Nurseries in Kerala are recovering from the rubber boom in the Northeast


A Rubber Board program to develop plantations in seven NE states has breathed new life into dying nurseries

A Rubber Board program to develop plantations in seven NE states has breathed new life into dying nurseries

Riding a plantation wave sweeping the north-east of the country, rubber nurseries in Kerala are making the most of their grow bags after a decade-long hiatus.

A plan by the Rubber Board to establish two lakh hectares of rubber plantations in the seven northeastern states over a five-year period beginning in 2021-22 has unleashed the pent-up demand for rubber tree nurseries in the state. This expanding plantation program has not only resulted in a dramatic turnaround in sales, but also ensured a longer business season for years to come as nurseries catch up.

Overland special trains

A whopping 51,000 rubber seedlings, sourced from nurseries across Kerala, will soon make their way to plantations in Northeast and West Bengal, according to Rubber Board officials. The shipment, consisting of 36,000 rubber stumps and 15,000 cup plants (root trainer plants), will be sent to Guwahati aboard various passenger and special trains.

“Up to 10 special trains are planned between Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta and Guwahati from last May until the first half of September for the transport of the cup plants. These seedlings are shipped to their respective destinations through the agriculture clusters under the board,” said a senior Rubber Board official.

The total requirement for this year is about 1.32 million seedlings, he says, and of that the rest of the stock will be sourced from nurseries in the Northeast. The planting project began last year when the board operated three special trains from Kerala to transport the seedlings and complete planting work on approximately 3,800 hectares.

In support of the project, the agency has also launched a credit-linked rubber plantation development plan for the region, with support from the Automotive Tire Manufacturers Association (ATMA) and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

Dark decade

For nurseries, the boom follows a dismal decade marked by a gradual decline in plantation cover, rising input costs and falling prices in Kerala. “Thank goodness the North East keeps planting and right now we are all sowing for this market,” said Jose Kutty Antony, secretary of the All Kerala Rubber Nursery Owners Association.

According to him, at least 30% of the more than 1,000 tree nurseries in the state have been closed in the past decade, while about half of the remaining units specialize in growing fruit crops like jackfruit or rambutan. “The disruption caused by the pandemic was the final nail in the coffin as we had to sell most of the stock collected for the season, which normally lasts four months from June,” he added.

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