In a bid to boost domestic consumption of rubber, Malaysia is preparing to construct rubberised roads across the country this year, the New Straits Times reports.

Plantation industries and commodities ministry minister Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong said the decision to go with rubber will help shore up the commodity, which has been battered by falling prices. He said that the ministry has been directed to build rubberised roads within the next few months by prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who is concerned over the livelihoods of smallholders.

“There are about 1.2 million smallholders in the country (550,000 smallholders in the palm oil industry, 440,000 in the rubber industry and 60,000 in the pepper industry). We need to support our smallholders, who might otherwise shift away from natural rubber due to weak prices,” he told reporters at an event last weekend.

Although the initial cost of building rubberised roads is 16% higher than normal bitumen-based asphalt, Mah said maintenance costs in the long run will be cheaper. He added that rubberised roads are more durable and can bear heavier loads.

The roads will be made using rubber cup lumps, or naturally-coagulated latex, which will be processed into bituminous cup lumps and then mixed into asphalt. The use of cup lumps – which are obtained directly from rubber trees without going through any manufacturing process – is expected to boost domestic demand for the material by 10% annually. Malaysia produces 700,000 metric tonnes of rubber every year.

Mah explained that the prime minister said the rubberised roads have to be constructed in small towns and certain parts of major highways. “However, we have yet to identify the exact stretches of roads to be upgraded, and we are currently looking into that,” he added.

Last year, it was reported that several rubberised asphalt pilot projects were in place and their performance was being analysed. The field study involved five projects, one each in Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Pahang, Kelantan and Selangor.