The state is looking at absorbing up to about 25 percent or as much as half the cost of laying rain guards for rubber trees on smallholder estates this year.
Laying the plastic skirt-like rain guards over the areas to be tapped protects it in heavy rainfall areas like the Ratnapura and the Kalutara districts.
Increasing the use of rain guards has been identified by the state Rubber Research Institute as the best way to up yields in the short term.
“The only rapid way available for substantial yield improvement in the rubber plantations is by fixing rain guards to prevent rain interruption during harvesting”, Director at the RRI, Dr. L.M.K Tillekeratne said.
“By means of rain guards, small estates in places like Ratnapura have been able to recover over 30 percent yield and therefore earn an additional income of Rs.25, 758 per hectare”, Tillekeratne said.
Each rain guard that can be used for a year costs Rs.13.69. They eliminate the need for recovery tapping where there is the danger of tapping the tree to dryness.
A feasibility study by the RRI indicates that spending Rs.188.5 mn, a return of over Rs.1 bn could be expected, provided a 50 percent subsidy is given to the smallholder sector.
“The Advisory Services Department of the RRI has made arrangements through state banks to give concession loans to the smallholders to lay rain guards in 2004”, Tillekeratne said.
Meanwhile, an industry cess on all raw rubber exports as well as on rubber product exports and imports will kick in by May this year.
The cess will raise Rs.500 mn for a price stabilisation scheme to help smallholders tide over any drastic changes in world market prices.
Long term plans for the industry include extending rubber planting to non-traditional areas and in abandoned tea lands, over 400 m above sea level.
Already, some 29,000 ha of marginal tea lands have been identified in the hill country for re-planting with rubber.
A project to cultivate rubber in the non-traditional area of Moneragala also got off ground last week, to supply local industry with a steady supply of local natural rubber.
Some 200ha of land is to be planted with rubber during the South West monsoon, while plants from that seed fall will be used to lay a new nursery in Moneragala.
Industry targets are to increase national productivity from 950 kilos per hectare per year, to a minimum of 1500 kilos per hectare per year.
The government wants to hand out a state subsidy on rain guards for rubber smallholders, to encourage production and boost yields by as much as 30 percent in ten months.
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