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DateLine Sunday, 6 April 2008

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Rubber growers donít reap maximum benefits -RRI Director

Sri Lankaís rubber growers have failed to achieve the maximum benefits from the bonanza in the natural rubber sector, Director, Rubber Research Institute (RRI) Dr. Ashoka Nugawela told the Sunday Observer.

Today, natural rubber in the raw form is trading at around Rs. 250 per kilogramme. The price will increase further since the supply cannot meet the demand.

However, rubber growers are not reaping the maximum benefit and the national productivity level is half its potential, he said.

At present the national productivity level is around 1,150 kg per hectare per year, significantly lower than the potential. Therefore, the majority of the rubber growers are not making the maximum benefit from this golden opportunity.

A rubber grower could obtain around 1,000 kg yield per acre per year from a well managed plantation. At the current farm gate price this amount of rubber has a value of Rs. 250,000. However, the majority of our rubber growers get only around 500 kg per acre per year, and therefore the value is just half its potential.

Despite the attractive rubber prices productivity levels of both smallholder and plantation sectors seem to be increasing at a very slow rate.

Growers should endeavour to adopt the agronomic practices that are capable of giving high productivity levels and obtain the maximum benefits from the current attractive trading conditions, he said.

Dr. Nugawela said that even with such sub optimal land productivity level rubber growers are reaping reasonable profits and there is a lot of enthusiasm in investing in rubber cultivation.

However, today the profits are driven by the natural rubber prices and not by the optimal yield by better management and enhanced productivity. If we could achieve the latter as well we could maximise profitability and sustain profitability even under adverse trading conditions.

The year 2007 was a good year for the industry and the natural rubber production in the country increased up to 117,600 metric tons, a 7.3% increase compared to the 2006 production of 109,600 MT.

Encouraging price signals have marginally improved the productivity in rubber cultivation. According to data the total rubber extent of the country is 120,070 Ha and assuming 80% of the extent is mature rubber, the national productivity level for the year is around 1,225 kg of rubber per hectare per annum, a 6.5% increase compared to 1,150 kg of rubber per hectare per annum in 2006.

Rubber prices remained attractive during the whole year and the average price for RSS 1 ranged from Rs. 268-187 per kg and for latex crepe 1X it was between Rs. 276-210 per kg.

New and replanting of rubber by growers has reached a very high level. Dr. Nugawela said that the RRI has revised its clone recommendation for potential growers to have a better choice of high yielding clones.

However, the availability of land in traditional rubber growing areas is a constraint to increase the rubber extent in the country.

Hence research and development work is being continued to expand rubber cultivation into other parts of the country. Potential growers from the Anuradapura and Polonnaruwa Districts too have requested for advice from the RRI regarding rubber cultivation.

Field trials of rubber cultivation in the Eastern province have been successful and smallholders are enthusiastic.

The field trials upcountry for rubber cultivation have also been successful and large estate companies are interested in transforming infertile and abandoned tea lands to rubber. Watawala Plantations has already started a project. However, there is no interest from smallholders in this sector, he said.

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