Growing rubber in non-traditional areas need effective institutional support
Strategic initiatives identified to reach the national targets in rubber production are, increasing productivity and extent under rubber cultivation. The state response towards these strategies although appears to be positive, it still needs strengthening.
Emphasis is currently given for growing rubber in non-traditional areas in the Uva, Eastern and Northern Provinces where land and labour are assumed to be non-limiting factors. If properly implemented, the rubber planting programmes in these areas will alleviate the poverty of the people and ensure environmental sustainability.
The non-traditional rubber growing areas have been focused in many development projects aiming the rural poor but with very little success. Many development programmes have failed due to insufficient attention on the needs and thoughts of the community, in the planning process.
It has been reported that the Uva Province is among the poorest with a poverty head count index (HCI) of 13.7 percent, while the Moneragala and Badulla Districts have HCIs of 14.5 percent and 13.3 percent, respectively and being ranked as the third and fourth districts based on this index. Such details, however, are not available for the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
With this background, there is a risk of resource wastage unless proper planning is done at the initial stages of the rubber development programmes. This is especially important in development of the smallholder sector where resource wastage is expected to be high due to poor awareness and adoption of technical recommendations related to rubber planting and processing.
Role of institutions
There are several institutions that cater to the needs of the smallholder rubber sector in Sri Lanka. Under the Plantation Industries Ministry (MPI), there are the Rubber Research Board (RRB), Rubber Development Department (RDD) and Thurusaviya Fund (TF). The Rubber Research Institute of Sri Lanka (RRISL) is responsible for research and development activities which are under RRB.
The RRISL has a separate department named, Advisory Services Department (ASD), which is its extension arm. The RDD is responsible for issuing permits for rubber planting, subsidy disbursement and providing planting material to the smallholders. The TF is a body responsible for establishing, registering and organising the Thurusaviya societies (smallholder rubber societies) and providing processing facilities, enhancing sales and marketing rubber.
The majority of farmers who were involved in participatory studies were ‘potential’ rubber growers who had already received permits for rubber cultivation. Hence, the major issues in most of the areas were related to planting material. Due to the high demand for planting material, poor quality planting material have been released to the farmers in certain occasions.
Some farmers have raised the issue of difficulty in getting permits for rubber cultivation, as they had not received permits from Divisional Secretariats for cultivation (nearly 53 percent of the survey sample stated that they occupy state-owned land on lease or having ‘Swarnabhoomi’ or ‘Jayabhoomi’ deeds and some are encroachers).
Further, delay in subsidy payments and marketing problems were also raised as major issues in some areas. On the issue of limitation in planting material, the respondents suggested to have nurseries at village level. It was mentioned by respondents in Siyambalagune in Wellawaye that they have nurseries at village level and planting material is not an issue of priority for them. It is also needed to educate farmers on the subsidy scheme to avoid any delays and misunderstandings with institutions.
Several institutional issues such as insufficient extension workers and frequent transfers need to be addressed well in policy documents, as they can severely affect the sustainability of the system.
Encouraging and helping farmers to organise farmers’ organisations have been effective approaches towards development. Processing, marketing and pricing issues can be best handled by organising the farmers through societies. With the formation of an organisation, the farming community can be empowered with the knowledge and skills to identify its needs and problems, harness its resources to deal with these problems and take actions collectively.
Issues to address
Poor knowledge and lack of training facilities were also raised as major issues in some areas. These issues suggest that there is an urgent need for improving awareness. Several projects were undertaken by the RRISL, with the aim of improving awareness in the non-traditional rubber growing areas of Sri Lanka, funded by local and international agencies.
The environmental issues such as prolonged drought periods in these areas need to be very promptly addressed with possible adaptation methods to minimize adverse environmental effects. Raising awareness on soil and moisture conservation is of immense importance in this regard.
A study titled ‘Empowering rubber farmers in non-traditional rubber growing areas through knowledge on combating adverse impacts of environment for better productivity’ is in progress. It aims to identify the vulnerability of rubber in non-traditional rubber growing areas to environmental threats, to develop and test appropriate adaptation measures to combat adverse environmental conditions in these areas and to disseminate knowledge on technical recommendations to a wider audience of rubber farmers, stakeholders and policy makers. This study covers the Uva, Eastern and Northern Provinces of Sri Lanka.
However, in general there appear to be certain socio-economic factors other than poor awareness that hinder adoption of recommendations in these non-traditional rubber growing areas. Poor education, low income levels and poor group involvements of smallholder farmers were some of the factors for poor adoption rates of recommendations in these areas. Certain institutional issues were also raised by farmers during the study, emphasizing the need for an efficient extension service to them.
There is no guaranteed procedure to ensure the transfer of any technology.
Identification of problems and development of recommendations only by the researchers themselves resulted in low adoption levels in most instances, which are not affordable, especially for small-scale farmers. There have been several adaptive research trials in farmers’ fields conducted by the RRISL in collaboration with the farmers.
Meaningful dialogues between researchers, extension workers and farmers to share experiences gathered at the ground level are of immense importance for development of appropriate technologies. Information through surveys, extension research and participatory approaches can be used to incorporate knowledge and experience gathered in generations by local communities for better success. Also, setting up of some coordinating bodies with representatives from relevant stakeholders will help strengthening the research-extension-farmer linkage.
All technologies recommended for smallholders need to be tested for the smallholder situation through on-farm research methodologies followed by an economic evaluation. The RRISL has established a few participatory on-farm trials, covering the Northern, Eastern, North Central and Uva Provinces by assisting smallholder farmers with knowledge and inputs. Different agricultural practices such as irrigation, organic manure incorporation, mulching and potassium-fertilizer are tested in these trials.
The developed technologies need penetration at the farmer level with proper planning by the respective extension managers and operators. In this respect, farmer participation towards a satisfactory level would be of paramount importance in the planning process. Need-based extension programmes are the best way to cater to farmers’ needs. This can reduce the cost and wastage of resources as well.
In addition, a dialogue between the RRISL and RDD in the planning process is vital as both the ASD and RDD are serving the same target group. This has created differential acceptance of these two groups by the smallholders as a result of poor coordination which leads to wastage of resources through duplication of some services. Hence, regular discussions between institutions at the planning stage are of crucial importance to overcome such situations.
One of the major problems that exists in the present extension service rendered by the RRISL is the lack of sufficient number of extension workers to cater the smallholders. An extension officer of the RRISL has to provide his services for nearly 3000 farmers, which is not at all a convenient exercise, hindering the effectiveness of the extension service. Every effort should therefore be made to recruit and train additional manpower and to provide them with necessary transport and other facilities which are highly inadequate at present.
However, to cope with the present situation, identification of task oriented programmes, targeting a maximum number of farmers during the planning stage is essential. This will create a situation for efficient use of allocated limited resources.
It is known that, most rubber farmers are generally reluctant to change their farming activities as they have the ‘wait-and-see’ attitude. Although many farmers are very much open to new ideas and technologies, there are more farmers who would first like to see a working model before they follow the lead. To overcome this situation, model rubber farms have been established in all the rubber growing areas together with this new approach. This can also be effective in non-traditional areas. (DMAP Dissanayaka and Wasana Wejesuriya, 2002, RRISL)
(N. Yogaratnam can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)