Govt. mulls expanding rubber production to non-traditional areas

*To meet critical dearth

By Hiran H. Senewiratne

In a bid to expand rubber production, the government is now looking at growing the crop in non-traditional areas.

Due to the present shortage, most industries have no option but to import both synthetic and natural rubber. However, following recommendations the Rubber Research Institute (RRI) has made, rubber plantations are to be introduced

into non-traditional areas as well.

Sri Lanka’s total rubber production is reported to be inadequate to cater the local manufacturing sector. Therefore, certain industries import both natural and synthetic rubber to export business. To face this

situation, the government has taken steps to expand the cultivation mass scale in non-traditional areas, Rubber Research Institute (RRI) Director General Dr. W.M.G Seneviratne said.

The lands have already been allocated to be developed as plantations in the North, East and Uva especially Moneragala areas. For this purpose, they have already cultivated, approximately 30 acres in the North alone. In the Eastern Province, the target is to increase the

current 400 acres to 10,000 acres by 2014. In Moneragala also rubber is to be grown

in substantial quantity, he said.

Dr Seneviratne said that identifying lands and related issues were discussed at a special meeting with Government Agents in  Northern areas. At present, more than 30 hectares have been cultivates in Naddnunkanni, Madukanda, Oddusudan and Pudukuruirrippu areas, at one

time LTTE strongholds.

"We want to cover Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya and a Steering

Committee will assess the feasibility of increasing rubber plantations

in the region", he said.

However, the RRI only receives a budgetary allocation of Rs. 2.5 million to carry out its work.  In 2011, the rubber industry grew 58.7

per cent, reaching US$ 884.8 million. In 2010, rubber earned only US$

557.6 million, according to the Central Bank External Sector

Performance Report.

Last year’s demand was mostly driven by China and India, which absorbed most of the global market as prices of synthetic rubber

continued to increase due to high oil costs. The trends are expected to continue in 2012.

Local exporters want stable volumes of produce, made according to

well-defined quality standards and at stable prices but face many

problems in ensuring such supply on a consistent basis, due to short

supply, he said.

Dr Seneviratne said that almost 72 percent of Sri Lanka’s rubber is

produced by smallholders who account for just over half the cultivated


Most small holders suffer from a "quality penalty" or discount on the market price by buyers to offset perceptions their produce is usually substandard.

"Still the collecting system has not developed in certain rural areas. Small farmers could get better prices that would ensure guaranteed quality to buyers, researchers have found, " he said.

He said that total rubber production was 150,000 tons for a year, of which 110,000 tones are being used for the  local industry and the balance for domestic use. Therefore, due to presence of a strong

manufacturing sector local rubber output is inadequate to sustain the manufacturing sector, he said.

Small farmers find it difficult to give the required quantities at stable prices for a given standard. The reason was that they do not have enough money to invest in technology to improve the quality of their produce, Dr Seneviratne said.

He said that they are also looking at the possibility of

setting up a facility to provide rubber based pharmaceutical industry in Sri Lanka. Currently, Ministry of Health expends a large amount of

foreign exchange on certain pharmaceutical items including surgical gloves.

Sri Lanka is considered to be the world’s ninth largest exporter of natural rubber.

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