Control of wild rubber extraction in the forests of northeast India, 1850-1880

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Abstract

This paper uses the history of rubber extraction to explore competing attempts to control the forest environments of Assam and beyond in the second half of the nineteenth century. Forest communities faced rival efforts at environmental control from both European and Indian traders, as well as from various centres of authority within the Raj. Government attempts to regulate rubber collection were undermined by the weak authority of the Raj in these regions, leading to widespread smuggling. Partly in response to the disruptive influence of rubber traders on the frontier, the Raj began to restrict the presence of outsiders in tribal regions, which came to be understood as distinct areas outside British control. When rubber yields from the forests nearest the Brahmaputra fell in the wake of intensive exploitation, India's scientific foresters demanded and from 1870 obtained the ability to regulate the Assamese forests, blaming indigenous rubber tapping strategies for the declining yields and arguing that Indian rubber could be ‘equal [to] if not better' than Amazonian rubber if only tappers would change their practices. The knowledge of the scientific foresters was fundamentally flawed, however, and their efforts to establish a new type of tapping practice failed. By 1880, the government had largely abandoned attempts to regulate wild Indian rubber, though wild sources continued to dominate the supply of global rubber until after 1910.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sep 2015
EventEnvironmental Histories of Commodities 1800-2000 - Institute of the Americas, UCL, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Sep 201511 Sep 2015

Conference

ConferenceEnvironmental Histories of Commodities 1800-2000
CountryUnited Kingdom
CityLondon
Period11/09/201511/09/2015

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