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Sustainability: new materials between nature and innovation

The partnership between Pirelli and Kirana Megatara, Indonesian processor of raw natural rubber. A union in the name of the sustainability

Home life Sustainability: new materials between nature and innovation
Sustainability: new materials between nature and innovation

A long thread which connects worlds apparently very far from each other. A thread which links nature and innovation, from the rubber tree to the highest technology of our tyres. We’re on the island of Sumatra, in Indonesia. We’re in one of the most exotic areas of the world, with archipelagos, forests, volcanoes and nature. However Indonesia, a key country for Pirelli, means much more. It is also one of the areas which most cultivates the Hevea Brasiliensis, better known as the “rubber tree” from whose bark one of the most precious raw materials found in nature is extracted. This tree in fact produces natural rubber, already discovered centuries ago and adopted for many uses given its feature of extreme elasticity. A plant, as the name suggests, which is a native of South America, in particular Amazonia, but which thanks to trade and colonialism reached southeast Asia where it found a climate and habitat which encouraged growth.
Today in Indonesia very many families, around 2 million, work on cultivation of the natural rubber tree and have based their sustenance on this now for generations. Families of growers, small local producers, owners of small plots of land where the Hevea Brasiliensis is born and grows. The farmers play a leading role in our tale of sustainability. Theirs is a very delicate task which requires great care. To be a good farmer a grower necessarily has to have a mix of experience and precision in every smallest movement. Only in this way can a product of top quality be obtained, suitable for processing. This operation is called “tapping” and consists in stripping away the bark, using a special tool, extremely delicately, so as not to damage the tree and keep its productivity high, seeking to avoid possible contamination which would have a negative influence on the quality level of the product. The great care taken during the carving phase plays an essential part also in safeguarding the trees: if cut badly, their health suffers and their productivity decreases radically. If the work is carried out according to all the rules, however, the health of the tree and of the surrounding environment is safeguarded. When a tree is carved badly, it becomes unproductive for the farmer and the risk of it being abandoned is high, leading to further deforestation to make room for new plantations of Hevea Brasiliensis, often impacting local biodiversity. The farmers’ work has recently been made even more difficult by the lowering of the market price of natural rubber, a problem which has affected this industry for some time.

Pirelli does not purchase natural rubber directly from farmers but from the firms that act as “processors”, i.e. those who buy the raw natural rubber directly from the farmers and process it to make it usable by firms such as Pirelli. One of the largest Indonesian processors is Kirana Megatara, a firm which holds an 18% market share for natural rubber in Indonesia and from which Pirelli purchases the raw material. Pirelli and Kirana Megatara have entered into a partnership which goes beyond commercial relations: a bond built and strengthened further also through the link of social responsibility. The two partners are lead players in a story of sustainability in favour of local farmers and their families. 

For this reason Pirelli and Kirana Megatara regularly hold an event, a tapping competition, which once again this year saw the best local tappers in a friendly challenge for the best tapping methods, in a truly festive day for young and old alike. A valuable goal for the day was also that of spreading awareness among the farmers present as to the best techniques of cultivation and tapping to obtain a product which is increasingly pure, free from contamination and therefore distinguished by its high quality level and necessary for increasing the earnings of the families. At the end of the day the three best tappers, among the farmers who supply natural ruwbber to Kirana Megatara, were awarded prizes. Thanks to their perfect carving both they and their families were rewarded. 
However the partnership between Pirelli and Kirana aims at all-round support, going beyond the focus on productivity, although this is essential for the competitiveness of the entire production sector of rubber in Indonesia.  Support is needed for the development of the younger generations, a forward-looking attitude is also needed and this must inevitably involve, among other things, the right to study of the local younger generation. For this reason Pirelli and Kirana Megatara pay out scholarships in favour of the children of local farmers so that they are guaranteed adequate schooling and assist their families in the development of their business and their communities, as well as increasing focus on preserving the surrounding environment, with growing awareness.
This story does not only tell us about the importance of the raw material for obtaining a quality product.

Thanks only to the younger generation and their training can we trust in a process which will continue to bring results. Increased productivity and welfare of the local population, greater health of trees and decreased deforestation. 
Constant commitment towards an objective known as the future, which for Pirelli translates into maintaining its responsibility right from the early stages of the value chain.

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