By K S Nayar :

Dakshina Kannada (DK), a coastal district in the State of Karnataka, has the prospects of becoming South India’s rubber industry hub thanks to its high potential to develop a rubber plantation industry, asserts Dr Giridhara Gowda, the renowned management scholar and Associate Professor at Nehru Memorial College, Sullia, Dakshina Karnataka. What is needed are pragmatic policies by the Government and the planters, he says in an interview to Rubber Asia.

As a management scholar and academic, Giridhara Gowda decided to explore the problems and prospects of rubber cultivation in Dakshina Kannada (DK), a coastal district in the State of Karnataka in south India.
Known also as South Canara, the southern coastal district is spread across an area of 4,859 sq km. Sheltered by the Western Ghats on the east and surrounded by the Lakshadweep sea on the west, it is bound by Udupi district in the north and Kerala State in the south. Its headquarters is Mangaluru, which is a hub of educational institutions of repute. The region gets abundant rainfall during the monsoon.
Dr Gowda recently made an in-depth research study of the region to understand the prospects of rubber cultivation and development of rubber-related industries. He organised a survey to understand the region to find the prospects and problems of the region. For this he chose 50 rubber planters to assess the NR production cost. He found that there was significant cost difference in different regions.
Based on the study, he has come up with various suggestions to overcome the problems faced by rubber plantations in Dakshina Kannada, a major rubber producing District in South India. His research has revealed that there are advantages in promoting rubber-based industries in the district. Despite the existence of large plantations, rubber industries have shied away from the region though there is immense scope for rubber-based industries.
According to Dr Gowda’s research finding, the cost of rubber cultivation varies from region to region in Dakshina Kannada. The Sullia and Belthangady regions offer good prospects for rubber production, but from the economic point of view, the Bantwal region is found to be better.
From the agro-climatic point of view, the Bantwal region is not preferred. Dr Gowda feels that authorities trying to promote rubber plantations should also consider local cultural practices very carefully while seeking to introduce the plantation crop.
He suggests that authorities should follow a holistic approach in dealing with rubber plantations in Dakshina Kannada. This might face problems, but Dr Gowda thinks these could be tackled if policy-makers take decision with empathy and respect the local socio-cultural interests.
While developing multi-purpose plantation crops, the Government should strive to find an acceptable set of regulations under which industrial development, land utilisation and allotment for plantation, management, employment, wages and benefits, health and safety, discipline, product standardisation, commodity market, import and export price control, dealers’ licensing, research and development, technical training, statistics and publication etc. should be programmed and materialised.
Dr Gowda firmly thinks that Dakshina Kannada has the prospects of becoming South India’s rubber industry hub thanks to its high potential to develop a rubber plantation industry in the region.
“Dakshina Kannada (DK) district is treated as a non-traditional area from the view point of rubber cultivation,” comments Dr Gowda.“ According to him, natural rubber has been successfully grown there only on moderate scale since 1961 onwards. As it borders Kerala, which produces 90% of India’s NR output, the agro-climatic condition is almost the same as that of Kerala.
As per a report of the Rubber Board, there is further scope to increase the area under cultivation from the present 35,000 ha to its double level. Of late, small and medium-sized privately-owned rubber plantations are springing up in large numbers in all taluks (administrative regions) of DK district along with the Government-owned rubber plantations.
According to the Rubber Board report, the average yield realised is 1,461 kg/ha/yr in DK district and the average in Karnataka state is 950 kg/ha/yr. As DK District is connected by all modes of transportation, there is maximum scope to start manufacturing industries based on latex and dry rubber or industries for latex/rubber wood processing.
From the point of opportunity cost, rubber plantations and surplus income in rubber plantations are better compared to other agricultural and horticultural crops. The Karnataka Forest Development Corporation has got 4,443.32 ha under its control in Sullia and Puttur taluks giving employment to 947 Sri Lanka Tamil repatriates who are experts in rubber tapping. Their population has grown into more than 20,000 and, out of this, many are still continuing as the rubber tappers or labour force in the Government and private rubber plantations of DK district.
The major problems facing the expansion of rubber plantations in the region, according to Dr Gowda, are the following:
• Instability of NR prices
• Lack of support price from the Karnataka government
• Agro-climatic condition which is not excellent
• No uniformly adopted scientific agro-management practice in all holdings
• Shortage of trained tappers and plantation workers
• Unwillingness of the majority of youngsters to take up this task as the tapping work has to start before sunrise
• Derived demand-market depending on import of rubber/oil price/auto industries
• Centrifuged latex (CENEX) cannot be stored for a long time
• No control on seasonal variation of latex
• Increase in NR productivity in other countries and cheap imports
• Growers having no role in NR price fixing
• No extensive practice of inter-cropping
• Incidence of pests and diseases
• Quality of NR sheets is not maintained; 60-70% of RSS are in the form of ‘Lot Rubber’
• Problem of storage of dried RSS
• Scarcity of fuel for smoke-houses
Dr Gowda also says, in terms of earnings, small holders are at a disadvantage compared to large plantations which employ tappers on regular wages. Heterogeneous wage rate is prevailing in small holdings and there is also gender inequality in wage rate. Small holders may not wait for good rates, but sell it off as ‘lot rubber’ to a local dealer.
