Voicing concern over uncontrolled imports of natural rubber, stakeholders in the sector suggested an institutionalised mechanism to regulate such shipments into the country to protect domestic farmers. This is important as nearly 30 per cent of the productive areas are left untapped due to viability issues, they said.
In its feedback on the draft National Rubber Policy, the Association of Planters of Kerala (APK) said that the policy is silent on unabated import of natural rubber and at times with an intention to depress the domestic price.
The Planters’ body is batting for a minimum support price for NR based on grading, which would go a long way in supporting growers. Citing the guidelines given by the MS Swaminathan Commission in this regard, the planters’ body said this could be adopted to determine the minimum support price.
APK also suggested looking into institutionalising a permanent mechanism to determine the Minimum Support Price for NR by giving due consideration to the cost of production, domestic supply and demand and international prices.
“What is important in the draft national rubber policy is the intention to help rubber growers who are in distress. Unfortunately that intention is missing here,” said PC Cyriac, President of the Indian Farmers Movement (Infam).
‘Decisions needed now’
According to him, the policy is only made up of recommendations, which have to be discussed in detail by various ministries before any decision can be taken. For instance, decisions such as imposing higher import duty or declaring rubber as an agricultural product can be taken only after detailed discussions in the ministries of Agriculture, Commerce, Industry and Finance.
“If the intention of the government is to levy higher import duty on rubber, they can do it straight away by invoking the provisions of the WTO agreement to levy safeguard duty,” he added.
According to growers, the shift to block rubber processing from the current system of Ribbed Smoked Sheet (RSS) would only deprive farmers of higher farm-gate prices. The process of manufacturing block rubber involves high-energy utilisation and also produces large quantities of effluence and pollutants.
Therefore all stakeholders including growers, traders, scientists, environmentalists should be taken into confidence before shifting from sheet rubber processing to block rubber processing, the planters said.
They noted that small and marginal rubber growers have already shown signs of shifting away from rubber cultivation to other lucrative vocations. Hence the policy framework should envisage stabilising the financial viability of existing plantations.
They also felt that rubber should be considered as an agricultural crop and system supports extended to farmers of other crops should be made available to rubber growers irrespective of the size of their holdings.