Rubber tree: from latex dripping from the tree to solid sheets
Our garden is located in a rubber plantation. There are about 150 trees. The trees are about seven years old, and ready to be tapped. The trees are strong and the quality is good.
Seven years... it takes a long time before the rubber tapper can start working. All those years they have to take care, but there is no income. If the owner is different from the tapper they will share the profit: 60%- 40% if the quantity is not so good (The tapper gets more) or 50%-50% (good trees with good quantity when tapped). During the seven years the owner will give housing, food and pocket money or a monthly salary.
The trees are planted in rows. Between the trees is a distance of 3 meters. Between the rows, there is a distance of 7 meters.
When the tapping starts the coconut shells or bowls are placed on an iron 'string' around the trees. Bowls are turned upwards or downwards. When they collec, they take the bowl out to empty properly.
The rubber tapper will start working a few hours after midnight. They can only tap when the weather is good: that means dry. In Phangnga that is about 100 /120 days per year. (Yes, it rains a lot!)
Early morning they collect the latex. When you wake up at 6 o'clock you can see them working in the garden!
Selling liquid latex, or making sheets?
After collecting the latex the workers have two posibilities: they can continue to work and make sheets, or they sell to the 'middle man'. In gardens nearby they all sell the liquid latex. They wait for the car with the tank on top to come and after weighing the kilo's of pure latex they get paid on the spot and go home. The middle man will test how much water is in the latex. Of course that percentage will be deducted. In the past you could add water and get paid for latex.... Clever or unfair?
When they make sheets they put the liquid latex in a flat, low, metal box. They add a kind of acid and it will get solid. A block of latex is the result. Then they put the latex into a 'wringer'. Water and liquid is pressed out, the block of latex also flatten again. They repeat till it is like a 'door mat' . The last time they put a pattern on it by a kind of waltz (or rolling machine). The latex sheets are white. The workers wash them in the stream and then they need to dry. It turns yellow/brown and after that process the sheets are ready to be sold. On the back of the motorcycle they bring them to the buyer. Because of the more work involved, they get a higher price per kilo.