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September 01, 2011

Italian investor to quadruple Sierra Leone rubber output

by Silas Gbandia

The Italian Agricultural Co., a closely held producer of rubber in Sierra Leone, plans to quadruple output in five years by planting new trees in a bid to revitalize the industry.

The company’s current output of 250 metric tons a month, from both its own plantations and rubber bought from small-scale farmers, will rise to 1,000 tons, said Cheick Barrie, finance administrator of the company,  in an interview Aug. 15 in the eastern town of Small Bo.

Italian Agricultural has a three-year lease on two state- owned plantations and a 50-year lease on another 10,000-acre (4,045-hectare) plot, he said. The company will plant two million trees over the next four to five years, he said.

The West African nation carved out rubber plantations totaling 53,559 acres in the 1960s to develop the industry, said Thomas Dickson Kallon, forest officer for Kenema District, in the country’s east. Less than 10 percent of the land was cultivated, he said. In 1991, a plan to hand over control of the state-owned rubber farms to the Sierra Leone Rubber Co. was halted by the outbreak of a rebel uprising that led to a devastating 11-year civil war.

Italian Agricultural sends its raw rubber to the Firestone Natural Rubber Co. in neighboring Liberia to be processed, said Barrie. The company plans to build stations in towns in the east to buy rubber from farmers and its own processing plant, he said.

Business Week

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