Like many cooperatives in the South, the 25-year-old Chandee Rubber Cooperation Co in Nakhon Si Thammarat makes rubber sheets for sale domestically.
But what sets it apart from others is its determination to adjust to changing market environments, an effort that has paid off handsomely.
Chandee has just shifted focus to a new business _ making bale rubber for export _ and the modification has generated more income for its 173 members at a time when rubber prices have dropped steeply in domestic and foreign markets.
More importantly, the company has become the first in Thailand to run a bale rubber plant certified with the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), an award given by the Agriculture Department.
"Our change has inspired other rubber cooperatives to consider making bale rubber, which generates more income," said Chandee manager Udomsak Sutthiwetin.
Each 5-cubic-foot cube of bale rubber contains 111 kilogrammes of RSS rubber and sells for 106 baht per kg, compared with 88-89 baht for RSS.
Although the quality of the two products is not much different, demand for bale rubber is on the rise because it is more convenient to handle, Mr Udomsak said.
Importers from China and India are interested in buying bale rubber to feed several heavy industries, particularly car tyre plants. Last year alone, Chinese companies purchased 360 tonnes of bale rubber from Chandee.
That volume is tiny compared with the 700,000 tonnes of RSS rubber Thailand exports every year, which brings the country's rubber exports to nearly 2.9 million tonnes a year.
Chandee was established as a cooperative in 1988. It is one of many Thai rubber cooperatives formed by planters.
While each receives financial and technological support from the state, frequent changes of governments have slowed the industry's development.
Chandee drastically revamped its business in 2004. It is among 146 cooperatives nationwide selected by the government to make higher-value rubber bale in addition to raw rubber sheets and latex to cushion the impact of volatile rubber prices.
Of the 146 cooperatives, 33 have the capacity to make 500 tonnes a month each of bale rubber. The remaining cooperatives can each make 200 tonnes. However, to qualify for exports, their manufacturing process must meet the GMP standard.
After looking into what it took to qualify for GMP certification, Chandee sought a budget of 7 million baht from the Agriculture and Agricultural Coooperatives Ministry to improve its production standards.
The process was completed last July, making it the first cooperative to get the GMP certificate, followed by Trang Rubber Cooperative.
According to Mr Udomsak, bale rubber is manufactured largely in Indonesia, one of the world's major natural rubber producers.
But he said many plants in Indonesia still use old press moulding machines that take 7-8 hours to do the job. They mainly use wooden moulds that can mould only 50kg bales, compared with the 111kg bales of Thai plants.
"At Chandee, a steel mould is used, resulting in a precise cubic shape of bale rubber,"said Mr Udomsak.
Chandee workers process 4-5 tonnes of latex into rubber sheets each day. They then smoke them and press them into bales with a capacity of 150 tonnes a month.
Last year, the cooperative was able to make 3.68 million baht profit for members, who all are planters in tambon Chandee in the southern part of Nakhon Si Thammarat province.
Mr Udomsak expects greater profit this year thanks to higher exports and income from the pressing service.
"Several rubber companies have asked us to press 100 tonnes of rubber sheets into bales every day," he said.
Suchin Maenmeun, director of the Rubber Research Institute of Thailand, said the state is working to certify more GMP bale rubber plants to cash in on rising demand for the product.
Several of the 146 plants have strong potential and certification could be a good passport for them to export. The product has less competition than block rubber.
The institute is also working under a 34-million-baht budget to develop the rubber market centre of Nakhon Si Thammarat to trade bale rubber as well. It is expected the market will soon trade bale rubber alongside raw rubber and RSS rubber products.
According to the Thai Rubber Trade Association, Thailand remains the largest natural rubber producer, turning out 3.82 million tonnes, followed by Indonesia (2.54 million), Vietnam (1.31 million), China (1.29 million) and India (1.18 million).
About the author
- Writer: Walailak Keeratipipatpong