The new leaf fall disease in rubber plantations in Thailand seems to have started ringing alarm bells among growers in India. They fear that the emerging situation may play spoilsport on their prospects when natural rubber prices started moving northwards, touching ₹163/kg.

The growers have sought immediate intervention of the government in containing the spread of the disease, especially when the sector is witnessing peak production. It is pointed out that the disease has spread so fast across borders of South-East Asian countries due to the transfer of raw rubber.

Rubber output hit

The Rubber Authority of Thailand in November reported that the total affected area is 90,000 hectares with a loss of production potential running to 130,000 tonnes on an annual basis. The total natural rubber production in Thailand which was 5.14 million tonnes had come down to 4.9 million tonnes in 2019. It is expected to go down further to 4.36 million tonnes in 2020.

Rubber Board officials noted that the disease has the potential to spread rapidly in the near future and the impact could worsen as the pathogen has already established its root in the rubber growing areas in the South. There are also serious concerns on the possible widespread incidence of the leaf fall disease in Southern Thailand, causing steep fall in rubber production in the coming months.

In India, the leaf fall disease was noticed in small pockets in Kottayam two years ago. This year, there are indications of this disease in approximately 300 hectares spread over Kottayam, Pathanamthitta and Thrissur districts, said KN Raghavan, Executive Director, Rubber Board.

He told BusinessLine that the Board is setting up a taskforce to conduct prophylactic spraying of oil-based copper oxychloride in all susceptible plantations before commencement of next season to prevent onset of the disease.

Tightening raw material imports

Ajith BK, Secretary, Association of Planters of Kerala said that the rubber sector has raised serious concern on the transfer or import of raw unprocessed rubber into the country as it could be carriers of pathogens of this disease. Likewise, the import of cup lumps could also lead to spreading of the disease. He also urged the authorities to tighten photosanitary measures against import of any planted material or any unprocessed rubber.

He further added that the infected rubber trees become weak and the growers could not do fertiliser application for the past 4 to 5 years due to non-remunerative prices.

He requested the Centre to impose a protocol similar to the one done in the case of South American Leaf Blight happened in Brazil.

Thailand is the largest natural rubber producer accounting for 36 per cent of world production. Rubber plantations in Thailand are concentrated in southern provinces which accounted for 80 per cent of production. During 2019, the leaf fall disease was confined to the Malaysian border province of Thailand. However, it spread fast in 2020 in southern Thailand, affecting almost all provinces.