KOCHI: With the possibility of a revival in prices of natural rubber looking implausible for years to come, the Rubber Board of India is promoting alternative solutions to sustain the rubber plantation sector, which is fast becoming unsustainable, especially for small growers.
After extensive research, weekly tapping of trees without yield drop or crop loss is being extensively promoted by the board in Kerala. “Weekly tapping, in fact, is beneficial to the trees, resulting in better latex yield and a significant decrease in labour cost,” R Rajagopal, senior scientist, Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII), told Express.
He said the tapping days can be brought down to 50 from the present average of 150 days. “Take, for instance, 300 trees being tapped in an area with 600 being the labour cost, the savings accounts to 60,000 annually,” said Rajagopal.
Representing large plantations in a quest to survive, Harrison Malayalam chairman C Vinayaraghavan said: “Weekly tapping can check shortage of tappers and low rubber prices. We are getting the comparable yield to D3 (third-day tapping) at a reduced cost of production.” Since the trees are being cut less frequently, it exhibits longer economic life, high dry rubber content, lower tapping panel dryness, sustainable yield, better girth increment and more timber value. RRII also debunks the myth of ethephon, which is used as a stimulant for latex production of being harmful to the trees.
“Our extensive research spanning 13 years has proved there are no harmful effects to the ecosystem from ethephon. Plus, it a permissible agricultural chemical widely used in food crops in India,” said Rajagopal.
A sector plagued by rising labour costs and slumping natural rubber prices have forced growers to switch to other cash crops to survive, with respect to their disinterest towards replantation. Reportedly, 70 per cent of the cost of producing a kilogram of rubber goes towards the labour cost alone, and with the prices of natural rubber hovering around the 125/kg mark, the producers are reporting diminished profit margins for long.
Facilities like rubber soil information and fertiliser recommendation based on the area and the age of plantations are now available through the Rubber Board’s mobile app ‘RubSIS’.
RULES FOR SUCCESS OF WEEKLY TAPPING
Regular and systematic tapping on fixed days. If the tapping is on Monday, tapping has to be carried out on all Mondays.
After four tappings yield stimulation by panel application with ethephon to be done (72 hours prior to the fifth tapping)
Since the number of tapping days is only 52 per year in weekly tapping, proper rain guarding without leak has to be ensured for regular tapping during monsoon season.
No skipping encouraged.
Proper bark thickness of 2.5 mm/tap has to be ensured.
Proper depth of tapping up to 1 mm from cambium without causing injury is also equally important.