Whither, Rubber Planters? Whither, Liberian Agriculture?

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Liberian rubber planters are facing serious problems these days.  They have dropped production because of the fall in the global rubber price, from US$2,500 per ton four years ago to US$714 today.
It was in the face of this crisis that they met last Thursday with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to seek government intervention in bringing some relief to rubber farmers. While she showed understanding and concern about their plight, the President put the problem back to the rubber planters and urged them to establish a rubber development fund upon which they could lean in times of crisis.

We believe the President is right, even if her suggestion is somewhat belated.  This newspaper has long called on the Liberian government to take the agriculture sector more seriously.  In the good days when the world rubber price was highest in history, somebody, probably the government, could have urged rubber planters to put away something for the rainy day?

Now that the rainy day has arrived, the rubber planters find themselves in desperation. The Daily Observer has also been urging the Rubber Planters Association of Liberia (RPAL) to develop a research arm to help their members keep abreast of technological developments in the sector.

This could easily have been done because not only were rubber planters people of means; but they have very powerful and experienced members, such as Firestone and the Liberia Agriculture Company (LAC), which could have helped provide the facilities for the research department.

Until the late 1980s Firestone had its own Botanical Research Division, which constantly developed new, high producing clones, such as Harbel One and others.  One of the Firestone research directors who made a distinctive mark was Dr. McKindore, who created several clones including one of the highest producing at the time, Harbel One.

We are told that the College of Agriculture and Forestry at the University of Liberia started a rubber research effort before the war, but it was suspended during the turbulent 1980s.   The Dean, Dr. Roland Massaquoi, confirmed that they plan to reestablish the research department but there are not only financial but land constraints.  The government has allowed people to buy up a lot of the land at the University Farm in Fendall, including places where the Forestry College planted many special species of plants for research and development.  Many of these have been indiscriminately uprooted by the new “land owners.”

However, the College is training a new cadre agriculture and forestry scientists not only to teach, but to do research as well.  So there is hope for the future; but on what territory will these scholars to do their work?

We don’t know when last the Agriculture Minister visited the College of Agriculture in Fendall.  But there should be very close collaboration between the College and the Ministry for the sake of positive collaboration and future planning in all sectors—vegetables and fruits, tree crops, animal husbandry,  poultry and eggs and research.

Liberians do not talk about coffee anymore–why?  We have long called for the reactivation of the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC), which since the early 1960s encouraged farmers to produce in many areas.

It is the Ministry that should have been guiding the President about developments in the all important rubber sector–and not wait until a crisis arises.  Nor has the Ministry undertaken any initiatives that will make Liberia self sufficient in meat.  Liberian poultry and egg producers have thrown in the towel because they cannot compete with foreign businesspeople who import cheap chickens and eggs from

Europe, which are heavily subsidized by their governments and by the European Union (EU). This newspaper has over many years urged GOL to pursue meat production through cattle raising in southeastern and northern Liberia, particularly Grand Cess, Grand Kru County, and Foya, Lofa County.  These places are natural habitats for cattle. It is never too late to start doing the right thing. We pray that Agriculture people will get busy and reach out to our farmers in research, through the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), through agricultural extension and through stimulus in the various sectors of agricultural production.

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