The north-eastern region, comprising the seven sister States, will likely contribute nearly one-third of the country’s total rubber production soon, thereby helping bridge the demand-supply gap in the rubber industry. It will, as result, bring down the quantum of imports, which increased to a three-year high last fiscal.

Under a project launched by the Automotive Tyre Manufacturers’ Association (ATMA) in collaboration with Rubber Board, nearly two lakh hectares (lh) in the north-eastern States and West Bengal will be brought under rubber plantation over a period of five years involving an outlay of ₹1,100 crore.

The north-eastern States currently account for 18 per cent of the country’s total production, which increased to a nine-year high of 7.7 lakh tonnes (lt) in the last fiscal. Once the objective of developing plantations in an additional two lh under the project is achieved, it is estimated that the share of these States will increase to 32 per cent of the total production. The availability of land and suitable agro-climatic conditions make the region a favourable destination for growing rubber.

Raw material security

The project activities are being undertaken in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and West Bengal. Assam will have the largest area under plantation at close to one lh. Close to 1.65 crore rubber plants have been successfully planted in the region so far. Plantation in two lh is estimated to directly benefit about 2.5 lakh farmers and their families.

According to Dr K N Raghavan, Executive Director, Rubber Board, the plantation activity started in 2021 and already close 30,000 hectares have been brought under rubber cultivation primarily in Assam and Tripura. The plan is to add another 50,000 hectares during 2023 and 60,000 hectares each in 2024 and 2025, thereby touching two lh.

“Raw material security has been reckoned as a major area of importance for any country in the new world order. Given the importance of such strategic raw material, the country needs to focus on increasing the domestic NR (natural rubber) production so as to become self-reliant and avoid dependence on import of this critical raw material to the maximum extent possible,” Raghavan told newspersons at a press conference in the city on Friday.

40% demand-supply gap

The NR demand-supply gap has been widening in India and at present nearly 40 per cent of the requirement is met through imports. The country’s domestic production stood at 7.7 lt in 2021-22 against the consumption of 12.3 lt. The tyre industry consumes nearly 70 per cent of the total rubber grown domestically. It is estimated that by 2030, the country would require about 20 lt of natural rubber per annum.

“If we (the demand) continue to grow at the rate at which we are growing then rubber availability would come down to alarming levels. There is a huge potential in the north-eastern region, it is like a goldmine. So with a slight nudge from the government the four big tyre companies which account for nearly 90 per cent of the total market have come together and invested in the project,” Satish Sharma, Chairman of ATMA, said.

This is the first of its kind project in the world where the consuming industry is working in collaboration with government agencies with the objective of increasing availability of this strategic raw material in which India is grossly deficient.

Setting up nurseries

The project involves planting material of 55 lakh successfully transported from Kerala to the North-East by rakes over the last one year despite logistic challenges.

Under the project, the capacity of nurseries in north-eastern States is being developed to meet the requirements of planting material in the coming years. Rubber Board is working on setting up nurseries under the jurisdiction of its field offices in the region.

Besides plantation, the project entails enhancement of quality of rubber produced through creation of model smoke houses and upgradation of existing smoke houses. Training and skill development would also form a major component and would involve creating infrastructure for training facilities, conducting training programmes for farmers and tappers on best practices and technologies.

(The reporter was in Guwahati at the invitation of ATMA)