Mumbai: High rubber prices are enticing Indian growers to milk ageing plants and delay replantation, threatening to reduce yields by half in the long term, industry officials said.
Rubber prices are ruling near a life high, making perfect sense for growers to go slow on replanting and benefit from the demand, they said.
“The delay in replantation could reduce the yield to 850-900 kg (per hectare) in the next 3-4 years against the current yield of 1,800 kg,” said James Jacob, director of the state-run Rubber Research Institute of India.
The rubber plant generally takes seven years to be ready for tapping and has a life of about 30 years in all, after which the yield starts reducing, making replantation necessary.
“It is also likely to reduce the total production in the long run,” he said. The country’s total rubber output in 2007/08 is estimated at 819,000 tonnes.
The Rubber board plans to replant in 33,500 hectares (82,780 acres) by 2012, but has been able to cover only 5,000 hectares in the last one year, Jacob said.
“Growers are now feeling that these prices will continue for another couple of years, so instead of replanting, they are continuing the tapping,” said George Valy, president, Indian Rubber Dealers Federation.
Rubber prices have stayed above Rs95 per kg during the peak tapping season touching Rs100 rupees in November, its best ever. In India, the peak tapping season starts in October and continues through January.
“Small growers are not showing any interest in replantation, but some large holders are replanting,” said Prince Thomas George, secretary of the Association of Planters of Kerala.
In India, small growers with half-an-hectare land on average, account for 90% of the total output.
The government offers a subsidy that is limited to small growers only. When these growers cut down rubber trees, they lose regular income, and the board’s subsidy is to compensate for replanting expenses.
However, in the throes of a buoyant market, the subsidy offered by the Rubber Board is too miniscule a compensation to encourage the growers to replant, officials said.
In Kerala, which accounts for more than 90% of the total output, the subsidy is about Rs20,000 per hectare spread over 7 years, said K.G. Mohanan, deputy rubber production commissioner.
“We have asked the goverment to increase subsidy to 24,500 per hectare,” he said, adding no decision has been taken so far.
“It is a very poor compensation if you consider the amount they get now, by not cutting down the tree,” said Valy.