Liberia: Small-scale rubber producers face challenges

| July 14, 2014

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Martha Tamba is a small-scale rubber farmer. She is preparing for this year’s planting season by clearing her farmland in northern Liberia’s Lofa County. Though this small agricultural sector may not seem significant, it continues to play a pivotal role in the Liberian economy.

Rubber is Liberia’s largest export and the lifeblood of the country’s economy. Annual exports are worth nearly $200 million US.

Mrs. Tamba is a 42-year-old single mother who is trying to make ends meet. She says, “I depend on my small farm to cater [for] my children.” Her husband died ten years ago, and she relies on rubber sales to provide for her children and send them to school.

Mrs. Tamba sells a tonne of rubber for $700 US. She says: “I have used all the best practices and fertilizers for my young rubber trees to grow well. So I am very sure of getting more this harvest and making more money.”

The major challenge that small-scale rubber producers face is armyworm caterpillars. Farmers say they have incurred major losses this year from insect damage, particularly to young trees.

Mardia Taylor is a 46-year-old mother of six from central Grand Bassa County. She is dismayed by the level of damage the insects have caused on her farm. Mrs. Taylor says, “Every day the armyworms eat the leaves of the young trees. We spend a lot of money, but the situation is getting worse by the day.”

Small-scale farmers want agricultural institutions to help them protect their farms. Johnny Moore is a 54-year-old rubber farmer from Lofa County. He says something must be done now. He adds, “If nothing is done to help us, we will have no future harvest. We need chemicals to kill these insects. The insects are frustrating our efforts.”

Despite the damage caused by armyworms, some rubber farmers are optimistic about the future.

Thomas Cole is a 45-year-old father of four who says that so far he has been able to meet his family’s needs. But Mr. Cole admits there are challenges ahead, as capital and other resources are required to succeed at planting a good rubber farm.

He says: “I have pumped in more than $5,000 US in two years. I have to pay the workers, feed them, [and buy] fertilizers and other chemicals to get the rubber growing well. [But] I am investing because I know I will reap in the future.”