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The Story of the Tree That Made Kerala Dream Big – Then and Now

The article is the third and final in the series that intends to study the rubber plantations in the state of Kerala.

Aravind Rajan
Pic Credit - Wikipedia
Pic Credit - Wikipedia

Rubber literally did revolutionise the agriculture sector of Kerala since its inception in the early 1900s. Rubber was more or less like the synonym for financial stability for a population who found it difficult to subsist with the then available crops and prices. Not to mention, rubber trees didn't find it much challenging to uproot the coconut trees and occupy their spaces in and around the central part of Kerala. 

Coconut and other cash crops that were then cultivated in the state did not help people dream a prosperous life. They even found it difficult to meet their needs with what they earned. Rubber helped them dream big---a prosperous life. The demand, high yield, good price, people couldn't wish for more. Rubber was rightly named the tree that yields white gold! 

Rubber even modified the agricultural map of Kerala. By the year 2000, the area under rubber plantations was estimated to be eleven times the area in the 1960s.  People dared to risk their 6 to 7 years of life (the time required for a rubber sapling to grow into a tree ready for tapping) with the hope of better days. The prosperity and richness rubber brought to Kerala was even reflected in the literature and cinema. Not just big landlords and plantation groups, even the small farmers and labourers profited from rubber. Rubber industry of Kerala even competed with the financial inflow from NRI sources, which traditionally did and continues to empower Kerala's financial interests. Rubber prices even hiked to ₹ 450--550 range during 2000--2010 period. 

Pic Credit - Geojit Financial Services
Pic Credit - Geojit Financial Services

Things are not the same now. A decade ago, rubber was a symbol of hope and prosperity, however, now people are clueless about the prospect of rubber plantations. The favourite of Kerala, the reversal of fortunes was not foreseen from rubber, which helped Kerala dream big and earn high. Multiple factors from increased production to large imports, rubber growers are having a tough time over some years now. The present prices are nowhere near the benchmark rates that rubber used to yield a decade ago. Experts cite certain factors to have reshaped the rubber industry in the state. 

  • The increased production within the state and beyond its borders.

  • Lack of scientific studies and guidance to protect and sustain the industry.

  • Insufficient support from the side of the state and central governments.

  • Lack of marketing strategies.

  • The imports from other rubber producing countries. This was even increased as a result of free trade between the top rubber producing countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, etc., that came up with ASEAN agreement.

The list would go on. One thing is for sure, the lack of important measures to sustain and market the industry simply led to its downfall. Things are not worse though. The industry can be retained and restored if the necessary actions are taken. Rubber growers are still hopeful of a better tomorrow. 

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