• Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Why Nigeria should rehabilitate rubber plantations in the country

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GODFREY OFURUM

A report by the International Study Group on rubber (IRSG) has predicted that by the year 2020, the gap between the forecasted production of natural rubber (12.5 million tons) and forecasted consumption (13.6 million tons) will be 1.1 million tons.
And to meet this anticipated increase in demand for the commodity, the group recommended increase in the hectarage under new cultivation and yield particularly under small holding farmers.
They revealed that current major rubber producers mainly Malaysia and Thailand are facing land constraints for natural rubber due to severe competition for land by other crops mainly palm oil, the same with Vietnam , China and India .
For the needed increased hectarage and yield therefore, Africa (West and Central) are among the sub-regions to be targeted with an estimated production capacity of 680,000 tons in 2020.

However, while increases are expected from countries like Liberia , Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon , the forecast for Nigeria is that production would remain static unless the natural rubber industry particularly in the small holder sector is revived.
The bane of the natural rubber industry in Nigeria is the low yield of trees, particularly of unknown pedigree that dominate the small holdings and the preponderance of old trees that have passed their peak of production in both the small holdings and estates, observes the Rubber Research Institute of Nigeria (RRIN).

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RRIN, in its effort to make the cultivation of rubber more attractive said apart from having a well equipped rubber testing laboratory, it has also made appreciable efforts in developing new clones that are capable of producing latex yield of between 2500-3500 kg/ha/year against the yield of 300-400 kg/ha/year from unselected groves. They have also been able to reduce the gestation period from 9-10 years to 5 – 7 years.
The Institute has also developed an integrated farming system for rubber plantations in which arable crops such as yam, cassava, pineapple, cooking banana and sweet potatoes can be incorporated into rubber-planted areas to increase farmer incomes.
It has also developed scientific methods for mushroom, snail and honey-bee production in natural rubber plantation with the same aim as well as rubber seed oil for the production of ink, resin and glazier putty.
They advised that any effort geared towards stemming the decline in the production of the commodity should be done as a matter of priority.
Small holder farmers according to the institute would play a prominent role in the resuscitation of rubber industry in the country, which makes them a major target for any stimulus package.

Natural rubber has been witnessing continued increase in prices in the last three years and this has once more made rubber cultivation an economically viable enterprise, most especially now that government is trying to develop the non-oil sector of the economy.
To bring peoples consciousness back to this major cash crop that used to be Nigeria’s 3rd highest foreign exchange earner after cocoa and palm oil, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Aba Zonal Office in an advocacy workshop in Calabar, Cross River State, sought government’s assistance in the rehabilitation of rubber plantations through the instruments of Ministries of Agriculture, Rubber Research Institutes, among others.
The workshop also drew the attention of rubber plantation owners and other stakeholders on the need for them to rehabilitate their plantations by replacing the existing trees with improved hybrid varieties for better yields, enlighten them on the need to take advantage of opportunities in the export market for processed rubber as well as acquaint them with the income and employment generating potentials of the sub-sector.
Victor Afangide, deputy general manager, NEPC, observed that aging plantations and low yields led to the shutdown of about 82 percent of rubber processing factories in Nigeria including Michelin Nigeria Limited.
He affirmed that a situation that prompted the folding up of rubber processing factories for want of inputs from the plantation developers was not healthy for the country’s economy, both at the domestic and international levels.
He therefore urged governments at all levels to assist private developers of rubber plantations in their areas to rehabilitate their plantations with improved hybrid varieties in order to boost production for both domestic consumption and export.
The affected states and indeed the entire Nigerian States should be more aggressive in pursuing their economic agenda with an eye on building a stable economy for the future generations.
This is a passionate plea to every state not to sit on the fence, but to join the league of state governments to assist private developers in their various areas to rehabilitate their rubber plantations and sharpen their rubber latex tapping skills in view of the export potential of rubber crumbs and positive impact such export would have on the economy of the state and country at large.

Adding, It is time we looked away from oil as a single foreign exchange earner and begin to develop, promote and exploit other sectors of the economy for funds to maintain and upgrade our existing infrastructures when the Nigerian oil wells may have dried up.
Agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy before and after independence, however, the sector suffered serious neglect with the advent of crude oil, as successive government’s paid little or no attention to it.
A recent report by the International Trade Centre, indicated that Nigeria’s rubber export for 2006 stood at $7.4 million, placing her at a distant 16th position in world ranking of exporters of the commodity, while Liberia and Malaysia, who are later entrants into rubber production, raked in $134.8 million from the nearly $2 billion global rubber exports for that year.
Natural rubber production peaked to about 236,000ha in 1990s and gradually declined to the current level of 154,000ha. While some countries of the far east like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia account for over 70 percent of world production, Nigeria with her enormous potentials and a one time Africa’s leading producer now account for just 1.4 percent of the world output.
The decline in natural rubber can be attributed to the following- the marginalisation of rubber as an as an economic and strategic crop due to the discovery of crude oil, the increase in production aftermath of the dissolution of the Natural Rubber Board that gave rise to transient glut in the mid 1990s and a drastic drop in the price of the commodity.
Others are the low yield due to uneconomic size of farmers’ holdings, old age of plantations leading to reduced stands per hectare, use of unselected seedlings, little or no agricultural inputs- fertilizer, credit facilities, and pesticides.
Only about 40 percent of Nigeria’s rubber potential is currently being exploited. This is as a result of the abandonment and felling of trees, particularly by smallholders for seemingly more lucrative annual food crop production.
Also the gestation period for rubber, which is 7 years during which period the farmer earns no income from the trees, shortage and high cost of labour in many rubber producing areas where the industry is forced to compete for labour with the oil sector as well as scant Federal and State governments attention to the sector.
Rising from the workshop, the stakeholders urged the federal government to take advantage of an expected production glut predicted by the International Study Group on Rubber (IRSG) and motivate farmers to invest more in the cash crop.
They said there was need to give renewed effort to the presidential initiative on rubber which was launched in 2006 in order to motivate the small holder rubber farmers in both the traditional rubber cultivating areas and the non-traditional areas, particularly in Southern Kaduna zone of Kaduna State and Taraba State .

According to them, the greatest motivation this group of farmers needs to expand production of natural rubber will also come from the Presidential Initiative on rubber.
The Federal Government must of necessity come to the assistance of this group of farmers in view of the fact that the industry is currently witnessing continued increase in rubber prices in the last three years making rubber cultivation an economically viable enterprise.
There is need for Government’s at all levels to support the development of seed garden and nurseries to produce more improved and quality budded materials.
They also advised farmers to desist from the use of local unselected seedlings but to go for planting materials given out at highly subsidised rates to farmers under the Presidential Initiative.