With the global price of natural rubber having declined more than half its normal rate over the past year, literally crippling the value of one of Liberia’s chief economic staples, the intervention of Dr. LMK Tillekeratne, a well-known international rubber expert hired by GROW-Liberia, may not have been more timely.
Dr. Tillekeratne was contracted by GROW-Liberia in April to provide technical assistance to introduce Ribbed Smoked Sheets (RSS), a value-added processed form of rubber. He spent the last two months preparing training manuals, and training rubber farmers in the production of quality RSS as well as improved exploitation of latex, and farm management.
RSS are coagulated (gooey, viscous) rubber sheets processed from fresh latex. Different grades of RSS can be used for manufacture of products for automobile tyres or general products on the low end, and medical, pharmaceutical and engineering on the high end.
While in the country, he trained and provided knowledge and information, alternative sources of revenue or sales channels for rubber as well as other channels that connect smaller farmers to firestone or to other rubber-related companies.
During a farewell ceremony held in his honor yesterday, Dr. Tillekeratne provided an exit debriefing for all interested stakeholders about his findings, observations and activities on rubber farming in Liberia.
While here, Dr. Tillekeratne met with a broad representation of rubber sector stakeholders, including the government, banks, the Rubber Planters Association of Liberia (RPAL), Business Cluster Developers (anchor businesses) and smallholder rubber farmers.
On June 22-26, he conducted a major RSS production training event at the Learning Center at Bright Farm in Kakata. Approximately 75 rubber farmers and stakeholders attended the five days event.
The training highlighted the collection of latex and the production of RSS, mixing, bulking, drying, smoking and packaging. The training will be replicated in the future at two other Learning Centers in Bomi and Bong counties.
For his part, Stanford Peabody, Portfolio Manager of Grow Liberia thanked Dr. Tillekeratne for the opportunity and said that the debriefing was another form of awareness on RSS for farmers.
GROW is a private sector development initiative operating in Liberia to promote pro-poor economic growth and stability through partnerships with Government and private companies. The programme is a 5-year Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)-funded market development initiative that employs the ‘Making Markets Work for the Poor’ (M4P) approaches.
In addition to promoting the increased profitability of smallholder farm operations, the programme seeks to contribute to sustainable growth and stability, with a particular emphasis on women and youth and the environment.