Building a sustainable natural rubber supply chain that supports Brazil’s traditional tappers.
Native rubber tapping in Brazil is a dying art. Unable to compete with rubber plantations, seringueiros – traditional rubber tappers – commonly turn to farming or cattle ranching to earn a living. Attempts via government subsidies have proven insufficient to reverse the decade-long decline. Now instead of supporting forests, tappers are increasingly pressured into industries that present the biggest threats to forest boundaries.
In Acre, the story of the declining native rubber tapping industry has long been marked by land conflicts between traditional tappers and land-grabbers. After a series of traumatic episodes of the 1980s, rubber tapping communities welcomed the opening of the Chico Mendes Extractives Reserve in 1991 as a model of communal land governance.
Named in memory of the environmental and social activist whose fight for rubber tappers and forest protection prompted his assassination, the Reserve now tops the list of legally preserved areas with the highest deforestation pressures in Brazil.
French sneaker company Veja, whose business model is built on on sustainability and fair trade, has been working to turn things around for native rubber tappers.
Veja began in 2003 with a bold aim: producing the most sustainable pair of trainers in the world. Since then, it has become a certified B-Corp company and is in the process of achieving Fairtrade certification. It has a well-established relationship with tappers in Acre, who provide the rubber for Veja’s soles. Veja pays above market prices to producers who are mostly organised into local associations and has recently started a Payments for Social and Environmental Services (PSES) scheme with the communities they buy from.
As of 2019, Veja has acquired more than 200 tonnes of wild rubber from 300-strong pool of rubber tappers. But production is on the rise and Veja now needs support to safeguard their supply and ensure sustainability within the growing supply chain.
P4F is working with Veja to expand. The project will engage new tappers who commit to a zero-deforestation agreement, which Veja will monitor using a third-party mechanism. Premium prices, payed via the PSES scheme, will also be incentives for tappers to comply.
A big project component will be in creating a sustainability agreement, through a participatory approach, that formalises the guidelines and rules for receiving PSES. Other major focus areas will be management and governance training for rubber tapper associations and a carbon insetting framework that both absorbs Veja’s carbon footprint and directly benefits the rubber communities.
For each kilo of harvested rubber in Veja’s supply chain, 1.2 hectares of forest is protected every year.
Veja has already signed new sustainable production agreements with eight cooperatives. The project number is set to grow over the coming year, providing improved incomes for more seringueiro communities.
In total, the project will bring 200 new rubber tappers from six different associations into Veja’s supply chain, including two extractive reserves. Doing so is set to benefit at least 500 rubber tappers and improve the sustainable land management of over 90,000 hectares of Acre State.
- Resex Chico Mendes, Vale do Juruá, Acre
- Veja Shoes, Veja Fair trade, SOS Amazônia, IDS (Instituto de Desenvolvimento Social), Idesam
- Hectares under sustainable land use
- 150,000 (by 2020)
- Private investment mobilised
- £900,000 (by 2020)
- People supported
- Around 500 rubber tappers