Rubber production hit as sector grapples with tapper shortage

Rubber production hit as sector grapples with tapper shortage

Kochi: The rubber sector is facing a scarcity of trained tappers again because of low wages and lucrative offers from other sectors, according to a study by trade promotion body Rubber Board and its Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII).

With rubber prices rising to Rs120 per kg, tappers have started demanding higher wages, said P. Mathew, a rubber grower near Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district.

A tapper is paid 55 paise per tree and roughly taps between 300 and 400 trees a day. But as there are many small holdings with only about 50 trees each, these tappers are forced to find employment with different plantations, says the study.

Small holdings of less than 2ha account for 89% of the area under rubber cultivation and 92% of the rubber production in the country. About 11% of such small holdings have remained untapped for more than a year due to the shortage of skilled tappers.

This scarcity has also led to delayed tapping, which in turn is resulting in lower yields. Ideally, tapping of latex should start before dawn for high yield. Tapper R. Sasi, who works for five different rubber growers near Muvattupuzha, notes that gardens where he taps trees after 7am give lower yields.

To tide over this, RRII proposes the training and employing women to tap latex from trees, especially those below the poverty line, with help from women self-help groups.

Tapping is a skilled process in which latex is extracted by controlled wounding of trees, and several areas have been facing acute shortage of labour, said Sajen Peter, chairman of the Rubber Board, which has embarked on a programme to train tappers.

Training programmes, better labour welfare measures, establishment of more group rubber processing centres and labour banks will help resolve this issue, according to the Rubber Board.

Tappers enjoy several advantages when compared with other labourers in the agricultural sector, such as permanent and regular employment, wage advances and less working hours. The study also says the average annual income for a tapper is about Rs40,000, while it is Rs27,000 for an agricultural worker.

However, younger workers are reluctant to take up tapping as a career, while the those over 45 years, who comprise about 45% of the tappers, are exiting on health grounds.