Rescuing the Small Rubber Planters

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Our Farm Reporter Gloria Tamba made a partial tour of Bong County last week and reported that many small rubber planters are seriously suffering for two main reasons.  The first is the steep drop in the global price of rubber.

A few years back there was a rubber boom, and farmers were earning US$2000 or above per metric ton.  Then it dropped to US$1000.  That was still not too bad.  But when it dropped further to US$500 per metric ton things became very bad. Farmers, especially the small ones, could not cover the cost of production, so most of them suspended operations.

One such farmer interviewed by Reporter Tamba was Mr. Napoleon Rennie of Zeansue, Bong County.  He told her the second reason why small farmers are closing their farms.  It is because the farm workers, rubber tappers, etc., are demanding higher wages.  This is a demand that small farmers cannot meet, due to the drastic drop in the rubber price. 

Rennie belongs to the second generation of many young men from Bong and other counties that were raised and educated by Mr. C.H. Rennie, a successful rubber planter in Cinta, Margibi County.  Napoleon’s father Blyden Rennie was one of them.  Mr. C.H. Rennie bought land up country for most of these young men and got them started in agriculture.

The C.H. Rennie Hospital in Kakata is named for Mr. Rennie, a highly public spirited man.  In addition to the young men he fostered on his farm, Mr. Rennie, a native of Granada in the West Indies (otherwise known as the Caribbean), sent for many of his nephews from Granada and educated them in Liberia.  Many, including Dr. Mark, a pediatrician and Dr. Thomas, a general practitioner, following their medical training in England, returned to Liberia and ran their clinics until the war.  Another was Dr. Cox, a surgeon, who served for many years at the J.F. Kennedy Medical Center and later became a professor of medicine at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. 

Napoleon inherited the farm from his father Blyden Rennie.    It included 80 acres of rubber and 20 acres of other produce, including pepper, other vegetables, plantain and other crops.

Napoleon told Reporter Tamba that for now, until the price of rubber improves, he will concentrate on growing food crops.

Gloria also held an extensive interview with the Team Leader of the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) in Suacoco, Mr. Aaron Marshall.  He told her, among other things, that CARI had produced 504 metric tons of seed rice which it is distributing to farmers.

Gloria has scheduled an interview with Mr. Ben Garnett, president of the Rubber Planters Association of Liberia (RPAL), to find out what the Association is doing to help small farmers in distress.

It seems to us that the Association should be reaching out to small farmers to find ways of keeping their rubber farms open.  About two years ago President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf encouraged the Central Bank of Liberia to arrange a loan scheme of US$5 million to help rubber planters keep their farms open and, in the process, keep their tappers and other farm workers employed.

It took some time for the banks to disburse the funds under this scheme, but the process is ongoing and many have benefitted, but not Napoleon Rennie.  We assume there are many other small farmers in that same category as Mr. Rennie.

We urge RPAL to make immediate contacts with CARI, who being situated in Bong County, one of the nation’s breadbaskets, would contact all Bong rubber planters, including Mr. Rennie.  The aim here is to ensure that RPAL reaches out to all small rubber planters with whatever help the Association together with CARI can offer.

We applaud CARI for its bold initiative in supplying seed rice to rice farmers and for the varieties of cassava it has produced to supply farmers in this sector.  We also hope that CARI can develop a strategy to support rubber planters, too, toward helping them keep their farms open.  This is because too many people are employed in this sector to ignore.

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