Cut expenses to ramp up productivity, Rubber Board advises farmers

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Dec 10 2013, 09:41am hrs
Even as the Rubber Board sought Centres support for temporary suspension of duty-free import of natural rubber to firefight the slump in natural rubber (NR) market, it has advised rubber plantations to cut corners in cropping expenses to jack up productivity.

India tops the Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries (ANRPC) nations in rubber productivity, logging 1,841 kg per hectare.

By focusing on optimising production efficiency, the rubber output in most of the plantations can be ramped up by at least 30%, said Sheela Thomas, chairman, Rubber Board, in the editorial of the November issue of Rubber brought out by the Board. The Board recommends felling of aged trees with low productivty, at the earliest, replacing them with rubber clones with high productivity.

Thomas suggests that the farmers make use of the good farm practices recommended by the Board for quick results. If fertilisers used are chosen, after soil and plant testing measures, this would sharpen productivity and enable to survive the price downturn, to a certain extent, she said.

Asking the market-battered farmers to double up on productivity was something of slaughter-tapping from the Boards side, according to rubber planter sources. Only Vietnam, with 1,707 kg per hectre, comes anywhere near Indian rubbers productivity of 1,841 kg per hectare. While nearly 90% of the rubber production in the country comes from Kerala, Boards initiatives to expand rubber cultivation in Konkan coast and North Easterrn States are yet to be too successful. While the rubber productivity in Kerala was 2,000 kg the corresponding rubber productivity in Tripura was around 1,141 kg per hectare. Though Tripura has the potential for rubber cultivation in 76,637 hectares, Board has been able to bring only 61,082 hectares under cultivation.

Considering the fade-out of full-time rubber farmers and exodus of skilled rubber-tappers from the plantations in the recent years, squeezing out more production efficiency from plantations is easier said than done, said Siby J Monipally, general secretary, Indian Rubber Growers Association. The only way out is hiking the import tariff on natural rubber and we have submitted representations to the Centre, several times on this, he said.

Last week, the executive committee of the Rubber Baord, which discussed the crisis over rubber price, had suggested raising the import duty on natural rubber to 25%. Thomas, according to the commitee members, had assured that this farmer concern would be conveyed effectively to the Centre.

At the same time, it was the fall in NR production in June and July that had opened the floodgates of NR import, tripping the domestic price to R151 per kilo from an earlier peak of R240 per kilo. NR imports from April to September 2013 sprang up 59 % from the previous year to 179,292 tonnes.

In the face of domestic shortage, we had no option , but to import. Much of the imports that the tyre companies contracted have been arriving in the succeeding months. By November-end , the imports have actually tapered, said ATMA (Automative Tyre Manufacturers Associaton) director-general Rajiv Budhraja .

Rubber production has picked up, amply compensating for the shortage in June-July. The market demand, however, is much lower that is usual in the season, since aggressive importing in the early months has kept the inventories of tyre firms amply well-fed. Much to the chagrin of rubber planters, the tyre firms with well-stocked inventories, constitute almost two-thirds of rubber demand in the country.