Is Sri Lanka satisfied with the award-winning NR productivity of about 1250 kg/ha? Although the national productivity in 2011 had been 1558 kg/ha, research yields much higher than this and the Indian national yield is 1835kg/ha. Are we not interested in boosting our productivity by year 2021 (10 years) to 2000 kg/ha? By this time, India and even Vietnam would yield around 2250 to 2500kg/ha. Where have we gone wrong?
India is now the leader in global NR productivity. How did they achieve it? Successive Indian governments have been continuously supporting rubber development in India through policies, programmes, projects, campaigns and various other educational and extension services. The Rubber Board, the implementing agency for such programmes and projects, has been keen on doing its job with utmost honesty. The rubber farming community, spread over the 16 states in India, has enthusiastically adopted the board’s directives for their benefit.
In the matter of technology adoption, the number of laggards among rubber growers is relatively less when compared to farmers of other crops. The Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII) under the Rubber Board undertakes regular research on evolving high-yielding and disease-tolerant varieties, modernising the package of practices, refining the harvesting technology and improving the primary processing mechanism.
The up-to-date research findings and technologies are passed on to the target clientele in remote villages by a group of dedicated extension officers. They move around in all rubber growing areas throughout the year, meeting the growers, visiting their plantations and advising them on the theory and practice of scientific rubber cultivation, harvesting, processing and marketing.
The tireless efforts made by the board to get the technology understood and adopted by the one million plus small and marginal rubber farmers in the country are commendable. The board has, in fact, used the small subsidies for new planting, replanting, quality upgradation etc. as extension tools to ensure scientific planting, maintenance, harvesting and primary processing by the farmers in remote villages in India. The results of their efforts are evident from the progress achieved in planting, production and productivity. Despite many constraints such as the not-so-ideal agri-climate, very small size of the holdings, resource-poor farmers, highly scattered nature of holdings and the wide ratio between extension workers and growers, India has been occupying the enviable first position in productivity in the world (figure 1 )
The achievements in area expansion, production and productivity over the last 50 years are equally impressive. The spectacular achievement was made possible due to the combined efforts of the Rubber Board’s Research and Extension wings and over 1.17 million rubber farmers of the country.
However, the current 1:4200 ratio between the Rubber Board’s extension officers and growers has to grow further. Other public sector extension agencies such as the State Agriculture Departments, Agricultural Universities etc. have played only very limited roles in the country’s rubber development.
For the last two decades, agriculture sector the world over witnessed an emergence of a wide range of extension service providers in the private sector, while support from the public extension wing was declining.
But the Rubber Board of India continues to be the major motivator, promoter and service provider in the Indian rubber sector. Anyone interested in NR can get whatever support he needs from the Rubber Board, be it in the areas of research, extension, processing or marketing. The board always promoted the farmers’ unity. Cooperatives in the rubber sector were promoted and supported by the board as early as from the 1960s. Subsequently, from the mid-1980s onwards, the board started promoting the Rubber Producers Societies, a more grass root-level organisation.\
Farmer group is not a new concept in agricultural extension and the advantages farmers can gain through group approach are well-known. Working through small groups, individual farmers are benefited in many ways. They can reduce their cost on accessing inputs, acquiring technologies for production and harvesting, marketing etc. by sharing the cost on these items.
Bulk purchasing of input items by the group, availing discounts from suppliers and sharing of transportation expenditure lowers individual cost on inputs without compromising on quality.
Through groups, growers can link up with government extension agencies and access their services at reduced cost. Group approach will help individual farmers to access services of financial institutions at reduced expenditure.
Group marketing can increase the bargaining capacity of the farmers and help them share the costs of processing, storage, transporting and selling. This means lower cost and higher profit to individual members of the group.
For the government also, working through farmer groups is beneficial in many ways. Government extension workers can reach out to more farmers and services can be delivered to more people at no extra cost.
Banks and government institutions can render better services to farmers through their groups at lower cost. Efficiency in the delivery of inputs and marketing of output is improved through group approach. All these ultimately translate into the well-being of the farming community.
