Rubber Board is all set to start field trials for the first ever genetically modified (GM) rubber this month in Assam. The new crop is tolerant to drought and temperature extremes.

The variety is ready for field trials and planting will begin in the second fortnight of this month, said KN Raghavan, Executive Director, Rubber Board.

Asked whether the Board has conducted any testing before the field trials, Raghavan said laboratory tests were conducted using small nursery stage . Based on these studies, GM rubber plants exhibited better tolerance to drought and temperature extremes. This is a desirable trait for developing climate-resilience in rubber.

“We expect that the GM rubber can grow faster and therefore, the immaturity period may be shortened. But this can be tested only by conducting the field studies for which planting will be done this month”, Raghavan told BusinessLine when explaining about the difference between the GM and the non-GM rubber crop.

Releasing the new crop for commercial cultivation can be considered only after the successful completion of the proposed field trials which may take 10-15 years.

Also read: Natural rubber output up a tad despite Covid shutdown

To a question on why the field trials are carried out in Assam and any possible opposition from Kerala, he said the no objection certificate from the State is a mandatory requirement for conducting any field trials using GM plants. Kerala did not grant permission for conducting field trials of GM rubber plants.

The Board had approached Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, West Bengal seeking permission for field trials. “We have received a positive response only from Assam,” he said.

Raghavan expressed hope that the success of field trials would lead Assam to emerge as a key rubber growing State in India.

Meanwhile, the Board has taken the initiative to plant rubber in two lakh hectares in the north-eastern States as part of the ₹1,100-crore five-year project taken up by the Automotive Tyre Manufacturers’ Association (ATMA). The cultivation on a limited scale commences this month. Due to Covid restrictions and limited availability of plants, the project in the first year commenced with 10,000 hectares.

According to Board officials, ATMA will extend financial support of ₹50,000 per hectare by a credit-linked scheme or by direct payment for planting materials. The planting materials will be mainly sourced from Kerala nurseries.