By Festus Poquie
Liberia forecast it would yield $500 million in four years end 2025 as it embarks on an ambitious project to gain market shares and keep it in readiness should Firestone Liberia Inc. – a subsidiary of Bridgestone Americas, Leaves.
“We are trying to wean ourselves off the dependence on Firestone,” Agriculture Minister Jeanine Cooper said in a 2021 Interview not published until now.
“Our plan right now is to invest $10 million that in three to four years we will have a $500 million returns.
“We have the infrastructure. We have the players; the rubber trees are there. They are producing. We have a hundred years of experience. Our focus is fully on local actors. We have the capacity and we ready to do it.”
Homegrown Firms are being capitalized to process natural rubber, export it and provide market access to smallholder farmers who make up 60-75 percent of processed and exported rubber, she said.
Firestone has been a major contributor to Liberia’s economic development investing $1.3 billion since the end of the country’s civil war.
Liberia’s rubber industry was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic causing Firestone, the biggest buyer to stop trade with local producers.
Two years later the Central Bank has reported fall in rubber’s export earnings.
“Rubber volume decreased by 11.6 percent to 16,613 metric tons, from 18,800 metric tons in the second quarter of 2022.”
In 2021, production fell by 15.2 percent compared to third quarter of 2019, according to the Central Bank of Liberia.
Operating the world’s largest natural rubber plantation in the West African nation of 4.5 million people since 1926, the company, is cutting investment and reducing workforce.
In March 2019, the company said it was laying off 800 Liberian employees or 13% of its work force due to “continued and unsustainable losses resulting from high overhead costs associated with the company’s concession agreement with the government of Liberia, low natural rubber production because of the country’s prolonged civil wars and continued low
global natural rubber prices.”