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 850-900kg (per ha) in the next three-four years against the current yield of 1,800kg,” 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, 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 33,500ha by 2012, but has been able to cover only 5,000ha 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 in November, its best ever. In India, 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, Association of Planters of Kerala.
In India, small growers with half a 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 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 board is too minuscule 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 ha spread over seven years, said K.G. Mohanan, deputy rubber production commissioner.
“It is a very poor compensation if you consider the am-ount they get now, by not cutting down the tree,” said Valy of Dealers Federation.