When Madagascar produced natural rubber: a brief, forgotten yet informative history.

Abstract : From 1891 to 1914, Madagascar, like other western African countries, was a production zone for forest rubber destined for export to Europe when Asian plantations where not yet sufficiently developed . Numerous species endemic to the forests of the three major Malagasy ecosystems were exploited, often with a view to maximising short term productivity without any consideration for the sustainable management of the resource. This episode represents one of the first cases of industrial exploitation of Madagascar's biological resources. Although Madagascar occupies a modest position on the world rubber market at that time, the exploitation of rubber bore major consequences for the island's forestry resources and, moreover, influenced the vision and discourse of scientists and politicians concerning their management. It was one of the factors triggering awareness of the value of Madagascar's biodiversity and the threat to which it might be exposed through poorly-controlled human activity. As a result, highly repressive and forcible legislation was introduced aimed at containing the activity practiced by local populations considered to be mostly to blame. But from the early days of French colonial rule, naturalists judged the outcomes of political decisions too weak to offer any guarantee of an effective defence. They responded by adopting an intentionally alarmist and catastrophist discourse with the object of provoking a reaction from the politicians, considered too lax. This discourse, in fact, took an about-turn from 1942-45 when the war effort led to a revitalisation of the Malagasy rubber sector as Asian production was mainly out of reach. A second consequence came in 1927 with the creation of a network of protected areas managed by naturalists, making Madagascar at that time, a pioneer in Africa. There was a simultaneous flurry of activity to promote the domestication of Malagasy rubber species, combined with the introduction of new species with high potential (Hevea brasiliensis, Castilloa elastica). However, with the emergence of far more profitable Asian rubber, all attempts at cultivation in Madagascar were abandoned when exploitation ceased to be profitable, and thus the Malagasy forests were redeemed. This episode demonstrates how it was in fact economic reality, by condemning an unprofitable sector, that was the real vehicle by which the survival of Malagasy rubber species was secured, and not the naturalists' discourse, nor the creation of protected zones, nor the promulgation of repressive legislations. This case study is of more than purely historical interest, in that it still has currency where, for example, the exploitation of Prunus africana is concerned.
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2013
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Soumis le : mardi 8 janvier 2013 - 09:36:56
Dernière modification le : vendredi 12 octobre 2018 - 15:24:26
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P. Danthu, H. Razakamanarivo, L. Razafy Fara, P. Montagne, B. Deville-Danthu, et al.. When Madagascar produced natural rubber: a brief, forgotten yet informative history.. 2013. 〈cirad-00771066〉

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