A female operator in action on Cooper Farm
The Cooper Rubber Processing Plant (CRPP), the first 100 percent Liberian owned plant that will manufacture retreaded tires, roofing materials, electrical insulators, fixtures PVC pipes, fittings, rubber gloves, among others has been inaugurated in the country.
Mr. James E. Cooper is the vice president of the Rubber Planters Association of Liberia (RPAL) and is also the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CRPP.
The CRPP was inaugurated on Monday, June 4, at a well-attended ceremony graced by major players in the Liberian economy. The plant is located in Blagai, Bomi Highway.
According to CEO Cooper CRPP purchases rubber from local farmers across the country and process them into crepe technically specified rubber (TSR) 10 which is then exported to automobile tire manufacturers in Asia and the United States.
He said the plant also has the capacity to produce ribbed smoked sheets for export. Mr. Cooper is assisted by a team of national and foreign staff with diverse training and experiences in rubber related operations and other related fields. Mr. Cooper described the initiative as "A Call to Action" for Liberian entrepreneurs.
"This is a call to action and the beginning of a national conversation about the importance and significance of rubber manufacturing," he said.
He noted that the crepe TSR is the highest quantities of commodities made on the farm, processed and sent away. "We want to do all these here and this is why we have built this plant," Mr. Cooper said.
Mr. Cooper noted, "What we're trying to do here is simple; people have serious issues in Bomi and the way to do that provides them with jobs to boost our country's economy."
"One of the things we have to put together is to create jobs for our people... if a man does not have a job, there will be no dignity; there's no hope for the family at home. So the establishment of the plant will be able to contribute to the government's pro-poor agenda," he noted.
He said the farm was originally established by his father in 1956 and in 1962 they began to sell rubber to Firestone. "Today I see in front of me my dream being realized - the first ever state of the art rubber processing plant in Liberia. I can proudly say we have arrived," Mr. Cooper said.
At Monday's ceremony, CRPP also celebrated the grand opening of its specialty tire manufacturing facility, which will produce tires, slippers and other rubber materials for the first time in the country.
(From left) Mr. Cooper, Cllr. Mulbah and Police IG Sudue with other guests at the facility.
The inauguration of CRPP, he said comes with many benefits, including the expansion of its employees from 156 to 300, expansion of the revenue base for the government, increase in the price of raw rubber to local farmers and knowledge transfer to rubber manufacturing from foreign rubber manufacturers to Liberians.
Mr. Cooper also stated that the dream of processing rubber for export, especially as a Liberian was not only ambitious but challenging. Mr. Cooper said he engaged and succeeded in getting funding from a private investor, Bob Jackson of the Liberian Economic Development and Financing Corporation (LEDFEC).
As a new entrant in the rubber sector of Liberia, Mr. Cooper has succeeded in transforming latex and coagulated harvesting, selling raw rubber to processing and exporting quality rubber to Malaysia and the USA.
He also believes that to remain a sustainable job creation entity, he must venture into manufacturing of rubber products for sale throughout West Africa.
Additional funding was also sourced from the government through the Rubber Development Stimulus Fund. "The funding was helpful in constructing the factory and the administrative building as well as procuring machinery and equipment. It also helped in the process of building the capacities of the workers," Mr. Cooper said.
Cllr. Darku Mulbah, Solicitor General lauded Mr. Cooper for the initiative and assured he would the support of the Liberian government.
Cllr. Mulbah also encouraged other Liberians to unite in order to move the country's economy forward as well as better the lives of its citizens.
Reiterating Cllr. Mulbah's statement of support to the Cooper Farm, Inspector General of Police, Patrick Sudue encouraged other Liberians to put hands together and ensure that Liberia becomes great.
In several remarks, the president of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment LBDI, John Davies pledged his support to Mr. Cooper's initiative.
Meanwhile observers say the initiative undertaken by Mr. Cooper offers a shining ray of hope especially to small and medium Liberian rubber farmers who have long been exploited by the big rubber companies especially Firestone by paying little or nothing to local farmers for their rubber. Currently, the Government of Liberia forbids the export of raw rubber by small producers but yet allow Firestone and other large rubber companies from doing so. According to them
Currently, according to a small rubber farmer(name withheld) there is a surcharge imposed on every ton of rubber sold by Liberian farmers and that tax money goes to the Liberia Rubber Planters Association(RPAL) which, rather than being of benefit to farmers has since instead become a virtual cash cow for Government officials as there is no accountability by the managers of such funds neither has there been any report over how much is being realized and how much has been realized over the years.
David A. Yates