In a bid to boost production of ‘white gold’ in the nation’s second-largest rubber producing state, a ‘rubber clone’ or engineered variety of rubber, specifically suited for agro-climatic conditions of Tripura is set to be introduced soon.
Tripura was one of the first few states to have commercially adopted rubber cultivation in NE India way back in the 1960s, albeit organized cultivation shaped up only in the eighties. But over 4 decades on, Tripura’s rubber production hasn’t seen much change. The state still produces less than 1,200 Kg per hectare plantation area against the national average of 1,500. So, in a bid to boost production of ‘white gold’ in the nation’s second-largest rubber producing state, a ‘rubber clone’ or engineered variety of rubber, specifically suited for agro-climatic conditions of Tripura is set to be introduced soon.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Rubber Board of India Executive Director Dr KN Raghavan said the clone variety was being tested for a long time and would be commercially introduced in a few months. Usually, a rubber clone variety is tested for nearly 20 years for identifying and eliminating all side effects. Rubber Research Institute of India 429, code name RRII429, has successfully overcome all these tests and is now waiting to be commercially introduced in the state, the official said.
Tripura is the second largest rubber producing state in India after Kerala, as per area under cultivation and quantity of produce. The state has got 85,000 hectare land area under rubber cultivation, out of which 65,000 hectare plantation area is currently mature for harvesting. But this entire bulk produces 75,000 ton rubber every year, which is less than 1,200 Kg per hectare.
While the national average is 1,500 Kg per hectare, much higher production is seen in places like Baripada in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district where 1,800 Kg rubber is produced per hectare.
6.5 lakh ton rubber was produced in India last year, out of which Tripura produced around 12 per cent. While the figures seem promising, they have been rather stagnant in terms of per-hectare production since last 4 decades. The national annual demand of rubber is 12 lakh ton in the domestic industry which means there is more scope for producing rubber.
On the issue, the Rubber Board Executive Director said Tripura’s agro-climatic conditions hold potential to increase production to 1 lakh Kg per year. But the major challenges include lack of properly trained tappers, absence of rain-guarding of rubber plants and lack of focus on quality, he said.
Tripura belongs to NE India, where a considerable amount of time in the year witnesses monsoons showers every year. Hence, tapping or rubber is not possible in these days due to fear of dilution or contamination of the liquid latex.
“Too many tapping days are lost due to lack of rain guarding in rainy season. At least 20 per cent tapping days are lost as per estimates. The rubber plants can be guarded from the rains by some sort of cover so that the tapping can continued underneath”, Dr Raghavan said.
He also informed that the Rubber Board sent four additional rubber tapping trainers to NE India this year to make way for more and more trained tappers, who can cope with the newer techniques.
State rubber board development officer Shyamal Sen informed this publication that tappers would be specially trained and upgraded to ‘Latex Harvest Technicians’, essentially an upgradation in the trade which would add professionalism and esteem to people involved with it.
According to the plans, latest harvest technicians would get new suits, knee long boots, helmets fitted with lights to facilitate rubber tapping in the wee hours of dawn and after nightfall. Officials hope this, along with a higher pay, would encourage tappers, who used to consider tapping a glamour-deprived profession, to invest more time and energy.
In terms of quality, rubber is produced in six major categories – RSS 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and ’lot’ or ungraded quality. Till few years back, nearly all rubber produced in Tripura used to be of the last category. With a bit of training and upgradation, 35-40 per cent rubber produced in Tripura are now graded – mostly RSS 3 and 4.
Seventy per cent of rubber produced in India is consumed by the tyre industry, which means RSS 2 and 4 quality rubber is required in larger quantities.
However, in an effort to create a niche market, Tripura has produced 10 per cent of its rubber in RSS category 1 and 2, which fetches a high price. These are used for producing surgical gloves, pre-cured threads, catheters and other medical equipments.
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