GROW, Partners Validate RSS Curriculum for Liberia
GROW in collaboration with stakeholders in the rubber sector have introduced a new module or program in an effort to not only resuscitate the struggling rubber sector in Liberia, but to also make it more vibrant and sustainable on a long-term basis. Many stakeholders in the sector believe that with the future of the sector uncertain, there can be no better innovation for Liberia than the introduction of Ribbed Smoked Rubber Sheets, known as RSS, on a larger scale in the country.
It was in this regard that GROW, an innovative market development platform, along with partners on Thursday validated the RSS Curriculum Program that is meant to teach/train agriculture students in various colleges and TVET institutions across the country in RSS production. The initiative is meant for Liberia to make maximum use of this rubber processing method that has been making headway in rubber producing countries in Asia and other parts of the world, because it improves productivity and the quality of farmers’ produce.
Rubber is historically Liberia’s most important agricultural product, generating revenue that accounts for up to 34.6 percent of the country’s total export receipts in 2016. An estimated 30,000 people are employed by commercial rubber farms and up to 60,000 smallholder households are involved in the growing of rubber trees. However, The recent slump in the price of one of the nation’s prime commodities is not just taking a huge toll on large companies and local farmers, but the national economy—a situation which the country is yet to reel from. It was in response to this call that GROW and some of its partners and agriculture stakeholders had thought it prudent to introduce the RSS method that would help add value, create more employment opportunities and put more money in farmers’ pockets.
RSS is made directly from latex, which is treated and then made to coagulate. The coagulated latex sheets are then air dried or smoked in ovens or over dryers. The smoked sheets are visually graded on the basis of certain parameters and packed in bales. However, the size and weight of the bales differ according to country. Though the stakeholders want the new technology introduced across the country in the long-term; however, on a pilot basis, GROW has entered into an MOU with five institutions of higher learning to teach the new method in their various colleges. These institutions include, Bong County Technical College (BCTC), Booker Washington Institution (BWI), Grand Bassa Community College (GBCC), Nimba County Community College (NCCC), and Tumutu Agricultural Vocational Training Center (TAVTC)
Speaking at the validation, the project’s international consultant, Sarath Kumara, said Liberia will benefit substantially from the RSS if the country wholeheartedly embraces the idea. “It is working in my country Sri Lanka,” he said. “it is working in other countries; and it can work here as well,” he said. Making a presentation on the topic: “Way Forward with Course on Rubber Agronomy & Processing.”
Mr. Kumara said the objective of the program is to educate the youth on rubber agronomy and rubber processing and to take correct messages to rubber farmers through the educated youth. “This is also meant to increase the awareness among the rubber farming community on correct agronomic practices that would help increase the productivity as well as awareness on value addition and support for same,” he said. With the RSS, he noted that there will be maximum yields in rubber farms. “This will come with selecting healthy plants of known clones, adoption of correct agronomic practices to make sure that rubber trees grow to obtain maximum yields and correct tapping methods,” he said.
Maximizing rubber yields, he noted, is expected to improve productivity of rubber lands by 50-100% while value addition, he said, comes by conversion of latex to sheet rubber and concentrated latex. “Value will also be added by converting scrap (cup lumps & tree laces) to crepe rubber. The price paid for cup lumps is US$554 per ton, and for RSS is US$1720 per ton. By converting raw rubber to rubber products – dry rubber products from sheet rubber, e.g. tires, rubber carpets, micro cellular sheets, conveyor belts, tire retreading. The benefit of latex products from concentrated latex include dipped products such as gloves, condoms, balloons etc.
He, however, indicated that there is a need for resources for value added rubber product manufacture. These include infrastructure, investment (local or foreign), entrepreneurship, technical knowledge and skilled workforce. Mr. Kumara said that the next step would be the development of a Rubber Technology Course (RTC) and invitation for foreign investment to start up rubber industries. “This is after you have done your part by implementing this pilot project successfully,” he said.
Providing some facts on the country’s rubber industry, he said US$33 million worth of raw rubber is exported annually, and added: “US$768 million is the value of rubber products exported, while rubber consumption is 120,000 tons. Manufacturing units: 4530 (small, medium & large); 60% market share of world solid tyre market; and domestic rubber price is slightly above world market price.”
GROW team leader, YoQuai Lavala, told the stakeholders that the entity is ready to do whatever is required to improve every component of the agriculture sector. “We don’t know about rubber but we will bring the technicians to help our people, and this is why we are here,” he said. He said the sector needs to be controlled more locally, and that the RSS process will help in that direction.
“We want to ensure quality control because the price of the rubber is determined by its quality. We want our products to be of international standard,” he added.
Also making a presentation at the ceremony, the Dean of the Agriculture Department at the University of Liberia, who is a consultant for the project, presented on the Agronomy Module of the RSS. Also at the ceremony was the head of the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), Dr. Walter Wiles. He lauded GROW for showing Liberians agriculture and business opportunities. He indicated that the Center will now be actively involved in rubber research. “We will make sure it works,” he said.
Meanwhile, the RSS production training is currently ongoing in some parts of the country, though on a lower scale. The Bright Farms in Kakata, Margibi County is one of the training venues.