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A rubber plantation at Nilambur in Kerala | By special arrangement
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Kottayam: For 25 years, K.L. Nandakumar managed a rubber plantation on the one-acre land he owns at Tirumala near Thiruvananthapuram. But three years ago, when it was time to replace his rubber trees with saplings, he decided against it. 

Instead, the small scale farmer has planted 350 plantains on his land. “The low prices for rubber as well as the lack of rubber tappers has forced us to cut down the trees,” Nandakumar told The Print.   

He is among a growing number of rubber farmers in Kerala who are being forced to look for alternative crops due to a drastic drop in prices. Rubber was once the state’s prime cash crop but over the past decade, prices have plunged.

 

Experts say that long-term problems such as the central government refusing to increase import duty on rubber, lack of government help, cartelisation by tyre manufacturers and recent issues such as the Covid-19 lockdown and the stagnant economy have left the sector in a massive crisis. 

That has disproportionately affected farmers in Kerala, who account for bulk of the rubber production in the country.  

 
 

Experts such as former Rubber Board chairman P.C. Cyriac are now imploring rubber farmers to switch over to other crops. 


 


Kerala’s rubber conundrum 

Rubber prices have been nose-diving in the past 10 years. 

 

According to the Rubber Board statistics, the price of RSS 4 grade rubber has fallen from a high of Rs 20,805 a quintal in 2011-12 to Rs 12,595 a quintal in 2018-19. In between, it had dropped to a low of Rs 11,306 in 2015-16.  

This has affected farmers in Kerala the most. 

According to the statistics with the Rubber Board, which falls under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, of the 8.22 lakh hectares of rubber plantations in the country, Kerala and Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu account for 70 per cent of them.