Now, fungus hits rubber output

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram, Jul 30 | Updated: Jul 31 2007, 05:03am hrs
Just as rubber farms are finding their way out of the fever-caused labour shortage, its the turn of phytophthora fungus to clamp brakes on the rubber stocks rolling to tyre factories. Consequent to an unusually battering southwest monsoon, South Kerala plantations have widely reported the incidence of leaf fall disease that shrinks latex yield.

Rubber production is likely to fall short of target by 30%, said K Raghavan, joint production commissioner, Rubber Board. The Board, which has just finished a field-level survey on the fever-impact, will come out with its report in ten days. Traders estimate the production in May-June at 45,000 tonne.

Last year, in the same period, this ws 50,000 tonne. Although Rubber Research Institute of India assures that varieties like RRII-105 are disease-resistant, farmers in Punalur and Thiruvananthapuram have reported abnormal fall of leaves this season.

The leaf fall disease is found in north Kerala during prolonged wet climate, but this seasons rain pattern has left a havoc trail on the south Kerala rubber trees too. Indirectly, the leaf disease is also a side-product of the shortage of labour after the viral fever rampage.

Plantations are usually advised to spray Bordo mixture to pre-empt the fungus, as part of the pre-monsoon farm protocol, according to CG Neelakantan, an Anchal-based farmer. Because of absence of farm hands, this precaution was often thrown to the winds, he added.

Tyre Industry, which initially hinted a 1-lakh tonne import plan for this year had been considering buying more actively from the domestic market when the farm-level issue brought the domestic price on par with the international price.