A ground breaking ceremony was held last month in Aiambak, Middle Fly District, where the factory will sit to signal the commencement of construction expected to begin at the end of the year.
The initiative is part of the Ok Tedi Development Foundation’s (OTDF) Livelihood Development Package (LDP) program, a strategy to ensure sustainable economic activities continue well after the life of the mine. The program includes other products such as rice and eaglewood.
In a statement, OTDF Chief Executive Officer, Ian Middleton, said he is optimistic downriver farmers will greatly benefit now with an alternate, higher value option for selling their rubber.
“Gold and copper do not grow on trees like rubber and eaglewood. Once it is harvested, it’s gone. Rubber will continue to produce every day for 40 years, once you start tapping your trees, the money will flow.
“You no longer need to rely on cash compensation, you just need to work hard, to sweat in your blocks and OTDF will support you to change your life and put money in your pocket every week,” Middleton said.
The proposed factory will produce Ribbed Smoked Sheet (RSS) rubber, which promotes the production of rolled sheets by farmers then the smoking of those sheets, grading, packing and exporting from the factory. RSS has a higher value on the international market than cup lump and is one step away from a tyre re-treading factory.
Rubber growers, Sesele Nae from Lake Murray and Jimmy Sianeke from Middle Fly were delighted with the support from OTDF and the State.
“The rubber tree is a very important tree, it will change your life,” said Nae.
“The Middle Fly CMCA people are now challenged by Lake Murray to do better and make the most of this coming factory,” Sianeke added.
Aiambak is a strategic, central location to ensure farmers in the remote Middle and South Fly areas of the province have a ready market to sell their rubber in a form that adds greater value and places more money in their pockets for the same volume of harvested rubber.
OTDF has established an agri-business company owned by CMCA primary producers, and facilitated the purchasing of cup lump rubber from North & Middle Fly and Lake Murray farmers through agent Lotic Bige Limited (LBL) since January who have, to date, exported 59 tons of rubber to Singapore and Malaysia.
OTDF will also be providing technical assistance and tools to farmers to produce the RSS product.