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Rubber and oil-palm production and value addition in Asia: relevance for Africa

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Oil-rich fruits and seeds (e.g. coconut, castor oil) (Van der Vossen and Umali 2001) and the latex that plants exude when wounded have been harvested, processed and used from a wide variety of plants as part of the ethnobotanical history of Asia. Latex species that attracted market attention include gutta-percha (Palaquium spp.), chewing-gum tree (Dyera spp.) and Ficus elastica (Boer and Ella 2000). In both categories, however, the intercontinental germplasm theft and exchange of the colonial period brought in trees from other parts of the tropics that started new value chains, serving global markets and pushing ‘indigenous’ trees producing such commodities to become a footnote in history. Rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) was brought to Asia from the Amazon basin in the middle of the 19th century and boomed around 1920 when its primary use for car tyres started a long period of growing demand. Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) (Corley and Tinker 2016) came a little later from W. Africa – but developed slowly at first. The relative importance of smallholders and large-scale plantations in the area varied in time and space for the two commodities, as did the number of people involved and the economic value generated.

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