Generally, the small holders practise ‘high tapping interference’ which leads to less yield and less life to tree. The cultivation practices are not followed scientifically. Few of the small holders are giving the tapping work on lease basis to outsiders for a number of years but at less prices.
There is scarcity of trained tappers and those with the proper expertise have to be paid high wages. Moreover, the harvesting cost is comparatively more for small holders compared to large holdings, because large holders employ regular tappers by providing all types of facilities, including stay, medical, education for their children, bonus etc. Often small holders may not become the members of RPS/rubber marketing societies, due to various reasons.
The main problem faced by every planter or agriculturist is shortage of trained rubber tappers and proper labour force. There is a growing dislike among rural youth to take up rubber plantation or agricultural work. They want only white-collar jobs and they migrate to cities.
The daily wage structure is not uniform and it depends on the demand and the wage rate. In a majority cases, tapping rate is fixed per tree — generally Rs. 1.25 to Rs. 1.75 – and per day more or less 300 trees are tapped. The daily wage for male is Rs 350 to 450, and for women it is Rs 250 to 300. Over and above this, they are also provided with food. Some planters do give yearly bonus and other facilities also.
The availability of local labour force is not encouraging. In some new plantations due to the shortage of tappers, the tapping work begins after two or three years from the date of maturity for tapping. In some plantations, workers from Orissa, Bihar etcare trained by agents and supplied to the needy planters at a high wage rate. Nowadays family labour participation is also less.
When asked why he considered Bantwal region as good although agro-climatic conditions are not in favourable, Dr Gowda said that after collecting all necessary data of all regions of DK district and analysing it by using some of the selected statistical tools like Mean, Standard Deviation, ANOVA, Post Hoc test and Harmonic Mean, he reached this conclusion.
The nine important variables collected and analysed region-wise and holding-wise are: 1) Land preparation cost 2) Planting cost 3) Fertilizer cost 4) Inter cultivation, weeding and mulching cost 5) Cost of diseases and pest control 6) Harvesting cost 7) Processing cost 8) Yield, and 9) Revenues.
“For new NR plantations, the land preparation cost is much low in Bantwala region because barren lands are available. People can use them for rubber cultivation, so that employment generation and environmental protection can be improved and labour force is moderately available unlike in other taluks,” Dr Gowda elaborated.
There is less scarcity of labour force, which can be easily diverted to rubber plantations. Commercial crops like arecanut, coconut, cocoa etc, are fewer in Bantwala Taluk; so the tappers are not demanding heavy wages. The harvesting cost and post harvesting costs of NR are also not high as in other regions of DK district. Tappers and labour force are ready to work at a less wage rate also.
Mangalore city is hardly 22 km from Bantwala town so that transportation cost is less for carrying the inputs and outputs of NR. Since the forests are scanty in Bantwala region, the problems of disease and pests are less. Wild animals are also less. But yield-wise, Bantwala region is not favourable.
When asked about what suggestions he would offer to the Government and the planters based on his research, Dr Gowda said that the focus should be on industrialising so that the State can develop Dakshina Kannada to its full potential through developing it as multi-purpose plantation crop region.
He has 15 suggestions to achieve these development goals:
1) Rubber-based and rubber wood-based industries should be set up in the district by the Government and the private sector which will encourage new plantations and generate employment.
2) Set up rubber trading centre in Mangalore
3) Rubber marketing Societies and Rubber Producers Societies should cover all growers.
4) The Rubber Board should undertake in the region scientific cultivation and agro-management.
5) Financial subsidies should be extended and procedural delays at the required department should be minimised
6) Publication of the Rubber Board literature in Kannada
7) Setting up of rubber nurseries by the Government or the private sector in all important places for the supply of region-specific clones.
8) Kannada-knowing Field Officers/Employees should be appointed by the Rubber Board.
9) Setting up soil testing labs
10) Providing information on cultural operations, harvesting and marketing
11) Incentives for export of rubber products.
12) Setting up tapping training centres and providing training on regular basis at hobli or village level.
13) Rubber seed procuring, processing and marketing as value-added ones need to be encouraged in the district in the context of increasing demand for bio-diesel.
14) Inter-cultivation of vegetables, fruits, medicinal plants etc should be encouraged.
15) Bee-keeping on rubber plantations should be encouraged by providing incentives.
Dr Gowda asserts that rubber plantations have great scope in Dakhina Kannada region. What is needed are pragmatic policies by the Government and the planters.