Just as there are many ways to skin a cat, so there's more than one way to process rubber.

Illustrated in the following gallery is the uniquely Indonesian 'dry' method, which actually still involves a lot of water but stops about half-way through the process, typically for a one to three week spell, for hanging the material in a so-called drying shed, where it matures to certain target parameters before being returned to the process.

Any larger Indonesian unit will normally employ some 300 workers over two or three shifts, fewer shifts usually meaning longer hours. A rubber factory, increasingly in greenfield areas and sometimes quite remote, will invariably be the local area's largest employer and is often a village in itself, almost self-contained, providing social and commercial facilities and supporting in excess of one thousand dependent souls, Indonesian labour being domestic rather than imported like in the now much smaller but historically more developed neighbouring Malaysian industry where labour availability is still a bigger problem than dwindling material supply.

Thankfully, after years of low-price neglect, the last decade has seen a strong revival in demand for rubber and volatile but mostly higher prices that effectively guarantee sustainability and survival.  

While the average worker in this very populous country won't earn much as unemployment is rife and competition for work acute, at least he seems to be better looked-after now than in the past. The price of rubber has been a lot higher in recent years, but also a lot lower, than where it is today, so current values are probably about right, even if they don't suit all politicians whose constituencies will include thousands of vote-carrying rubber workers and their dependents.

Any visit to a rubber factory shows what hard work really means: that surely has to be reflected in and rewarded by a decent price.

With the one exception of the Filipino tapper's hands on the knife, the following gallery is a composite of a number of Indonesian processing units that retains the general 'flow' of the process and while some parts of it may well be unique to a specific processing unit, the end-result is almost without exception good enough for even the most critical of buyers, the most important being the multinational tyre makers. These incidentally, have themselves been patiently instrumental in greatly improving most aspects of the production process, from nursery to export packing, so both sides deserve a decent return for their efforts, reflected in a reasonable value for both.

While the rest of us can all feel safer on the roads.