Kochi: The proposed 20% subsidy for rubber replantation—announced by the Union government on Wednesday as part of a Rs241 crore programme in the 11th Plan period—may not be incentive enough to keep growers from converting their gardens into real estate.
Rubber production in India has been declining in recent years, plagued by high labour costs and last year’s illnesses to tappers, and poor motivation could see the country fall from the top tier of global rubber producers.
Scarcity of labourers for replanting, high tapping costs and potential for better prospects from converting the plantations into real estate for sale are keeping farmers away from the sector, said Suresh Koshy, president of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies.
“It is in this backdrop that growers feel the (Rubber) Board and the government should review the subsidy amount upwards and attract more farmers to replantation,” he said, adding that the farmers were expecting a subsidy of at least 40% for replantation.
Sticky situation: Raw latex is collected into a coconut shell from a rubber tree. Rubber production in India has been declining in recent years.
Sajen Peter, chairman of the Rubber Board, the government’s trade promotion body, admitted that high tapping costs and more money from converting plantations into real estate, especially in the traditional rubber growing area of Pathanamthitta district in Kerala, have proved detrimental to the rubber sector.
The board had recommended a subsidy of 25% for replantation.
High labour cost coupled with a scarcity in workers made the board arrive at a replantation cost of Rs1 lakh per hectare (ha) in traditional areas in the state and Rs80,000 for non-traditional areas.
As per the scheme, the board expects to cover 33,000ha for replanting during the 11th Plan period. Of this, 1,750ha each will be in non-traditional areas and the north-eastern parts of the country.
Another 25,000ha is expected to be brought under rubber cultivation in the North-East.
The board has already developed sufficient material for replanting. It includes the widely planted rubber clone RRII 105 (RRII stands for the Rubber Research Institute of India), often described as the wonder clone, which has helped India top rubber productivity globally with a yield of 1,879 kg per hectare annually.
The Rubber Board has also developed new clones that have shown promise, such as RRII 414 and RRII 430, Peter said. Still, lower production of around 820,000 tonnes in 2007-08 may see Vietnam pip India in rubber productivity, he admitted. Much of this is owing to a viral fever that gripped Kerala in May and June and kept tappers off work, and incessant rains till August. Peter said there is pressure on the government to raise the subsidy component. As the new plants will take around six years to begin yield, the subsidy will be distributed in phases over this period.
Koshy added that the high wages for tappers are a major stumbling block in the rubber sector, especially for small growers who have less than 2ha. From 38 paise a day per tree in 2006, tapping costs have gone up to 75 paise and are expected to touch Re1 in the coming season.
In addition, growers have to deal with the costs of curing the latex to turn it into sheets, as well as for drying and transportation costs.
These are not the only reasons for the growers’ reluctance to replantation.
With rubber trading at an attractive Rs105 per kg, most growers want to cash in on the high prices than wait over the long yield period for the new plants.