Jhapa – (Chandrakala Bhandari) Natural rubber can be vital in bolstering the country’s economy and advancing towards climate and livelihood goals. However, inability of the State to tap into its potential has led to the imports from foreign countries resulting in the outflow of millions of rupees. According to data available, the total rubber cultivation covers are only around 555 hectares producing average 1.1 tonnes rubber per hectare. So, to meet the high demand for it, Nepal imports more than 98 percent of natural rubber mainly from India, China, Thailand and Malaysia.

According to a study carried out in 2070 BS by the Directorate of Crop Development under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, 14,000 hectares of land is suited for rubber plantation in Jhapa, Morang, Ilam, Sunsari, Udayapur and Sindhuli in the Chure and Madhesh Area of the central part of the country. From the area, 25,000 metric tonnes of processed rubber can be produced annually (1,800 kg per hectare) generating over Rs 6 billion in incomes.

Various studies have also said that areas in the Chure and Madhes have abundant potential for rubber production. Nepal can produce 40,000 metric tonnes of processed rubber annually, said Tilak Bhandari, executive director of the Institute of Rubber Research Nepal. Rubber can be cultivated on additionally 30,000 hectares of land in two phases, he said. In the first five years, rubber can be cultivated in 15,000 hectares, and in additional 15,000 hectares in the next five years, he suggested the government in a report.

“As the government has not understood the potential of rubber cultivation, Nepal’s economy is avoiding self- sufficiency,” he said. A frequent change in the government leads to a change in the policy itself making the matter worse, he said. He demanded a sustainable and effective policy in this regard.

In the context when rubber is being imported from neighbouring India and other countries, Nepal can be self -sufficient in rubber and become an exporting country in a decade by planning the expansion of rubber plantation, he said. In Nepal, rubber known as ‘white gold’ was first cultivated 33 years ago in Jhapa. The Dhakal family cultivated it in Shanishowre by establishing a company. Now, its cultivation has been expanded in 18 local levels of five districts in the east. Rubber plantation started in Nepal with the aim of providing raw materials to the Gorakhkali rubber industry established by the government in 2041 BS in Gorkha. But now, the inability of the state to operate the industry in a manageable way has not only resulted in its closure but the expansion of rubber cultivation that could transform the country’s economy could not take the expected pace. Natural rubber is harvested in the form of latex from rubber trees. The latex is a sticky, milky and white colloid collected by making incisions in the bark. The process of collecting latex from rubber trees is called the tapping. Then the latex is refined into the rubber that is ready for commercial processing. In most cases, the latex is allowed to coagulate in the collection vessels, and the coagulated lumps are collected and processed into dry forms for sale. Natural rubber is used widely in many applications and products, either alone or in combination with other materials. It is used in automotive industry, electrical industry, agriculture, construction industry, consumer goods, healthcare industry, industrial applications, fashion and apparel, and marine industry etc.

A rubber tree can produce latex after five years of plantation and until 40 years, said experts. Rubber is also derived from petroleum and natural gas (synthetic rubber). But the demand for natural rubber is high in the market as it is environment friendly, they said. India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are leading countries in the production of natural rubber. Tropical climate with annual rainfall of 2000 to 4500 mm is suited for the cultivation. Maximum and minimum temperature should be between 25 to 34 degree Celsius with 80 percent relative humidity.

The Sudha Falarus, and the Agro-forestry Promotion Centre in Jhapa, the Morang Canning Company in Morang, and the Tea Development Corporation in Ilam have cultivated commercial natural rubber. Kankai rubber industry has been in operation in Jhapa. Established two years ago by a group of five youths with the investment of Rs 150 million, the industry produces shoe and sandal soles, hair rubber bands and gloves. Most of the rubber plantation in the country is in Jhapa and Ilam districts. In Jhapa, 102 farmers engage in rubber plantation. Centre Vice President of the Natural Rubber Producers Association Shantiram Ghimariya, also former president of the Rubber Zone, Jhapa, said rubber has been cultivated in more than 600 bighas of land.

Chimariya, also the president of the Dhaijan Livestock and Rubber Pvt. Ltd, has planted 1,100 rubber trees in 300 bighas of private land in Mechinagar-12. Out of 1,100 rubber trees he planted, 600 have been producing latex, and the remaining will be ready for production next year, he said. “Paddy production hardly earns an income of Rs 50,000 from one bigha of farmland. Tea farming is not that much profitable. Rubber plantation is generating an income of Rs 400,000 per bigha (one bigha equivalent to 72,900 sq. ft). Beekeeping is feasible alongside rubber cultivation, and rubber timbers can be sold at a high price ever after three decades,” said Chimariya, who is engaged in rubber farming for a decade and a half. Seeing profits, he switched to rubber cultivation from tea farming, he said. Now, he is encouraging farmers to follow suit. He has also run a rubber procession industry.

The Nepal Tea Development Corporation has cultivated rubber in 300 bighas of land at Chilimkot in Ilam district being the ‘largest rubber plantation’ in Nepal.

Similarly, the Agro-forestry Pvt. Ltd. has cultivated rubber in 140 bighas of land in a leasehold forest at Rangedanda of Bhadrapur Municipality-4 in Jhapa. PT Bhutiya, rubber garden in-charge for the Agro-forestry, has run a rubber nursery. It has produced 10,000 rubber plants annually. The production can be increased as per the demand, he said. The Agro-forestry has produced 42,000 kg processed rubber annually from 17,000 trees. The local government has not paid its attention in promoting rubber farming, he complained demanding subsidies in the cultivation from the government. Rubber trees can be planted in hundreds of hectares of land in the tree plantation area and community forests in Ratuwamai in Jhapa, he said. In the previous fiscal year, 2022/23, budget released for the Rubber Zone, Jhapa to expand rubber cultivation has been slashed to Rs 500,000 from Rs 10 million two years ago.

Similarly, the federal government provided Rs 2.5 million each to 11 local levels in Jhapa district for the cultivation. But the local levels did not release budget to the farmers citing budget cut for rubber farming, said the farmers.