Chorus for robust rubber policy gets louder as India slips to 5th spot in output ranking

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Mar 4 2014, 05:32am hrs
Vietnam and China have outstripped India as the world's third biggest producer of natural rubber in 2013, according to the data released by the Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries (ANRPC).

The slide has made ATMA (Automotive Tyre Manufacturers Association) and AIRIA (All India Rubber Industries Association) push the Rubber Board for an annual assessment of the age profile of the rubber trees. "Age profile of trees is imperative from the perspective of planting, re-planting and determining productivity," said Rajiv Budhraja, director-general, ATMA. "Annual assessment should be made a regular practice.

Rubber industry has expressed anxiety over the fall in productivity and slackened pace of NR production growth in India.

"In 2013, India saw a 7.6% decrease in NR production that stood at 8.49 lakh tonnes. In the same period, Vietnam saw a stupendous growth of more than 20% and production crossed the coveted 10-lakh tonne mark that India has been aspiring to achieve. China has also picked up momentum and its NR production has overtaken that of India, said Budhraja.

It is not just that the production has fallen. Rubber Board's provisional figures show that productivity too has hit the slow lane.The productivity of Indian NR was1,867 kg/Ha in 2008-09. This was highest in the world at that time. However, in 2012-2013, Rubber Board has estimated productivity at 1,813 kg/ Ha .

Growers said the present replantation subsidy was insufficient as the per-hectare cost of replanting was around Rs 100,000.

The farmer would not get any returns for the next 6-7 years after replanting. Farmers spend a fairly large amount for nursing the plants, said Josekutty Antony, president, Rubber Nursery Owners Association.

It is this hesitation to cut old trees and plant new saplings that annoys the rubber consuming industry. India has had a chequered history of NR production...It has become increasingly important to optimise the full potential of NR in India so as to support the growth of rubber industry, said Niraj Thakkar, President AIRIA.

Quoting the Rubber Board data, the industry associations point that period between 2008-09 and 2012-13 is likely to see an increase of 41,000 ha in tapped area. The productivity of the incremental tapped area has been estimated at just 1,200 kg/ ha. This , again, is " a worrisome trend," according to the industry associations.

"NR is one of the key productive assets of the country. For optimal growth of this asset, a periodic stock-taking exercise is a must. NR planting and re-planting initiatives tend to slowdown during periods when prices are either at high or low levels as growers postpone planting or replanting activity during such periods. Considering the price volatility in recent years, the deferment of planting & replanting initiatives in India do not augur well for the country in the coming years, added Budhraja.

AIRIA and ATMA have been arguing a case for a National Rubber policy in recent discussions with Rubber Board.