Sawantwadi taluk in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district has established itself fully as a natural rubber producing (NR) centre with the annual production there increasing to 3,000 tonnes.

According to Sawar Dhanania, president, All India Rubber Industries Association (AIRIA), tyre firms such as Ceat and MRF are procuring some of their needs from Sawantwadi, where at least 2,000 acres have been brought under NR cultivation. 

“Growers from Karnataka and Kerala have gone there for cultivation. Most dealers have also begun buying from there. They have also begun selling farm equipment for the plantations besides providing planting materials approved by the Rubber Board,” Dhanania told BusinessLine.

Strengthening supply

More acreage is now expected to be brought under NR, whose cultivation began a few years ago. “AIRIA will discuss with the State government to help growers. If the State agrees, then the supply chain can be strengthened,” he said. 

A few years ago, Sindhudurg district in the Sahyadri Hills began gaining popularity as the next destination for NR cultivation, with as many as 3,000 Kerala-based planters moving there. The district shares its border with Goa and Karnataka with the climate matching NR-growing region.  Rubber plantations have also come up in Dodamarg taluk. 

The Maharashtra government had discouraged NR cultivation saying it was an “exotic crop” and it could impact the district’s natural vegetation. However, the current development shows that NR cultivation has got established. 

Role in expanding area

“MRF buys for its Goa plant and Ceat for its Pune unit,” said the AIRIA president. The yield per acre was also at par with that of Kerala and Karnataka, he said. 

Dhanania was responding to a question on AIRIA’s role in expanding NR cultivation in the country, particularly the North-East region, to become self-sufficient in production. 

Currently, Indian industries, mainly tyre manufacturers, import NR to fill the demand-supply gap. Last fiscal, rubber production had increased by over 50,000 tonnes to 7.75 lakh tonnes. However, the output has slipped from a high of 9.13 lt in 2012-13 to 6.51 lt in 2018-19.

Achieving self-sufficiency

During the past decade, NR imports have more than doubled to 5.46 lt from 2.62 lt. 

Stating that AIRIA supports the Centre’s initiative to improve NR production and thus attain self-sufficiency in meeting domestic demand, he said as most of AIRIA members were micro, small scale and medium entrepreneurs (MSMEs), the association would not be able to do much in investing in the North-East to increase production. 

“But there are couple of well-to-do members who could be investing in expanding NR cultivation. We will fully support the National Rubber Mission, which is now awaiting the Centre’s nod, to expand NR cultivation in the country,” the AIRIA president said. 

Though NR prices have been ruling somewhat steady, prices of synthetic rubber and chemicals such as carbon black have been increasing. “Synthetic rubber manufacturers have said they will increase prices from July, though they have not given the exact details,” Dhanania said. 

Hardships of MSMEs

Prices of some of the synthetic rubber varieties have increased by 25 per cent since the beginning of the current fiscal, while rates of chemicals, mainly carbon black, have gone up by over 25 per cent, he said. For quite sometime, the RSS-4 (ribbed, smoked sheet) grade has been quoting at ₹175-179 a kg.

“Since MSMEs are the ones that buy these products, they are undergoing a lot of hardships,” the AIRIA president said. In particular, units in the non-tyre sector that are buying or importing special rubber are “feeling the pinch”.

On exports, he said currently India accounted for just one per cent or $2 million of the nearly $200 million global trade. But prospects for exporting different products such as footwear, gaskets, cycle tyres and tubes, rickshaw tyres and tubes and casings were good. 

On the sector’s recovery post-Covid, he said MSMEs got a package from the Centre to tide over the Covid pandemic. But post-Covid, rising raw material prices and the automobile sector being affected due to lack of electronic chips were affecting the rubber industries, Dhanania said.