A SCOTS research team has warned a worldwide rubber shortage is looming as demand grows, costs rise and an adequate man-made substitute is yet to be found.

The natural commodity used throughout modern life is dwindling to such an extent that Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh researchers said if farmers in Africa and Asia continue to fell trees at the current rate more than half of the world’s main source of the critical plant will be gone in 30 years.

It means an impending rubber shortage that would affect production of everything from wellington boots to aviation tyres and scientists are calling for better management methods and policies in major producing countries including China, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos.

HeraldScotland:

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The existing practices of planting and farming for latex and other resources are laying waste to sensitive forest ecosystems across continents, it was found.

The current project in Africa, involves monitoring farming and educating people in rural Tanzanian communities, where forests are also under threat from timber-logging and charcoal burning, to harvest sensibly for the longer term benefits.

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It was found natural rubber was being over-harvested and plantations grown in unsuitable areas leaving environmental devastation.

HeraldScotland:

The rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis, is the major source of natural rubber for the global annual production of more than a billion car, truck and aircraft tyres.

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The research is described as an example of how Scottish expertise is moving to help resolve conservation issues around the world.

The team is teaching farmers and children how to best harvest forests and maintain an income from the lucrative trade with global prices likely to continue to rise as synthetic alternatives fail to match natural rubber.

The plan also includes a certification scheme for “environmentally-friendly rubber” have potential to reduce the environmental impact of rubber expansion while ensuring the supply.

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So far the RGBE team along with Tanzanian government experts have visited 75 schools, and shown an information film to over 36,000 children.

HeraldScotland:

Lead researcher Antje Ahrends, above, head of genetics and conservation at the RGBE said the devastation was spreading.

She said: "Our analyses show that the status of the forests has deteriorated significantly since our last surveys in 2005.

"At current levels of harvesting we estimate that the Tanzanian forests will have no high-value timber in 30 years from now."

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Ms Ahrends, also a member of the World Agroforestry Centre which has played a key role in the research, added: "On a more positive note, we found fewer recent cuts, and our model can be used to identify areas where interventions are most urgently needed."

Their work has been reported in the Tanzanian press and on the main television channel.

The RGBE team's forest management model could also help other producers.

Initial research showed the first decade of the new millennium experienced a boom in rubber prices.

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The financial incentive was enough to push rubber plantations beyond their tropical comfort zone in Indonesia and into the delicate margins of continental south-east Asia, where researchers estimate that 57 per cent of plantations may not be sustainable.

Rubber plantations in the region have increased by over 50 per cent since 2000.

The Scottish Government-backed team's recommendations include setting up community-based forest management teams, continuing to raise awareness on the importance of forests in schools and developing alternative ways of growing and harvesting wood.