|A challenge for rubber?
The labour problem is a critical issue faced by the Sri Lanka rubber industry. The situation is expected to become more acute in the future, though the demand for natural rubber is increasing
Rubber production in the country reached its peak level in 1978 at nearly, 155,000 MT. However, nationalization of estates in 1975 and subsequent neglect in management caused a steady decline in production. The total production declined in 2000 to only 87,000 MT. As of now, Sri Lanka occupies the eighth position in the worlds natural rubber production, way behind the three South Asian economies of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
The labour problem is a critical issue faced by Sri Lankas Natural rubber industry. The situation is expected to become more acute in the future. This problem in the estate sector was reported to be among the key factors causing a marked decline in rubber production. A rubber estate with a yield of 1000 Kg/ha would require approximately 147 man days/ha for tapping out of the total number of 208 man days required for the entire operation. This amounts to 71%. Labour accounts for about 40% of the total cost of production of rubber. About 70% of the workers time is spent on harvesting (tapping and collection of latex). Many estates consider the current prevailing situation of a shortage of skilled tappers as a serious problem. Shortages of tappers have resulted in significant crop losses due to vacant tapping blocks and also due to employment of unskilled tappers.
In labour scarcity situations, the area/tapper ratio and tappers productivity could be enhanced by combining enlarged task techniques with low frequency tapping techniques (d/3, d/4 or even d/6 tapping frequencies). Labour costs would be further reduced by employing proper methods of crop collection combined with larger task sizes, appropriate use of latex stimulants and rain guarding devices.
With high yielding clones being widely planted and with more effective methods of yield stimulation practices, a much longer duration of latex flow is expected especially in low frequency tapping areas. In some areas, double collection should be carried out due to longer latex flow. The economic benefit in terms of higher productivity and higher tappers income as well as reduction of labour costs with devices such as "RRIM flow", is known to out-weigh the investment cost in such techniques.
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