Rubber Plantations in Sri Lanka

Written by Zulekha Nishad

Last Updated June 6, 2024

Did you know that Sri Lanka is one of the top producers of natural rubber in the world? In this blog post, we will take a look at the history of rubber plantations in Sri Lanka and what makes this country such a valuable player in the global natural rubber market.

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We will also explore the challenges and opportunities faced by rubber plantation owners in Sri Lanka today. So, if you're interested in learning more about this fascinating topic, keep reading!

a look at rubber plantations in sri lanka

A brief history of rubber tree plantations in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan rubber tree plantations are the result of colonization. When blight hit the coffee plantations in the 1870s, people tried new things to see if they would work.

Finally, the colonial office selected Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to cultivate rubber because of its geographical features and climate. The seedlings were planted at the botanical garden in Gampaha under the guidance of George Thwaites.

The first rubber tree in Ceylon flowered in the year 1881. After that, people started experimenting with tapping the trees to get rubber. In the year 1893, around 90,000 rubber seeds were supplied to planters throughout Ceylon. And by 1923, approximately 180,085 hectares of rubber were cultivated.

This is how rubber cultivation began in Sri Lanka. And over time, it became one of the country's most important agricultural products.

Who introduced rubber trees to Sri Lanka?

During colonization, Sir Joseph Hooker recommended Sri Lanka to carry out experiments based on rubber tree cultivation. Accordingly, he sent 38 cases full of 1919 rubber seedlings from Kew Gardens to Ceylon. Thus, it can be said that it was Joseph Hooker who introduced rubber plantations in Sri Lanka.

Where do rubber trees grow in Sri Lanka?

In Sri Lanka, people grow rubber in tropical lowlands in the wet zone below 1400 ft altitude. Here, the size of a rubber holding can vary a lot. According to how much land is used, there are two types of rubber cultivation. Land areas that are below 8 hectares are considered smallholders. On the other hand, plantations that are 8 hectares or more are considered estates.

Creamy white liquid latex collected in bowl

Sri Lanka's rubber plantations are mostly concentrated in the wet zone, with a total land area of 127,500 hectares. The main rubber growing districts in Sri Lanka include:

  • Kegalle
  • Gampaha
  • Rathnapura
  • Kalutara
  • Colombo
  • Galle
  • Matara
  • Kandy
  • Matale
  • Kurunegala

Rubber trees are also grown in the districts of intermediate zones of Sri Lanka. There are currently around 68,000 hectares of rubber plantations in the country that are privately owned.

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In addition, there are 19 regional plantation companies that manage around 47,000 hectares of rubber land. So, out of the total 115,300 hectares, about 25,700 hectares are immature, and the balance 89,600 hectares are mature.

Although Sri Lankans used to cultivate rubber in the wet zone, the Rubber Research Institute of Sri Lanka introduced rubber clones that can resist dry weather. As a result, rubber tree planters started planting them in dry zone districts such as Monaragala as well.

Rubber production in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka was once the 4th largest rubber producer in the world. But over time, the rubber industry slowly disappeared. Now, Sri Lanka is the 13th largest producer of natural rubber in the world.

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The country is not just a producer of raw rubber but also produces a variety of value-added products using natural rubber. This includes:

  • Latex mattress
  • Latex mattress toppers
  • Latex pillows
  • Latex gloves
  • Rubber bands
  • Solid tires
  • Footwear

Does Sri Lanka export rubber?

Sri Lankan rubber is world-renowned for its premium quality and durability. The country exports rubber, both in raw and value-added forms. However, the amount of rubber exported each year is only around 8000 metric tons - which doesn't seem like a lot when you consider that rubber tree plantations cover more than 20% of the island!

Tapped rubber tree in a plantation

Sri Lankan rubber and rubber-based products are mainly sold in the USA, Germany, Belgium, and the UK. Sri Lanka also exports semi-processed rubber to countries like Pakistan, Japan, and Germany.

So if you're ever in need of some high-quality rubber, be sure to keep Sri Lanka in mind!

There are four primary types of rubber that are exported from Sri Lanka: Ribbed Smoked Sheets rubber, Latex crepe, Centrifuged latex, and Technically Specified Natural Rubber.

Each type of rubber is produced in sprawling rubber tree plantations that cover the island. The rubber trees are carefully cultivated and monitored to ensure that they produce high-quality rubber.

The different types of rubber are then exported to all corners of the globe, where they are used in a variety of applications.

The future of the Sri Lankan rubber industry

For years, the rubber tree plantations of Sri Lanka have supplied the world with natural rubber. With the rise of many opportunities in the global markets for natural rubber, Sri Lanka is well-positioned to become a major player in the rubber industry.

In the year 2017, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Plantation Industries introduced a 9-year plan. This was called "The Rubber Master Plan." And this plan aimed to help, develop, and expand the rubber industry's market share.

As the global demand for rubber products is expected to increase, Sri Lankan rubber manufacturers can expect to earn an income of $3 billion from exports by 2026.

Row of rubber tree plantation in Sri Lanka

Under the 9-year plan, the Sri Lankan government plans to increase the land area under rubber cultivation by 3000 hectares. This means increasing the production of raw materials in the future by increasing rubber production in traditional rubber growing areas.

And as a result, new plantations will be started in places like Monaragala, Vavuniya, Hambantota, Ampara, and Puttalam.

The Sri Lankan rubber industry is indeed a fascinating one, and it's been through a lot over the years.

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Yet, despite challenges, the industry has remained strong and played an important role in the Sri Lankan economy and will continue to grow.

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There is no doubt that the future for rubber plantations looks bright, but we want to know what you think. So let us know in the comments if you have any questions about this fascinating topic!

Disclaimer: What is said in this article has been referenced from multiple sources and is intended only for educational and informational purposes. Please note that no content in this article is a substitute for professional advice from a qualified doctor or healthcare provider. Always consult an experienced doctor with any concerns you may have regarding a health condition or treatment, and never disregard any medical suggestions or delay in seeking treatment because of something you read here.