Urbanisation and industrialisation hits rubber industry | Sunday Observer

Urbanisation and industrialisation hits rubber industry

Rubber, a lucrative industry in the country at one time, is today in a precarious state due to rubber land being acquired for industrial and commercial activities across the country, the Colombo Rubber Traders’ Association (CRTA) warned last week.

Addressing the 99th Annual General Meeting of the CRTA at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce auditorium last week, out-gong Chairman of the Association Sunil Poholiyadde said over 4,000 acres of rubber land across the country has already been acquired for industrial and commercial activities.

“Land in the rubber growing areas is fast diminishing and this is a major obstacle to boost production and develop the crop. We had many pow wows with the authorities to stop the acquisition of rubber land which if not curtailed, would pose a major threat to the plantation,” Poholiyadde said.

Rubber grown in the traditional areas is no longer conducive due to rapid urbanization and industrialisation, the CRTA noted.

According to CRTA, the land acquired from rubber plantations have not been used for any purpose.

“Most of this land has been abandoned and it is of no use to anyone,” Poholiyadde said. Besides the rapid dwindling of land left for cultivation, the sharp decline in global rubber prices which has slumped by almost 50 percent has come has a double whammy to the industry.

Rubber prices dropped from around Rs. 600 per kilogram to Rs. 200 per kg in 2016. However, the price per kg increased marginally this year and currently stands at Rs. 350.

Smallholders account for nearly 70 percent of natural rubber production while the rest is held by corporates.

“Smallholders bank on prices and when prices drop they move into other occupations. Most of the plantation areas are home to various industries which offer employment to rubber farmers,” Poholiyadde said. The decline in prices, the acute shortage of workers especially affecting companies and the reduction in cultivable land have boiled down to low production which plunged from around 150 million kgs to 60 million kgs about two years ago.

“Production volumes have now increased to around 85 million kgs, which is a marginal increase. We cannot depend on smallholders alone to improve production. The Plantation Ministry must initiate measures to boost production and quality through new technology that will fetch a better price for rubber in the global market,” Poholiyadde said.

Incumbent Chairman Amanda Weerasinghe said since the first rubber seeds were planted in 1876, the rubber tree has not been fully made use of with the advancement of science.

“We should look at rubber not only as a commodity but also as a crop that has many benefits to be reaped.”

“The 10-year Master Plan for the rubber industry should be implemented by focusing on value addition. It would be a disaster if we continue to import raw material for exports,” Weerasinghe said.

The Ministry of Plantation Industries launched the plan for 2017-2026 with a target to record an export turnover of US$4,000 million by 2025. The rubber industry aims at being a US$ 3 billion industry by 2020.

However, rubber production which had an annual output of over 155,000 MT in the mid 1970s and Sri Lanka being the fourth largest rubber producer in the world, still hovered around 158,000 mt by 2011 while many countries increased their production volumes during the same period. Sri Lanka which had been a leading rubber producer has slipped to the sixth position among natural rubber producers in the world. The crop grown in around 200,00 hectares mainly in the wet zone has been extended to the dry zone as well.

Sri Lanka manufactures a wide range of value added products which comprise surgical, household and industrial gloves, hoses, tyres, tubes, auto parts , aviation tyres , rubber flooring, floor mats, carpets and footwear.