India Experiments Growing Rubber Trees in Tea Gardens

AGARTALA, West Bengal, India

India is one of the world’s largest producers of tea and natural rubber but unlike most countries they are rarely cultivated together.

The Rubber Board has selected tea gardens near the West Bengal city of Jalpaiguri to begin trial cultivation of rubber with tea and if the experiment turns successful, inter-cropping would be extended to other parts of the country, K.G. Mohanan, additional production commissioner, told IANS.

"If we get a positive result from joint cultivation of rubber and tea at Nagrakata village in Jalpaiguri, the rubber board is planning to assist inter-cropping of rubber in tea gardens of northeast India," said Mohanan, an expert in natural rubber cultivation.

"Natural rubber and tea will grow side by side and that will help the gardens retain their economic viability," he added, dismissing the talk of rubber being not eco-friendly and those other crops cannot be possible in rubber gardens.

Mohanan dismissed the argument of some of the environmentalists that farming of mono-cultivations like natural rubber is harmful to the environment.

Natural rubber is a sap, and is tapped from the tree much like maple syrup. It’s very sustainable; one tree can be tapped for 40 years without harming the growth of the tree.

"If natural rubber cultivation is harmful to the environment, why have China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia and many other countries been expanding rubber cultivation in their countries?" he asked.

India ranks first in rubber productivity (1,760 kg per hectare), second in consumption (948,000 metric tons per year), fourth in production (862,400 MT) and sixth in terms of area of rubber cultivation in the world.

Inter-cropping could increase cultivation to 986,000 hectares and production and consumption would go up to 1.6 million MT and 1.7 million MT by 2024-25.

Source: IANS/NY Daily News