As Firestone Rubber Company in Harbel, Margibi County, has resolved to stop doing business with rubber brokers, over 50 brokers and farmers across the country have called on the government to lift the moratorium on the exportation of unprocessed rubber in Liberia.
They claimed that the decision by Firestone’s management has serious economic implications on them as the company is the only buyer of rubber from smallholder farmers.
It can be recalled that in April last year; the Liberian government enforced Executive Order No. 50 placing a moratorium on the exportation of unprocessed natural rubber to curtail the abuse, misuse, abandonment and theft taking place in the rubber industry.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer this past Monday at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), the president of the National Rubber Brokers and Farmers Union of Liberia (NARBFUL), James Saye Kea, said Firestone’s decision is not in the interest of the country’s many farmers and brokers.
He stated that his organization is a legal entity established to serve as middle men between farmers and companies in Liberia’s rubber business.
Mr. Kea disclosed that though the government decreed the moratorium last year, his union has been in business with Firestone since then.
According to him, Firestone management’s decision was prompted by allegations of theft from members of the union.
“We understand that the company (Firestone) decided to quit business with us due to their observation of criminal activities in the rubber business. However, this decision by them is not timely as it has the propensity to put us out of business,” he lamented.
He denied the allegation of the union’s involvement in criminal acts, adding that mechanisms have been put in place by them to minimize illegal practices.
“We have ensured that anyone doing business with us is a registered member of our organization,” he said.
Mr. Kea urged the management of Firestone not to insist upon its decision but work with the union to minimize the problem of theft in the rubber industry.
He added that the government needs to see reason and lift the ban on the exportation of unprocessed rubber allowing local rubber brokers to remain in business.
“The lifting of the moratorium is urgently needed to stop Firestone’s monopoly of the rubber business, as they are presently the nation’s sole buyers. It would help encourage other companies to compete, thus enabling us to earn money to support our families,” Kea observed.
When contacted, the Processing Manager of Firestone, Jimmy Hinneh, stated that most rubber farmers in the country have complained about criminal activities in the rubber industry.
He alleged that about 30 percent of rubber bought by his company from various brokers was observed to have been stolen. He disclosed that is the reason why they have resolved to buy rubber directly from farmers instead of brokers.
Mr. Hinneh said that the company is going to work with the MoA to assess the various farms of smallholder farmers.
“The process of assessment will start as soon as rubber farmers enter into a memorandum of understanding with us to do business,” he disclosed.
When the Daily Observer contacted the Deputy Minister for Technical Services at the MoA, Dr. Sizi Subah, he could not give government’s clear cut position on the matter.
He, however, stated that the decision of Firestone is in line with section 6 of the Executive Order No.50, which ceases brokers’ activities relating to the purchase, sale or trade of unprocessed rubber in the country.
He confirmed that his Ministry shall collaborate with Firestone to identify potential farmers to do business with the company.
“What we are looking for now is an efficient way to work with the nation’s many smallholders farmers. This will be decided at the next meeting with a subsequent discussion on how to address the issue of theft,” he stated.
Meanwhile, a source preferring to remain anonymous told this paper that the situation confronting rubber brokers in the country needs to be approached carefully.
According to our source, the situation poses a security threat for the nation as hundreds of smallholder rubbers farmers are left vulnerable as the result of Firestone’s abrupt decision.
Our source added that the way forward from this dilemma is for government and Firestone to work with the brokers to address whatever problems are affecting Liberia’s rubber sector.