“I’m not doing this to get rich or stay rich for one quarter or two, I need to look at the long term,” says Meyer. “What I’m looking for is a sustainable supply, that doesn’t run contrary to human conscience.”
Warren-Thomas adds: “We must support smallholder farmers to do the best they can, make them resilient to price shocks – improving productivity systems and allowing them to have secondary crops. Ultimately further deforestation for these cash crops is bad news for climate, bad news for biodiversity, bad news for people, and needs to be thought about carefully indeed.”
The arrival of South American leaf blight in Asia would make these concerns a moot point. “Just think of emerald ash borer, elm disease, pine beetle – you can lose an entire species, billions of trees, and you can’t just replace 40 million tonnes (39 million tons) of rubber when the whole lot dies in a year,” says Cornish.
Cornish posits that if at least 10% of the rubber used worldwide came from alternative sources, they could be scaled up quickly in the event of just such an emergency. Arizona alone has over three million hectares (11,600 sq miles) of desert land suitable for growing guayule. Cornish says the rubber crisis is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to attract investment into these alternatives.
“We have enough dandelion seed to put in 40 hectares (0.15 sq miles) of vertical farm, and 3,000 hectares (11.6 sq miles) of guayule, but we need the funds to do it,” says Cornish. “We need some of those billionaires to get involved. I am determined to get this established before I die. We’ve got to get it to work. The consequences to the developed world if the crop fails are unthinkable.”
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