Production and cultivation of natural rubber will bear the brunt of the recent devastating floods in Kerala reducing production by a staggering one lakh tonnes, a top Rubber Board official has said.
"The colossal Kerala floods enormously affected the cultivation and production of natural rubber. There would be over 100,000 tonne less production of rubber as there are huge negative effects in rubber cultivation due to the flood," Rubber Board Chairman and Executive Director D. Anandan told IANS.
"We had expected 700,000 tonnes of rubber production during the 2018-19 financial year, but due to the effect of devastated flood the production is likely to be 600,000 tonnes in the current fiscal," he added. That's almost 15 per cent less.
According to Anandan, a huge number of rubber trees were destroyed and perished in the flood and resulting soil erosion.
The destructive floods in July and August claimed 495 lives while 20 persons are still reported missing. The Kerala government has sought Rs 4,700 crore in compensation from the central government for the damage in all the state's 14 districts.
Anandan, a 2000 batch IAS officer of the Sikkim cadre, along with many other officials and India's rubber industries' executives, were in Agartala to address a rubber conclave organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
He said that after reaching peaks during 2011 and 2012, rubber prices declined mainly due to slackening world economic growth as well as low growth in China -- the largest rubber consuming country in the world -- and relatively low prices of oil and synthetic rubber.
"In India, the original region to cultivate rubber commercially was in (what is now) Kerala and parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Growing demand for natural rubber to make for domestic self-sufficiency and anticipated saturation of suitable land in traditional regions caused a shift to non-traditional areas, including the northeastern states," Anandan noted.
"Rubber plantations could be developed and managed under suboptimal agro-climatic conditions as prevailing in northeastern India," he added.
The Rubber Board chief said the small holdings sector accounts for 91 per cent of planted area and 92 per cent of rubber production in India and the average size of a holding wasas low as 0.57 hectares.
Even though the northeastern states were categorised as non-traditional areas for rubber cultivation, about 105,500 hectares of land is under rubber cultivation in the region, including in Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland.
The Kerala-based Rubber Research Institute of India has identified 450,000 hectares of land suitable for rubber cultivation in the region.
India has 600,000 hectares of land under rubber plantations, producing on an average around 750,000 tonne of rubber annually.
Tripura is the second largest rubber producer in India after Kerala with 85,000 hectares of land under plantation, producing 65,330 tonnes of rubber annually.
Tripura's annual turnover from rubber cultivation is about Rs 500 crore.
Anandan said that Tripura accounted for 10.3 per cent of rubber area and 9.4 per cent of rubber production in the country. The state accounted for 45 per cent of rubber area and 58 per cent of rubber production in the entire northeast region.
"Natural rubber is one of the most critical and strategic raw materials in modern world. Rubber products are used far and wide in the health sector and households, apart from the sports and entertainment sectors," he added.
CII's North East Council Chairman S.K.Barua said that National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning has estimated that another 150,000 hectare can be brought under rubber cultivation in Tripura.
"The prospects to develop rubber industry in Tripura and other northeastern states have enhanced further due to the recent decision on allowing access to parts of India through Bangladesh via the land and sea routes.
"The Bangladesh government has changed its policy to allow exports of rubber sheets from the northeastern states through the Agartala-Akhaura land port station. This would immensely benefit the rubber industry," Barua added.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)