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Farmers in Ivory Coast protest against low prices, Indian farmers in a similar row

Author: Staff Contributor (hello@helixtap.com)

08 Nov 2023, 09:29 AM SGT

Back to Market Insights

Highlights
 

  • Farmer allege firms from China, ASEAN undercut prices in Ivory Coast
     
  • Strike plus unseasonal rains to impact Ivory Coast output this year
     
  • Kerala Government releases RPIS arrears following farmer strike


    

At a time when global rubber prices languish at subdued levels, farmers in two continents – in Ivory Coast in Africa and Kerala in India – have taken to the streets, demanding governments to intervene and downstream players to act responsibly to ensure a fair deal for them.

By the end of the first week of November, the biggest rubber producer of Africa and the third largest producer in the world, the Ivory Coast, witnessed smallholders unleashing their anger over what they allege was the undercutting in prices by some processors.

The smallholders who marched to the facility of a large processor at Issia in Western Ivory Coast, over 300 km away from the capital, Abidjan, torched some of the empty thatched sheds put up by the company to store articles to vent their fury.

Some processors face the fury of farmers

"Some groups do not respect the national price, which is fixed and declared monthly by the Ivory Coast Government. They offer 20% less than the price fixed by the government for the cup lump that we produce. These kinds of factories, mostly run by people from China and ASEAN, don't respect these rules in our country. We first took up the issue with the Ivory Coast Government, but it didn't do anything. So, we decided to disrupt their activities by unleashing our protests so that APROMAC (Association of Natural Rubber Professionals of Côte d'Ivoire) and the Ivory Coast Government intervened," said Camara Issouf, president of AJAMHCI (Association of Young Modern Rubber Farmers of Cote d'Ivoire) which led the agitation.

He said the Ivory Coast companies respect and pay the official prices to the farmers. Camara Issouf, also the APROMAC administrator, noted that some of them buy a substantial share of 25% of the cup lump produced in the country, export some of it to Malaysia, and convert the rest into block rubber."

We are fed up with the ill-treatment meted out to the smallholders by many foreign companies. The APROMAC price is the official price, but they don't give it. We decided that enough is enough and reacted now," said N'Guessan Simon Arman, delegate to the general assembly of APROMAC and vice-president of AJAMHCI, after participating in the protests.


Camara Issouf said that from now on, the factories that don't respect the official prices won't be allowed to function by the smallholders in Ivory Coast. "We are going to continue this agitation until the issue of prices is settled."

Camara said last year, he met with the Ambassador of China in Ivory Coast, where he raised the issue of the raw deal being meted out to Ivory Coast farmers by Chinese companies. "I had told him that we will protest against this, and it won't be good for both sides," said Camara.

To a question whether the strike will affect production, Camara said: "Not really, but if the situation doesn't change, we will be on strike."

Meanwhile, in relief for AJAMHCI, a local court in Issia asked the companies to respect the official rubber price the other day. "It's a victory for us," said Camara.

The APROMAC administrator said that unseasonal rains are now seriously affecting rubber production in the Ivory Coast. "Normally, by now, our rain season should be over, but still, we have plenty of rain which is hitting production," Camara said, adding that this year's production will likely remain the same as last year.

Indian farmers, too, struggle for better deals from Rubber Board, governments

In India, another major outbreak of protests occurred. The Kerala smallholders held two rallies in North Kerala and Central Kerala on November 1. Hundreds of rubber farmers and political party leaders participated in the rallies and protest meetings, which demanded, among other things, measures to ensure a floor price of INR 250/kg (US$ 3) for sheet rubber.

The protest meeting, organized under the auspices of the National Consortium of Regional Federations of Rubber Producers Societies (NCRPS), was inaugurated by the former Health Minister of Kerala, V M Sudheeran, in Kottayam before the Rubber Board headquarters.

He demanded that Kerala rubber producers should be provided replanting and new planting subsidies on par with the producers in the northeastern states. While the farmers in the northeast are given a subsidy of INR 1.5 lakh (US$ 1801) per hectare, in Kerala, it's only INR 25,000 (US$ 300). "The farmers across the country should be treated on par by the Rubber Board while providing assistance," he said.

Rubber Board defaults on INR 5.42 crore; RPSs struggling

Apart from the issue of price and replanting and new planting subsidy, the agitating farmers demanded the Rubber Board to release the remaining INR 5.42 crore (US$ 650,993) under the rain guarding and spraying scheme of the Rubber Board to the Rubber Producer Societies (RPSs) in the state.

The scheme, successfully implemented for the first time last year under the then Executive Director Dr K N Raghavan, plunged into uncertainties this year following the Rubber Board's decision to seek the permission of the Indian Commerce Ministry for the disbursal of the amount. Moreover, out of the 800,000 hectares of rubber plantations in Kerala, only 25,000 hectares are covered under the scheme.

"A total of INR 7500 (US$ 90) was assured as spraying assistance, and Rs 5000 (US$ 60) for rain guarding, but only INR 3500 (US$ 42) for spraying and INR 4000 (US$ 48) for rain guarding has been sanctioned to the majority of RPSs in Kerala. Only one region in Kerala has received the full amount, while all regions outside the state have received it, which smacks of partiality. However, the RPSs in Kerala had advanced the whole amount to farmers, trusting a promise by the Rubber Board that it would reimburse the amount. Still, the same promise has not been kept, plunging these RPSs into a deep financial crisis and landing them in a combined deficit of INR 5.42 crore. Now, they are struggling to find working capital. One of our major concerns is to get out of this crisis, and a major demand of the agitation is to disburse the amount and extend the scheme to more plantations," said Babu Joseph, general secretary of the NCRPS.

Lawmakers, too, attend protest meetings

The Members of the Indian Parliament, Anto Antony and Thomas Chazhikkadan, addressed the protest meeting. Anto Antony said the new Rubber Law being brought by the Indian Government should have provisions that help the rubber farmers rather than deal a blow to them. Thomas Chazhikadan said that the Rubber Board had wrongly calculated the rubber production cost, which has become a whammy for the farmer.

The protest meeting, also attended by three members of the Kerala Legislative Assembly, Sebastian Kulathunkal, Kurukkoli Moideen, and Chandy Oommen, demanded the state government disburse the current floor price of INR 170/kg (US$ 2.04) for sheet rubber under the Rubber Production Incentive Scheme (RPIS) in a time-bound manner and asked both governments to raise it to INR 250/kg jointly. The protest meeting also requested that the Rubber Board deploy sufficient field staff to support the farmers. It also asked the Indian Government to do away with the FTA with ASEAN countries on rubber and let farmers have the full benefit of the carbon credit scheme.

"A creditable fallout of the agitation was that the State Government credited to the farmers' account the arrears of RPIS till March 2023, on the very next day. However, the Rubber Board and the Indian Government need to react in the same fashion on different issues, and the floor price also needs to be raised," said Babu Joseph.

The author of the article Vinod Nedumudy is a journalist who previously worked with leading Indian newspapers like The Free Press Journal, The New Indian Express, Deccan Chronicle and The Mathrubhumi in various capacities over a career spanning three decades. Currently functioning from Kochi, India, he writes about rubber and tyre-related market developments, among other things with Helixtap. He can be reached at hello@helixtap.com.