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Wednesday June 29th, 2022

Sri Lanka’s fast spreading leaf disease could wipe out rubber in fertilizer ban, industry warns

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s large rubber industry has warned of a 15 to 20 percent production drop this year as leaf disease spread rapidly without enough fungicide to combat it or fertilizer to help trees recover amid an agro-chemical import ban.

Growers may be forced to shift to alternative crops as yields fall and immature plants are also hit, industry officials said.

About 20,000 hectares out of 107,000 cultivated by large farms and small holders have been hit by Pestalotiopsis, fungal leaf disease, Colombo Rubber Traders Association, an industry grouping said.

Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has banned agro-chemicals to save foreign currency and to stop non-communicable diseases.

Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Officers Association has said according to Pliny the elder, ancient Sri Lankans lived for 140 years, when there were no agro-chemicals.

“This leaf disease is possibly best described as the equivalent of COVID-19 in the case of the rubber industry, considering both its devastation and the rapid speed at which it is spreading,” Manoj Udugampola Vice Chairman of the Colombo Rubber Traders’ Association (CRTA) said in a statement.

Farms needed fungicides, Carbendazim and Hexaconazole and also fertilizer to help the trees recover leaves.

But after the fertilizer ban, neither additional quantities or nor usual volumes were available.

Earlier in the year, some inputs had been available at the double the price before the ban, but there was no fertilizer in the market.

By July/August mature and immature plants needed fertilizer to use in recommended amounts.

“By around April – May this year we were already seeing a 10 to 20 percent reduction in output from rubber plantations due to Pestalotiopsis,” Udara Premathilake, Director Plantations (Rubber), Kelani Valley Plantations PLC said.

“Since we continue to incur huge fixed costs including labour costs in running our operations, the reduction in output is reducing our revenue substantially and therefore our profits, so the industry is fast becoming unviable.

“At this rate by year-end we are looking at a 15% to 20% reduction of the annual output. We are not sure where the industry would stand by next year.

“When this disease spreads to immature plants, their long-term growth will be badly affected.

“Since rubber trees have a life span ofaround 30 years this translates to a long-term decline in production. As concerted action should be taken at least now, or the industry will be unviable both in the short and the long-run.”

Companies were already looking at other crops like cardamom, pepper and cinnamon, he said.

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