Africa

Global demand for protective gloves is soaring, but Ivorian rubber farmers are losing money

Issued on: 03/04/2020 – 21:04Modified: 03/04/2020 – 21:05

As the coronavirus takes hold, the demand for rubber gloves is on the up. Yet despite being the largest rubber producer in Africa, the Ivory Coast is failing to make the most of it.

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With the number of Covid-19 infections surpassing one million, the demand for rubber gloves is soaring. As governments across the world scramble to stockpile medical supplies, the World Health Organization warned on March 27 that a "chronic global shortage of personal protective gear" was "one of the most urgent threats to our collective ability to save lives".

Despite this, the Ivory Coasts rubber production sector stands to lose €91m in profits every month until the crisis is over, according to the countrys leading industry group, Apromac. The Ivory Coast accounts for 60 percent of the continents rubber production. Around 780,000 tonnes were exported last year.

Facing 'catastrophe' over cancelled contracts, closed factories

"We are at a loss because of the cancelling of contracts and the closing of factories in Europe and Asia," said Apromac president Eugène Kremien.

Kremien told FRANCE 24 that if the coronavirus crisis lasts for more than three months, the sector would face "catastrophe". He added that at least one million Ivorians depend on rubber for their income, when the 160,000 producers, their employees and their families are accounted for.

Ivorians are failing to exploit the current crisis for financial gain for one key reason. Most rubber glove manufacturing takes place in South East Asia. The Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association alone makes 60 percent of all rubber gloves globally, with a single company, Top Glove, holding a quarter of the world market share. The key ingredient is raw latex – the milky-coloured liquid collected through the process of bleeding trees.

Michelin, Goodyear and Bridgestone stopped importing

It would take days for Ivorian producers to transport the latex to these factories in Malaysia by boat. And in that length of time, the latex liquid would have begun to congeal and, as such, become unsuitable for glove manufacturing.

This transportation issue is the main reason that rubber exports from the Ivory Coast come in a solid, granulated form. In 2019, around 80 percent of the countrys rubber exports went to the automobile industry, for tyres. But Kremien says that tyre manufacturers Michelin, Goodyear and Bridgestone are among the companies to stop importing, because of the coronavirus crisis.

The Ivory Coast is one of the fastest expanding economies in the world, with a growth rate averaging 8.5 percent annually from 2011-19. Rubber production is one of many sectors to be infected by Covid-19.

Lowest GDP forecast in nine years

On March 31, the Prime Minister, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, revised the countrys GDP growthRead More – Source