Rubber board ropes in firms to operate untapped estates

Plagued by 126,000-tonne drop in rubber output over five years, the Rubber Board of India has put together a plan to rope in rubber producing companies to undertake the running of absentee-landlord plantations, thus harnessing economies of scale.

Poor cost-realisation had set several small holding farmers to abandon tapping of rubber trees regularly. Many of these plantations have thus turned into absentee landlord plantations.

About 1.25 lakh hectare of rubber plantation remain untapped, according to a preliminary assessment study by the Rubber Board. The small growers have limitations to reduce the costs for maintenance, harvesting, processing and marketing of rubber, it noted.

“Only with an increase in domestic rubber production, any reduction in rubber import can be achieved. The plan intends to identify untapped rubber holdings, maintain it and undertake harvesting,” said KN Raghavan, chairman, Rubber Board. The Board has targeted 750,000 tonnes of  natural rubber (NR) production in the current year.

Surprisingly, while the rubber cropping area has increased, natural rubber production has fallen. The area under natural rubber rose to 8.22 lakh hectare in 2018-2019, compared to 7.78 lakh hectare in the previous year, on official records. But the actual natural rubber production in last fiscal was only 6.48 lakh tonnes. In 2013-2014, this was 7.74 lakh tonnes.

Productivity in 2013-14 was as high as 1,629 kg per hectare. During the last fiscal, this was just 1,446 kg per hectare.

The Board has proposed that the company will appoint tappers for harvesting and the income generated from the sale of rubber will be paid to the growers after deducting operational costs. Rubber growers could discuss the terms with the companies for undertaking the maintenance of plants, harvesting of trees and marketing of produce. Besides companies, Rubber Producing Societies (RPS) with infrastructure facilities also can adopt holdings. “The intervention will make rubber cultivation viable by implementing collective procurement of agricultural inputs, mechanisation, effective utilisation of labour, maintenance of quality of produce and increasing the bargaining capacity for marketing,” said the Board’s note on the adoption of plantations.

Shekhar Ghosh is consulting editor, Indoasiancommodities.com. He has edited and written for publications like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today, Outlook and many other international publications. He can be reached at shekhar.ghosh@indoasiancommodities.in.

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