Rubber plantations in crisis with prices in a free fall

Growers allege official apathy in checking the slide

September 10, 2022 06:57 pm | Updated 06:57 pm IST - KOTTAYAM

The wide belt of rubber plantations that has taken over the tropical hills of the State are now giving nightmares to growers.

With the price of natural rubber in a free fall, about 12 lakh small-scale rubber farmers in Kerala, the country’s rubber heartland, are counting their losses since the last couple of months. With the impact of the falling prices beginning to reflect in their daily lives as well as the local economy, the growers are up in arms against the authorities for their perceived delay in checking the slide.

The price of latex has fallen below ₹120 while that of rubber sheets to ₹150 from ₹180 just ahead of the Ukraine-Russia war. Compounding their fears, reports of a recession afflicting large parts of Europe too have begun to emerge.

“The falling prices have come as a double whammy to the sector, plagued by an unprecedented rise in input costs. About 60% of the rubber plantations in the State are due for replanting and if no action is coming forth at this point, this will only exacerbate the situation,” says Babu Joseph, General Secretary, National Consortium of Regional Federations of Rubber Producer Societies India.

Among the key demands of the farmers include raising the import duties for latex and compound rubber. They are also demanding raising the replanting subsidy in Kerala, which remains at ₹25,000 per ha, and the support price of the crop under the price stabilisation scheme to ₹200 from ₹170.

In central Travancore, where political discourses are inextricably linked to fortunes of the plantation sector, the matter has assumed new proportions with the leading yet warring factions of the Kerala Congress jumping in. While Jose K. Mani, chairman of the Kerala Congress (M) has urged the State government to hike the support price to ₹200, P.C. Thomas, working chairman of the Kerala Congress, called for constitution of a special fund to support the growers.

Sources in the Rubber Board say the prices could not have reached this low had the domestic industry cooperated. “The manufacturing decline in China owing to its zero-COVID strategy has also coincided with high production of natural rubber in that country. The Indian industry too took advantage of this situation and are now sitting on a huge buffer stock,” says an official.

Taking a serious view of the situation, the board is working on some plans for market intervention, which is expected to be announced later next week, he says.

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