July 12, 2017
Kottayam: Natural rubber farming in Kerala has collapsed as the price of the product nosedived to abysmal levels. Rubber plantations are now being turned in vegetable and fruit gardens.
Kottayam, the heartland of rubber cultivation which was introduced by the British and houses the Rubber Board, and its high ranges had remained an ideal place for growing the commercial crop for the last two centuries.
But things began to fall apart with rubber import coupled with the surfacing of synthetic rubber. The lower price make tyre manufacturers go for cheaper imports and use of the synthetic material which thrived on low crude oil price.
With the central government not taking any steps to rein in cheap imports, natural rubber price which reigned around Rs 270 a kg now rules around Rs 100, not even meeting the production cost.
This has created a crisis not just in the State’s economy but also individual lives. While many have been forced to leave the trees untapped, the smaller and marginal farmers have been doing the tapping themselves to make small gains.
Many have chopped rubber trees and switched over to other crops like rambuttan, plantain, coconut, vegetables and the like.
Rambuttan is the most sought after crop as it seems to be paying rich dividends, fetching Rs 150 a kg. Like rubber, this too has its origins outside. This crop from Malaysia and Indonesia has started finding its way to many of the plantations.
The high energy fruit is believed to burn body fat. As it has high water content, it is said to reduce hunger. Its skin is used for treating dysentery and there are claims that it is also anti-cancer. The manganese and copper in the fruit is said to be good for the bone.
But it remains to be seen how long this fruit cultivation will go on as Kerala farmers, who have experimented with a variety of crops of which rubber has had a steady existence, will be waiting for the next plant.