Kottayam: Sharp fall in natural rubber prices is causing deep concern in Kerala, which accounts for over 80 per cent of the domestic production of the commodity.
Farmers, local traders and political parties hold the steady increase in import of rubber by the industry tapping on low tariff rate as the main factor for the declining prices for the domestic output.
According to Jose K Mani, who represents Kottayam in the Lok Sabha and whose Kerala Congress (M) is a partner of the UPA, the Centre is yet to fulfil its promise of lowering the import tariff from 20 per cent.
The Finance Ministry is yet to give its nod to this proposal forwarded by the Commerce Ministry on pressure from Kerala, he said.
The growers, many of them medium and small holders, are also hit by hike in input cost, especially the wages, and factors like rotting of trees due to excessive rains and paucity of experienced tappers.
The farmers, who mostly route their output through local traders, said the actual price they received was less than the official estimates.
'Last week alone the price fell by Rs 30 per kg, which is the severest in recent times,' farmer Raju Mathew told PTI.
The plummetting prices have left a telling impact in Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts in the Central, Travancore region, which has the largest concentration of small and marginal rubber growers apart from several big and medium sized plantations.
According to the Rubber Board, the domestic price of RSS-4 slipped to Rs 15,900 last week from Rs 18,113 per quintal less than a month ago.
Many of the farmers are apprehensive that if the import continued at the current level, the prices would dip further.
Local dealers say it had often been the practice of the industry to manipulate the domestic prices by increasing import during the peak yielding season of October-December.
Political parties and farmers outfits allege the present situation is the result of the Centre going back on the promise of reducing the import tariff to stave off the price crash.
Farmers say there had been a mismatch between the input cost and the price they fetch.
'The wage for tappers was fixed when the rubber price was at its peak. While the price has come down since then the labour cost remains the same,' said another rubber cultivator Bobby from Peermade in Idukki district.
The excess rains received by the growing areas during the South West Monsoon this year has also added to the distress of the farmers in the form of largescale rotting of trees, they said.