‘No rubber, No Nigeria’ is a popular mantra among stakeholders in the rubber sub-sector in Nigeria.
It is indeed an unassailable fact that the rubber sub – sector has tremendous potentials to help in reviving the economy of the country.
Rubber, which used to be the fourth largest foreign exchange earner for Nigeria after crude oil, hide and skin and cocoa, seems to have long been neglected by government, thereby throwing plenty of rubber farmers out of business.
Rubber production has been on the downward trend from a peak of 113,479 metric tons annually before the advent of crude oil, to 46,000 metric tons in 2004.
Since then, it has hardly recorded any significant increase in production.
Several factors are responsible for the poor production of rubber in Nigeria among which are low yield of trees particularly the unknown pedigree that dominates the small holdings; and the preponderance of old trees that have passed their peak of production.
The potentials for rubber development in Nigeria are very high if only 50 percent of the stated targets are met.
Consequently, some experts are convinced that the country will earn significant revenue of not less than $2.86 billion or N3.2 trillion from rubber export, generate employment for over 400,000 persons, and develop the required boost in rural development and environmental conservation.
Researchers agree that there is need to gear efforts towards increased production, need for total valorisation of the rubber tree; as well as exploration of new uses for rubber.
This is even more important now that car tyres which used to consume over 70 per cent of Nigeria’s rubber are no longer produced in the country following the exit of Michelin and Dunlop tyre manufacturers.
It is therefore in the bold and laudable initiative to change the unpalatable narratives that the National Rubber Producers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (NARPPMAN) organized a two-day National Rubber Conference.
The event with the theme, ‘Industrialisation of the Rubber subsector in Nigeria’ was held in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.
Other collaborators are the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Raw Materials Research and Development Council; and the Nigerian Export Promotion Council.
The Abuja conference, from October 21 to October 22, was organised to create a platform for players in the rubber industry to exchange ideas, acquaint themselves with new technologies and investment opportunities.
It was also to draw a roadmap for sustainable development of the rubber sub-sector across the value chain, particularly increasing production, processing and marketing of rubber and rubber products in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s vice president, Prof Yemi Osibanjo, represented by the minister of state for science and technology, Mr Mohammed Abdullahi, declared the conference open.
Six topics, in six plenary sessions, covering the entire rubber value chain – production, processing, marketing/distribution based on quality; and research and development were presented and discussed at the conference.
The topics were ‘Industrialising the Rubber subsector through smart partnership and Raw Materials Development and
‘The Economic Imperative of Rubber Value Chain Development in Nigeria’.
Others are ‘National Automobile Policy and the Development of the Rubber subsector in Nigeria’ and ‘Opening up Economic Corridor through the Development of Rubber by-products and Export’. There was also ‘Developing Entrepreneurs in Downstream, Mid-stream and Upstream in Rubber Value Chain and ‘Taiwan Collaboration/Partnership with NARPPMAN on Downstream Rubber Product Machineries’.
At the event, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, minister of industry, trade and investment said the federal government is repositioning its economic policy to diversify the economy.
This, the minister explained was especially towards agriculture, solid minerals and manufacturing.
Adebayo was represented by Alhaji Muhammad Bala, deputy director, Industrial Development.
He said, “The rubber industry is related to the automotive industry in terms of production of tyres and other products needed in vehicle manufacturing and assembly.
“In this regard, the ministry is currently reviewing the National Automotive Industry Development Plan in conjunction with the National Automotive Design and Development Council.
“We are also articulating more policies and programmes that would transform Nigeria into a modern industrialised nation.
“This is also to make the rubber sub-sector a major contributor to the nation’s GDP through the Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan,” Adebayo explained.
On his own part, the minister of state, science, technology and innovation, Alhaji Mohammed Abdullahi, said the importance of the rubber value chain in Nigeria cannot be over emphasised.
“The establishment of modern rubber processing industries is also very crucial.
“Efforts to revamp the rubber industry are also being vigorously pursued by the ministry,” Abdullahi said.
The permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Ernest Afolabi, said the federal government would continue to provide an enabling environment to move the rubber industry forward.
Afolabi who was represented by Alhaji Mohammed Usman, assistant director, Tree Crop Division said, “We would not relent in supporting our farmers with necessary inputs and building their capacities in good agricultural practices.”
The national president of NARPPMAN, Mr Igbinosun Peter laments that 95 per cent of available rubber plantations in Nigeria are over 40 years old.
“Apart from this, they are also being abandoned, with trees being felled and used as firewood or furniture.
“Consequently, Nigeria has been losing attendant huge employment and income to new comer countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and India.
“Those countries are currently generating over 400 million employments and annual income of 160 billion US Dollars.
“Nigeria is in a period in her economic life where her major focus on crude oil is failing to sustain the economy,” Peter said.
Also speaking, the Ambassador of Cote d’Ivoire to Nigeria, Amb Kalilou Traore stated that his country was ready to engage in any dialogue or discussions with Nigeria.
This, Traore noted was to strengthen cooperation between the two countries to improve the rubber industry.
In the communique released at the end of the event, the participants urged the government to implement all the relevant policies already developed to boost the agricultural sector.
They enjoined government to take up the responsibility to measure out modalities to assist in rubber production technology to further enhance the promotion and sustainability of the rubber sector.
“State governments should collaborate with NARPPMAN in the development of rubber value chain in their states by making land available for the development of rubber plantations.
“Government should increase agricultural subsidies to rubber farmers by construction of smokehouses in clusters, for effective storage facilities, basic infrastructural facilities, agrichemicals and fertilizers, to boost rubber production.
“Bank of Agriculture, Bank of Industry and NEXIM Bank should be fully involved in the development of the rubber sub-sector by making funds available for rubber development at friendly interest rates for small and industrial rubber farmers.
“There should be regular trainings and workshops for rubber farmers and young students.
“Government should provide grants and encourage soft loans at single digit interest rates for rubber farmers,” they added.
The participants further urged the Central Bank of Nigeria to create credit schemes, targeting the development of long gestation crops such as rubber.
They also expressed the urgent need for government to collaborate with the organized private sector to factor in aggressive programmes for the development of the rubber sector.
This, according to them is due to the potential it has to contribute to the Nigerian economy, and the diversification efforts of the federal government, for sustainable development of the country.
“There is the need for the revision and adoption of RMRDCs Roadmap for the development of the rubber sector in Nigeria.
“Government should also enhance the research institutes sector, to enable them develop technologies to improve the rubber sector.
“Government should expand and enhance the extension services to assist farmers in the rubber sector.
“There should be federal government intervention to provide at least 100,000 hectares of land in each state for rubber production in Nigeria,” they further advocated.
The participants commended NARPPMAN for creating a platform for stakeholders to engage one another in discussions relating to the development of the rubber subsector in Nigeria.
They expressed hope that such interactive session would be institutionalised to ensure continuity and the effective implementation of the recommendations of the conference.