Rain guard shortage amidst lockdown may hit natural rubber production

Rubber growers in Tamil Nadu point out at the logistical difficulty in procuring rainguards, during the lockdown.

Short supply of rain guard gear in plantations has cast a shadow over the prospects of natural rubber (NR) production, amidst a spate of summer showers in south India. Along with the lockdown woes and pandemic worries, this crucial handicap may do its share in whittling down Rubber Board’s NR production for next year by at least 10%.

Rain guard, which looks like a pleated skirt-like polythene, is a weather shield, that makes tapping possible during the downpour. Although the working of rubber plantations has exemption from lockdown as they supply the crucial latex raw material to medical glove-making units, there are operational glitches, impacting the uninterrupted tapping of latex, including the rain.

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Rubber growers in Tamil Nadu point out at the logistical difficulty in procuring rainguards, during the lockdown.

“It costs an additional expenditure of Rs 30 per tree to set up rain guard gear, a luxury for small holding farmers,” C Balachandran, secretary, Kanyakumari Rubber Farmers Association , told FE.

Free rain guard supply is part of the Rs 1,000-crore rehab package for the sector, that Rubber Board has put forward before Union commerce ministry. Early this week, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan too had said that rain guards will be made available to rubber plantations.

“All these promises are yet to materialise,” says Jose Kutty Antony, a rubber nursery owner in Kottayam.

NR has already run production losses to the tune of 35,000 tonne. According to Ajith B K, secretary, Association of Planters of Kerala, unless the rain guarding is complete by first week of May, the monsoon season losses for rubber would be considerable.

In 2018, Rubber Board’s stance was that ‘without rain guarding there could be production losses to the tune of 15 to 500 kilo per hectare.

When the production shot up to 60,000 tonne in July 2019, from 46,000 tonne in 2018 July, the board was quick to highlight its role in procuring rain guard and adhesives in bulk and distributing them among small growers. About 1 lakh trees had additionally got rain guard protection, that resulted in more overall NR production volume in 2019.

In the long run,the shrink in NR production may not be as worrying as it looks in the short run, because the tyre industry, which accounts for nearly 70% of NR consumption, is almost in standstill. Secondly, the tyre firms habitually, enjoy a two-weeks advance NR inventory. In this context, the post-lockdown period is unlikely to swing to a significant raw material shortage for the consuming industry.

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