Rubber Board has emphasised the need for providing alternate income sources to farmers in countering price fluctuations of the crop.

Inter-cropping in plantations and honey beekeeping has been tried as possible avenues for maximising farmers’ income. Making available the provision of carbon credit to farmers is one option that is currently under works, said KN Raghavan, Executive Director, Rubber Board.

“Experience has taught us that rubber prices are prone to severe fluctuations. It is invariably the small farmers who are at the mercy of such fluctuations. Their income levels dip considerably whenever there is a downward dip in prices,” he said.

Domestic prices are linked to the international prices, which is a reality in the globalisation era. Hence, the domestic prices are influenced by various developments in overseas markets that have a bearing on commodity prices, he added.

Demand set to rise

A popular fallacy regarding natural rubber (NR) is that imports are taking place on account of concessions under ASEAN FTA. However, NR has been kept out of the purview of the pact. Imports are allowed without any restriction and the prevailing rate of Customs duty is 25 per cent or ₹30 whichever is lower, he said.

According to Raghavan, the demand for NR is bound to increase in the coming years given the shift towards clean and green products across the world.

In India, too, the demand for NR has been increasing and domestic production currently meets only 65 per cent of the requirement of consuming industry, with the balance being met through imports. In 2021-22, India imported 5,46,539 tonnes of NR valued at ₹7,700 crore.

Presently 73 per cent of NR produced in the country is consumed by the tyre industry. The growth of the automobile and tyre industry during the past one-and-a-half decades has paved the way for the spurt in NR consumption by the tyre sector. There exists considerable potential and opportunities to improve the NR consumption by the non-tyre sector, which is invariably labour intensive besides needing lesser capital investment. This area should be tapped by farmers’ consortiums and small growers by moving into the arena of making value added rubber products, he said.

The movement against the exorbitant use of items made of plastic offers great opportunities for NR which can easily fill in as a good substitute. The Board has started a Rubber Products Incubation Center to help small entrepreneurs in setting up facilities for value addition of NR, he said.

Ruling out allegations that Rubber Board has stopped financial assistance to small farmers, he said that in addition to the assistance for new planting and replanting, financial support is provided for activities such as rain guarding, spraying for prevention of diseases. The Board is also encouraging farmers to make quality sheet rubber, empowering women tappers, and implementing special schemes for unorganised labour working in the plantations.