After a century of hit and miss, the formula for successfully creating a guayule natural rubber industry may be at hand. Take one desert shrub that can produce usable rubber latex; add a destitute people looking for a better life; find a market that needs a non-allergenic NR; and toss in an "angel" not driven by the profit motive.
Not the typical way to develop a business. But then, guayule has been anything but typical. The potential for obtaining NR from plants grown far from the tropics has enticed companies, governments, universities and individuals for much of the 20th century. Bottom line: Commercialization of guayule has failed.
Now a not-for-profit company, Community Revitalization International, is spearheading a drive to start up guayule cultivation and processing in South Africa and Botswana.
During the apartheid era in South Africa, surplus black labor was relocated to the Limpopo Valley in a northern province. The population today lacks economic opportunity, and CRI's plan calls for 2,000 farm families to cultivate guayule, ultimately to be used to make non-allergenic rubber gloves and condoms for the domestic market. A similar plan is under way in Botswana.
Springfield, Va.-based CRI establishes Third World economic projects and is arranging private financing and working with the South African and Botswanan governments to help fund the $10 million needed for each project.
Guayule needs a successful commercialization, even a subsidized one. If these efforts work, they could be the demonstration project guayule needs to take it out of the desert and into the rubber goods plants.