explore economic inequality and polarization in rubber and non-rubber producing areas. Our results indicate that rubber areas experience greater inequality and polarization compared to non-rubber areas. The Northern, Central, and Southern regions experience different economic inequality and polarization outcomes – inequality-enhancing effects appear to be greatest in the South, where large-scale concessions dominate rubber production. We assess the implications of our findings for voluntary rubber sustainability programs, arguing that these programs should address systemic drivers of inequality and polarization, including dispossession from land and forest resources, insufficient worker protections, livelihood vulnerability, and barriers for smallholders. Overall, our results underscore the importance of strong regulation, multi-stakeholder action, and environmental and social performance criteria in rubber production.


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Journal Article