Tripura now has the largest area under rubber cultivation after Kerala and the industry is helping the Jhumia tribal families
A success story of India’s Northeast is the growth of natural rubber plantation in Tripura. In terms of area under rubber cultivation, estimated to be about 62,000 hectares, the border state now ranks second in the country after Kerala. Rubber plantation in Tripura is generally taken up on uplands (locally called tilla) which are ideally suitable for rubber cultivation as unutilised and follow in nature. Rubber plantation was initiated by the forest department in 1963. In 1976, the Tripura Forest Development Plantation Corporation (TFDPC) raised rubber in leased forest land of about 10,000 ha. The tribal welfare department had also begun an ambitious programme to increase area under rubber plantations which was implemented with assistance from the Rubber Board and the World Bank.
In 2013-14, rubber production in Tripura was around 37,277 MT, contributing an annual income of Rs.600 crore to the state’s economy. Individuals, groups and institutions have been engaged in the exercise and the block plantation approach (BPA) has emerged as a good example of an initiative where the cohesive development of the rubber sector has resulted in the empowerment of tribal communities to raise, manage and sustain cultivation of the crop.
The availability of large quantities of high quality rubber helped in setting up rubber based industries in the state.
The principal goal of the block plantation project is the economic upliftment of tribal Jhumia families. The participation in rubber plantation has enabled the farmers to shift to a more settled form of livelihood income. The block plantation officer (BPO), appointed by the Rubber Board, ensures that all inputs required for plantation of rubber are readily available, and facilitates coordination with local authorities of the state government. The BPO is also the focal point for other services at the block plantation level. Several ongoing state government programmes like immunisation drives, health camps, sanitation campaign and animal husbandry camps are organized for the families in the block plantation.
The Rubber Board and the state government share 80 per cent of the cost of raising rubber plantation and the beneficiaries contribute 20 per cent through their own labour. The project involves taking up of block plantation of rubber in a specific area with about 40-50 hectares. The implementation includes simultaneous development of the plantation areas as well as providing various services including village roads, Anganwadi centres, health sub centres, drinking water facilities, primary schools, power connectivity schemes. Community participation is ensured through empowerment groups comprising rubber producers’ societies (RPSs) and women thrift groups (WTGs).
Plantation is taken up on individual lands that are owned by the beneficiaries who work on their lands. Each beneficiary is paid wages. Non-tribal workers are not allowed as workers. Such a method has created a sense of ownership and attachment to the plantation among the beneficiaries.
One of the main objectives is to provide wage employment opportunities to the tribal communities. The BPA has involved community level institutions as important participants in rubber related aspects and socio-economic development of the region.
The block plantation method has paved the way for numerous tangible benefits, including wage employment opportunities to the tribal communities and sustainable means of livelihood. The BPA project provides farm as well as non-farm wage employment opportunities until the rubber plantation is matured. From the first to sixth year, the employment generated per hectare is 1068 person days.
Rubber processing has contributed significantly to the success of block plantations. Income generated from latex has increased by 40 per cent over a period. Each BPA unit has been provided with a processing facility at a cost of Rs 5 lakh. This has also augmented their income and reduced dependency on dealers.
A subsidiary of Rubber Board, M/S Manimaliyar Rubber Private Ltd., is in charge of marketing of rubber. By adopting an integrated approach, the block plantation project has succeeded in converging various services at village level; created community – level institutions; empowered women; utilised fallow tilla lands productively and established the community processing facility at the village level.
Success of block plantation has acted as stimulus to other tribal families, and non-tribal families to take up rubber cultivation in their own lands with their own funds and through bank loans.
It is estimated that about 35,000 ST persons are owners of rubber gardens today whereas there were none in 1992 when the BPA was initiated. The government has established a Rubber Park and 10 per cent of the rubber produced in Tripura is being used in the units located in the Rubber Park. The government has also established a Rubber Wood Factory under Tripura Forest Development Plantation corporation (TFDPC) for utilisation of rubber wood of old plantations. This will ensure addition to the incomes of those involved and yet, not see any environmental degradation, as rubber wood is wood for making furniture from rubber trees that have already served their lifetime as a source of rubber.
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