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Rubber farmers face hardship

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The head of the interim management team of the COCOPA Rubber Company in Nimba County, Mr. Harrison S. Karnwea, said the current situation facing rubber farmers in the country has led to his inability to service his monthly payroll of US$150,000.

Mr. Karnwea suggested a need for government’s quick intervention in the sector, proposing a loan of US$10 million stimulus package for struggling farmers for the resuscitation of their production. He said rubber farmers like other sectors are finding it difficult to acquire loans which have even made the situation complex.

According to a press release, he made the call during a meeting of rubber farmers with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf recently at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Monrovia. The meeting with the President came shortly after she issued Executive Order No. 60, extending a moratorium on the exportation of unprocessed natural rubber from Liberia.

Executive Order No. 60, signed by the Liberian leader on April 28, is intended to curb the decline in the Liberian rubber sector until policies and frameworks appropriate to the situation are instituted to ensure redevelopment, new development, increased production, increased job opportunities and increased revenue to Government.

During the meeting, Firestone-Liberia, LAC, Salala Rubber Corporation, Lee Group, Morris-America Rubber Company (MARCO), and individual farmers agreed to collectively fight rubber theft through collaboration and information sharing on establishing the origin of rubber latex or lumps and where it is destined for sale.

President Sirleaf pledged government’s support to the revitalization of the rubber industry following the sharp fall in its production in recent years.  She shared the concern of the Association that unless concerted efforts are made by all sides, the commodity will continue to experience a further decrease in production.

She expressed concern that her proposal to create a rubber development fund was moving too slow, which she suggested if created would serve as a stabilization fund for the industry in case of any future eventuality while government is working to address the situation.

The Liberian leader suggested that rubber companies save some of their financial assets in the economy to serve as an intervention during such situations and at the same time helping the local economy.

Describing the rubber sector as a major economic activity, she said it should not be left alone without government’s intervention, stressing that the fund, if created as was proposed long ago, would serve as a fallback position for addressing situations arising like the current one. However, she challenged the sector’s actors and relevant government agencies to collaborate in creating such fund.

The Liberian leader proposed to the farmers to consider intercropping the rubber sector with other agricultural products including rice, sugar cane and/or oil palm which she said would fill in the financial gap created by the drop in rubber production and later thanked the farmers for working together in maintaining the rubber industry as Liberia’s traditional cash crop commodity and said she believes that government should stand by the farmers in stabilizing the situation.

Earlier, a private rubber farmer, Mr. Daniel Chea, said illicit tapping is a major factor for the decrease in production. He suggested that exporting companies like Firestone-Liberia and the Liberia Agricultural Company (LAC) should involve surrounding communities in helping to curbing rubber theft.

Mr. Chea said he was successful in reducing rubber theft while serving as security consultant at the Liberia Agriculture Company, using the same method that he said paid off very well for the benefit of both the company and the community.

As regards Firestone-Liberia, the drop in production in 2013 has cost the company US$122 million and if measures are not put into place, they are expected to record more loses. The Firestone management however expressed willingness to work with other competitors and government in whatever way in solving the problems identified.

Individual farmers at the meeting included Margibi County District #2 Representative, Ballah Zayzay; Grand Bassa County Senator, Gbehzongar Findley; and former defense minister, Daniel Chea.

The Government of Liberia was represented at the meeting by the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, Boima Kamara; National Investment Commission Chairman, Michael Wortoson; Agriculture Minister, Dr. Florence Chenoweth; Commerce and Industry Minister, Axel Addy; and Legal Advisor to the President, Cllr. Seward Cooper.

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