Rubber growers are on a slippery wicket,as the number of tapping days keep shrinking in direct proportion to the prolonged lash of monsoon. Contrary to the claims of Rubber Board that natural rubber (NR) production is booming, rubber plantations in central Kerala — the heartland of NR production — look deserted in the peak of tapping season. “It’s as if all factors of supply and demand are conspiring to puncture a vital commodity market, the rains are hitting the production, the prices are un-remunerative and the demand from tyre producers too is feeble,” Sibi Monipally, general secretary, Indian Rubber Growers Association (IRGA) told FE. “To add to the pessimism around, there is hardly any positive policy decision from the government,” he added.
The latest prompt to aggravate the earnings from rubber is the climatic aberration in the rubber plantations in Kerala, which accounts for 90% of country’s NR.
In an unprecedented coincidence, the North East Monsoon arrived before the South West Monsoon could make the retreat. The result has been incessant rain, especially at rubber-growing areas. The prolonged wet spell has clipped down the number of tapping days to as low as 8 or 9 per month. Usually,rubber plantations are buzzing with tapping activity in the peak season,from September to January. “If there’s hardly much in stocks coming to the market, it is because the number of tapping days has gone down. “A critical minimum of 15 days of tapping per month is vital to keep the markets active,” says Josekutty Antony, who runs rubber nurseries.
At a recessionary situation that the economy is facing currently, the Centre could have opted to incentivise the re-plantation of old and ailing rubber trees. Even this policy initiative is lacking, he says. Both domestic and international markets have proved double whammy for the rubber growers, just as the two monsoons are lashing out at the farms together. The international price is Rs 105 per kilo for the premium RSS-4 grade sheet. In the domestic market, the price is Rs 124 per kilo, which is hardly worth the production costs. Tyre firms and rubber products industry have imported stocks to the tune of 45,000 tonne last month.
At the same time, according to Rubber Board of India officials, rubber production has surged by 5.2% in the month of September. The forecast has been optimistic.
“However, the only ray of hope is that there are a couple of months left to the peak season and the spell of heavy rains would leave a fortnight or two,” says Monipally.
A good many of the rubber growers, dampened by demonetisation woes and GST wrangles, have been leaving the plantations idle. Frustrated by the weakening of subsidy support, some have quit rubber cultivation as such.