As the year 2014 approaches its halfway mark, an advocacy group for the rubber sector, the Rubber Planters Associations of Liberia (RPAL) with concentration in the rubber sub-sector is prioritizing its resolutions or work plans, by skillfully putting in gears to jump start their development agenda and making show so that everything as envisaged is materialized before the year goes into oblivion.
With this concept in mind and not leaving any stone unturned, this non-governmental organization, in designing its work plan which has cardinal and pertinent issues is convening a National Rubber Congress where Dr. Florence A. Chenoweth, Minister of Agriculture is expected to serve as Keynote Speaker.
The congress, an annual event held on a rotational basis was not held in 2013 because of economic reason. But, in 2014, as the economic condition of rubber farmers and the natural rubber as a whole on the downward trend, the congress is now being convened in Gbarnga, Bong County from 23 – 24 May.
A few days prior to convening the congress, at a news conference, the Executive Director of the RPAL, Mr. Simeon Z. Woheel said this year’s event is the Fourth of its kind, in post-war Liberia and would gather from across the country 300 participants and representatives including politicians and stakeholders in the rubber industry.
Mr. Woheel said, “The group attending the congress is composed of individuals coming from rubber farms or factories irrespective of the size of their farms or the factories. But they must be rubber plantation owners, planters, processor, buyers or stakeholders”.
Executive Director Woheel disclosed that the Congress, with the theme, “Our Rubber – Our Future”, will give an impetus to greatly discuss in length those meaningful and issues relevant to the Liberian natural rubber industry including declining rubber price, rubber theft, the availability of improved planting materials and support for the RPAL.
The RPAL was organized by the Liberian rubber farmers and trans-nationals and has been in existence for more than half a century. It was eventually enacted into Law by the National Legislature in 1966 as a body to represent, foster and protect the interest of the farmers, who are engaged in the Liberia rubber industry by either planting or processing rubber.
Mr. Woheel said, “RPAL, during the Congress will seize the opportunity for its members to go to the poll and elect a new code of 25-member officers who will steer the affair of the Association for the next two years”.
A major issue for discussion also during the Congress will be centered on the efforts being made by RPAL to solicit assistance from the Government of Liberia and friendly organizations.
The Agenda of the Congress will also focus on the setting up of five working committees that will use an eagle eye to pin-point weaknesses and successes of the Association particular on the Liberia natural rubber industry in general; perhaps with the intention to finding amicable solutions to problems affecting the RPAL on one hand, and rubber industry as a whole on the other hand.
Committees will be set-up at the Congress which will include Committees on Nursery Development, Decentralization, Subscription, Pricing and Rubber Farm Registration as well as Identification Cards and Rubber Theft.
“One cannot predict the steadfastness of the work of the committees. But one thing that is hoped for is that resolutions from the committees’ room will create an avenue for a greater and speedy development of the Association” and the rubber sub-sector, said one small-scale rubber farmer who asked for anonymity.
At the moment, RPAL finds itself in a state of financial barb wire that has caused strangulation to the point that it has considerably reduced its staff members and employees from 10 to five in the last four years.
The financial situation of RPAL is worsening day after day thus reducing the capacity of the Association to implement planned field activities around the country, especially in the area of nursery development and extension activities.
Critics have it that if nothing is done very soon to bring the association from financial crisis, the association will find itself almost to a zero operational level.
Presently, Mr. Roger Sherman is the President of the Rubber Planters Association of Liberia. He has been serving in the position since 2008, a time when the Association held its last Congress at the same venue where it is taking place this year. Mr. Sherman is being assisted by Mr. Emery Dennis as Vice President.
The issue of rubber theft has been and still is one cardinal problems that bothers the President of the Association, who himself is a rubber plantation owner.
In his last inaugural address, Mr. Sherman put it this way, “The issue of rubber theft is high because of the mobile buying stations operating in the country. The thieves are physically prepared to combat anyone trying to halt their operations. But we will do everything that is humanly possible to protect the interest of the RPAL thus enabling every rubber farmer to substantially benefit from the proceeds of their labor”.