Kochi: Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII) plans to involve small- and large-scale rubber farmers and growers in a participatory clone evaluation process before it introduces a new clone for large-scale planting.

The institute now has 46 new clones in the pipeline.

Rubber milk:Latex being tapped.

While earlier, too, farmers were involved in experimental planting, the idea this time is to seek their feedback at every stage to customize the clones with their needs before introducing these commercially, said Sajen Peter, chairman of the Rubber Board. RRII is the research wing of the board.

Peter credits India’s growth into a top rubber-producing country, with a yield of 1,879kg per ha annually, to the most popular and widely planted rubber clone RRII 105 in 1980, often described as the “wonder clone". The more commonly used variety RRIM (Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia) 600 offers a yield of around 1,480kg per hectare annually. “Because of higher productivity, rubber growers’ earnings rose by Rs1,250 crore in 2006-07," Peter said.

India, with an annual production of around 850,000 tonnes, has maintained a steady share of more than 8% in global rubber production, and is fourth behind Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam in this.

Peter said a recent survey of International Rubber Study Group, an inter-governmental organization, sees a marginal fall in rubber production across the globe, except in Sri Lanka. A clear picture will emerge during the conference of the Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries in November.

In 2005, the Rubber Board introduced newer clones—the RRII 400 series, which, too, have received a good response. Now, the board wants to involve growers before the clones are introduced for large-scale planting.

The RRII 400 clone series is a hybridization of the popular 105 clone with the sturdy Sri Lankan RRIC (Rubber Research Institute of Ceylon) 100 series. The Lankan variety is taken as a male and cross-bred with an Indian clone. The seeds of this new tree are germinated and planted in various agro-climatic zones.

After three years, the trees are tapped to extract latex. Only those trees, which produce the most latex—termed as category three—are allowed to grow for eight years and their seeds are collected.

RRII, based in Kottayam in Kerala, has spent nearly 25 years and a few lakh rupees in funds on this project, said James Jacob, director of the institute. RRII has an annual budget of Rs10 crore. “Results have been astounding, since not only the productivity of the 105 clones has been enhanced, but the growth potential and sturdiness of the trees of the Sri Lankan clone have also been blended," Jacob said.

Five RRII 400 series clones were evolved after breeding and selection experiments started in 1982. These were given to growers on a limited basis for experimental planting. In 2005, two of the clones, RRII 414 and 430, were shortlisted for large-scale planting.

Last week, at a discussion involving more than 150 small farmers, large estate owners and representatives of rubber producers cooperative societies, it was felt that among the five clones, the 414 and 430 ones were superior to RRII 105 in growth and yield.

Thomas J., a planter in Kasargod district in Kerala, had planted 200 RRII 414 trees in 2002 that are being tapped for latex from this year. “Normally, the latex yield starts from the seventh year," he said. “But these plants have started yielding from the fifth year itself."