The Rubber Planters Association of Liberia (RPAL) announced that the Liberian Agricultural Company (LAC) and the Lee Groups of Enterprises have stepped in to purchase excess rubber from farmers. They have responded to requests by the RAL to help salvage the situation and provide relief to small holders during the temporary suspension of rubber purchasing by Firestone Liberia, as reported earlier in the irjournal.
On February 28, the Rubber Purchase Department of Firestone Liberia said that as of March 1, it would stop buying unprocessed rubber from Liberian rubber farmers. However, the company pledged to make every effort to minimize this interruption, saying its decision was necessary due to a scheduled factory maintenance shutdown taking place in March. Firestone Liberia also said the suspension of rubber purchases was on account of the temporary closure of certain company divisions for wintering, the annual/seasonal decline in rubber production activities by rubber farmers, and a current oversupply of rubber stocks. The company expects to start purchasing rubber again early in the second quarter.
Speaking at a press conference in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, Mrs Wilhelmina G. Mulbah-Siaway, President of RPAL said that LAC and the Lee Group of Enterprises are are now buying rubber, though the price may be slightly less than that paid by Firestone Liberia.
Firestone Liberia, alone purchases over $3 million worth of rubber from farmers. The company, a subsidiary of Bridgestone Americas, has been operating in Liberia since 1926, where it famously operates the largest contiguous rubber plantation in the world.She said: “In view of the attending effects of Firestone’s decision and the ways forward to remedy the situation in the short term the RPAL met with relevant management authorities of these companies to help purchase rubber from small-holder farmers.”
The RPAL is working closely with Jeanine Cooper, the Liberian Agriculture Minister, and her technical team, in sourcing funding to upgrade the Nimba Rubber Incorporated and James Cooper Rubber processing factories, in order to make them functional so they are in a position to be viable and buy rubber from farmers. Mrs Cooper is also said to be working with RPAL to construct more Liberian-owned rubber processing plants in the country. Mrs Mulbah-Siaway further noted that when these processing plants are operational and begin to purchase rubber, then decisions like those taken by Firestone would not have any negative impact on the country’s rubber industry.
Liberia’s National Legislature- through the House’s Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries- has been formally notified by the RPAL about the impact of Firestone’s decision on the country’s rubber industry and the national economy.
Small-holder farmers are completely dependent on Firestone to regularly buy their rubber inventory, which company then exports in bulk to customers overseas.
Firestone Liberia’s measure comes at the worst possible time, since rubber farmers in Liberia, especially smallholders, are particularly vulnerable right now, given the steadily falling prices of the commodity globally and the lack of functioning value-adding facilities for natural rubber in the country.