The concept of community approach is more relevant in crops grown mainly by small and marginal growers. Rubber is such a crop and Rubber Producers Societies (RPS) promoted by the Rubber Board have now become unique examples of farmer unity in the sector, nationally and international. RPSs are now functioning as extension arms of the board. They are actively involved in the implementation of almost all farmer support schemes.
The services rendered by RPS to the growers in areas of technology transfer, input supply, plantation maintenance, harvesting practices, primary processing and quality improvement of sheets, environment protection through proper effluent treatment and rubber marketing are laudable. These organisations are now involved in the policy-making process of the board through representation in the Rubber Board.
To accomplish the objectives in farming venture, a farmer has to be provided with the following:
a) Information about improved technology and its management practices
b) Proper advice on effective farm planning and resource management
c) Skill for putting the prescribed cultural recommendations into practice, timely availability of input items and credit
d) Post-harvest and marketing services.
Rubber cultivation is a technology-propelled activity. It also needs support from other sectors like credit, supplies and services, market access etc. Apart from the Rubber Board, support of certain other institutions has also provided a fillip to rubber development programmes in the country.
National Bank for Agricultural Rural Development (NABARD) and Lead Banks in different districts have provided the much needed credit facilities to the rubber growers for new planting and maintenance of plantations, purchase of rubber sheeting rollers, construction of smoke houses for curing rubber sheets and setting up other processing facilities.
For new plantings, under a NABARD refinance scheme, commercial banks have allowed an interest subsidy of 3% on the credit amount and a deferment of repayment until the plantation starts yielding. That scheme is not in operation now. Cooperative banks in rural villages also extend credit facilities to rubber growers and motivate a large number of them to take up rubber planting.
Cooperative institutions at the village level have played a major role in supporting rubber development activities. Through timely delivery of plantation inputs at reasonable price, these institutions have assisted in increasing rubber production and ensured higher value for the money spent by the farmers. The role played by the co-operatives in marketing rubber is commendable. A few years back, when rubber price fell to the rock bottom and there were no takers for rubber produced by the small and marginal growers, certain cooperatives dared to purchase their rubber at the minimum notified price even suffering financial loss. It was a great relief to the farmers.
The Rubber Board is implementing a scheme for rehabilitation and settlement of the weaker sections of the society, especially the SC/ST category, through group/block planting of rubber. These projects are successfully implemented in the States of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Tripura. These projects, financially supported by the State Governments concerned to the tune of around 50% of the cost, have contributed much to their socio-economic development and ecological improvement of the regions.
Many State Governments have also established their own commercial rubber plantations as well as rubber-based rehabilitation projects through soil conservation departments, forest departments and corporations. Apart from earning revenue for the states and rehabilitating tribal people, such plantations have motivated local people to take up rubber planting on their own land, thereby helping rubber development in the country.
Before the formation of the Rubber Board, it was the large plantations that provided extension support to new entrepreneurs by giving technical know-how and planting materials. Initial experiments of all the research programmes of the board were carried out in large estates even at a loss. Most of the present day recommendations of the board were first tried in large plantations.
The United Planters’ Association of Southern India (UPASI) has contributed to rubber development by scientifically observing the performance of rubber plantations of its members at various stages and conducting research on the relevant aspects in its own way. They used to share their observations and experiences with the board, which formed useful inputs for formulating policies.
The Research Cell for rubber, set up by UPASI in Kottayam, India, a few years back, has helped the growers in many ways. Now, they have withdrawn the arrangement. Social organisations like YMCA, youth clubs and libraries in rural areas have contributed in rubber development by supporting the Rubber Board in its extension efforts mainly for transfer of technology and distribution of input items.
There are around 9,700 licensed rubber dealers spread over the rural producing centres in the country. They have helped the Rubber Board in its campaign for inculcating quality consciousness among the small and marginal producers. The healthy competition among the dealers and their readiness to pay for the rubber based on its grade have helped the Indian rubber grower in getting around 85% of the terminal market price at his doorstep
In conclusion, all concerned can be reasonably proud about the progress achieved in rubber development in their country; yet they say, still have miles to go and many more goals to reach. Countries like Vietnam are also marching forward in rubber development with its currently second position in productivity. What are our strategies? (The writer can be contacted at [email protected])