Rubber gets a new home in Maharashtra’s Konkan region

December 16th, 2008 - 1:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Raigad (Maharashtra), Dec 16 (IANS) Rubber plantations are taking strong roots in Maharashtra’s coastal Konkan region, thanks to a salubrious climate, improved yield and the state’s own initiative to popularise the cash crop.And the fact that several farmers from Kerala, the traditional home for rubber plantations, have invested in the business in the coastal districts is only helping the trend catch on further.

This has helped this fast-moving cash crop - cultivated in barely half a dozen Indian states - find a new home in the Konkan region, said Rubber Board of India field officer Sudhakar B. Tirpude.

This year, Maharashtra’s rubber production notched 34 tonnes from a tapping area of plantations over just 20 hectares, spreading cheer among the farmers engaged in it, a government official said.

Interestingly, Tirpude said that of the 50 farmers engaged in rubber plantations, nearly three-fourths hail from Kerala.

The yield of the RSS-4 variety of rubber, in great demand for making automobile tyres and tyre tubes - is worth around Rs.4.42 million, said Tirpude.

So far, the rubber plantations are mainly spread in the districts of Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, which offer a right agro-climatic mix for the crop to thrive, said Meena Singh, a scientist at the Rubber Research Institute of India (RRI).

“This region gets 300-500 cm rainfall each year. The average temperatures range between 20 and 35 degrees centigrade and the traprock soil here has average 80 percent humidity round the year,” she said at her research base in Thane district.

The Rubber Board’s pilot project to test rubber plantation was initiated in 1978. Around that time, even the Dr. Balasaheb Sawant Konkan Agriculture University, Dapoli (Raigad district), took up rubber plantation on a one-hectare plot.

For the past few years, each year an average of 1.8 tonnes latex is derived from nearly 500 trees. It has an instant market, according to the university’s director-research Bhaskarrao Jadhav.

“Rubber has definitely found a new home in Maharashtra. With proper care, it can flourish here. It can work wonders for the local economy since it’s labour intensive farming,” said Jadhav.

This year’s handsome yield - though barely 0.10 percent of that produced by Kerala, from where 90 percent of rubber comes - has pleased farmers engaged in rubber plantations here.

According to Tirpude, another 600 hectares, mainly in south Konkan, will be brought under rubber cultivation. One farmer has announced a 12-hectare rubber plantation in Rajapur, making him the biggest individual cultivator so far, he said.

Data available with the Rubber Board shows that in the Konkan region, the average yield per hectare is 2.1 tonnes, almost 25 percent higher than the all-India average of 1.5 tonnes.

The board, along with the state government, is trying to popularise rubber cultivation among Maharashtra farmers.

Farmers are given 100 percent subsidy on an initial investment of Rs.150,000, apart from subsidies on irrigation and labour costs of around Rs.80,000 per annum per hectare for the first six years.

The returns on investment start from the seventh year.

Both Tirpude and Meena stressed on the need to create awareness of the benefits of rubber plantation among Maharashtra farmers.

“Many are reluctant to adopt it on account of joint land holdings or small plot areas. In order to overcome this issue, we are recommending to the state government to help set up rubber plantation cooperatives, on the lines of sugar and cotton cooperatives,” said Tirpude.

Meena said India’s annual rubber production currently stood at 700,000 tonnes. The tyre industry is the single largest consumer - accounting for nearly 52 percent of the total production.

Kerala accounts for 90 percent of India’s production, followed by Karnataka, and the rest is contributed by Assam and Tripura.

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