Thursday , February 27 2020

Pineapple invades rubber country – Indian Express


Every time rubber cultivators had to replant the prized, money-minting trees, they faced a major problem: rearing the crop. Rubbers trees take seven years to grow old enough to be tapped. But the biggest problem was that the crop needed intensive round-the-year care in the first three to four years, which was very labour-oriented and not cost-effective. They found a solution — in the form of pineapple growers.The hunger of pineapple farmers for large tracts of land turned to be a boon for rubber farmers in the first four years of rearing the plant and enabled the economic replantation of rubber. The result: a win-win situation for both rubber and pineapple growers.It works like this. The pineapple farmers take the rubber plantations on lease for three-and-a-half years. Apart from growing their own crop, the pineapple farmers have to buy rubber saplings, prepare the pits and plant them as per guidelines of the Rubber Board and the grower. In simple words, pineapples and rubbers trees grow side by side for three years — but till only one point.”We are allowed to plant pineapple shoots in between two rows of rubber saplings. It is the responsibility of the pineapple farmer to take care of the rubber plants for the next three years until the tree forms a canopy, forcing the pineapple to quit the field,” said Pineapple Farmers’ Association president John Baby, The trend of cultivating pineapple as an intercrop in rubber estates began a decade back in the Vazhakkuam region of Ernakulam district. Rubber benefited when small-scale pineapple cultivators of Vazhakkulam, the largest pineapple producing region in the country, began scouting for bigger and newer plots of land to expand their activity. Now, pineapple has become a common cultivation in rubber-growing regions of Kerala. In the past, pineapple farmers had to plead with rubber cultivators to give their land on lease at the time of replantation. “But rubber planters are approaching us to use their land for pineapple cultivation, which has become a great support for them,” said Baby. And as the trend grows, rubber-growing giants such as Harrison Malayalam Plantations and Kottanad Plantations Limited have also started leasing out hundreds of acres of land to pineapple cultivators at the time of replantation. “The rubber sector faces a huge crisis at the time of replantation, which is very labour-intensive. Besides, rubber saplings require round-the-year care for the first four years. Cultivation of pineapple as inter-crop has taken away all such worries,” said M Aji, manager with Kottanad Plantations. Paul Mathew, a high-school dropout, had ventured into pineapple cultivation 18 years back at the age of 16. A native of Vazhakkulam, he had then cultivated pineapple on less than five acres of land. This year, Mathew and his four friends are growing pineapples on 1,000 acres of land taken on lease in several districts in Kerala. “We can scale up farming step by step, which involves a lot of risk factors. Now, we are looking for huge plots, where rubber replantation takes place.” Mathew said even small-scale rubber farmers with a hectare of land benefit since beginners in pineapple cultivation want to start with a moderate business. Mathew said a pineapple farmer has to spend Rs 1.25 lakh per acre in the first year of cultivation, which includes the cost of rubber replantation. In the second and third years, the cost of rearing the rubber and pineapple comes down to Rs 55,000. He said a farmer would get a minimum profit of Rs 20,000 from an acre during the three-year planting period. “These days, no one would plant pineapples on less than five acres of land. If one cultivates pineapples on 50 acres of land, he would get a profit of Rs 10 lakh. Pineapple farmers who do not replant rubber would give Rs 20,000 as lease amount.” Since pineapple cultivation originated in Vazhakkulam, a major chunk of pineapple growers of Kerala belong to that region. Out of 640 members of the association, nearly 400 farmers belong to Vazhakkulam and nearby places in Ernakulam district. According to association president Baby, farmers have even moved to the Konkan belt, north of Goa, in search of land. “Majority of pineapple farmers are below the age of 45. It requires a lot of toil and stay in tents in inclement weather.”

42 queries 0.544