For almost three decades – from the later part of XIX century through second decade of the XX century- natural rubber underpinned one of the most important development booms in Brazil."Discuss.

At least for a period of thirty years beginning from 1879 to 1912, Natural Rubber was understood to have underpinned one of the most important development booms in the countries of Amazon Basin, particularly Brazil. Amazon Basin is shared by eight countries viz. Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.  It occupies almost 40% of the South American continent.  But, out of all these Amazon basin countries, Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru were the only countries which exported natural rubber, before the plantation of Hevea plants began elsewhere in the world.  At the time of industrial revolution, rubber got to be used in many products. After the Goodyear developed vulcanization process, the demand of rubber increased manifold as the vulcanized rubber was in demand for making tyres of the cars. This huge demand of rubber was met by the rubber tress of Amazonia. This is how the so called Amazon Rubber boom happened. By virtue of the boom, the Amazon region which was poor and sparsely populated became a rich, progressive and sophisticated urban centre. In the history of Brazil, this period is called “Belle Époque” period. Soon, by the end of 19th century, Brazil became the ruler of rubber in the world market.

However, it could not retain that position for long. With increase in demand for the rubber, the British smuggled Rubber Tree seeds from Amazonia to the Botanical gardens of London in order to develop more resistant varieties, so these varieties can be planted in British Colonies in Asia, particularly Malaysia, Singapore and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Brazilians still call this episode as Rubber Theft. The British established very large plantations in these countries. Moreover, collection of latex from these plantations was easier as trees were planted only 4 meters away from each other. On the other hand, in Brazil, the plants were located very far away from each other making the collection of latex difficult. In addition, Brazilian government on those days also committed some mistakes for its part. Despite the presence of stiff competition from Asian plantations, it never bothered to increase the productivity of its rubber plantations. It did not take steps to switch to more efficient means of production, resulting in a shortage, both in quality and quantity of the rubber produced. All these made the Brazil boom to burst quickly with companies moving away from Brazil to more productive areas. Ultimately, the contribution of rubber from the Amazon region which was 99% in the beginning decreased to a paltry 2% by 1950.

Rubber plantation is widely found in Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam etc. Thailand has now emerged as the leading producer of plantation rubber in the world. Among south Asian countries, Sri Lanka is an important producer of rubber. Plantations in India are not sizeable when compared to those in countries like Thailand or Malaysia. In India, Kerala is the leading producer of rubber.

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