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New exhibit on history of rubber

New exhibit on history of rubber

P rince Norodom Ranarridh open-ed a major new exhibition at the French Cultural

Center last week dedicated to the country's rubber industry.

Entitled

L'hévéaculture, it depicts the history of tree plantations which were the

foundation of the tire empire founded by the French tycoons and brothers Andre

and Edouard Michelin in the 19th century.

 

The exhibition describes the origins and development of the rubber industry

through a series of strip cartoons, photographs and tactile displays. There are

rubbery exhibits to touch, bowls of liquid latex, lengths of tree-trunk in soil,

car tires and large chunks of spongy substance like old Romano cheese.

In 1970 there were 60,000 hectares of rubber plantations in Cambodia.

Today, they are being revived around the area of Kompong Cham, in Chup, Krek,

Mimot, Snoul, Chamcar and Andong districts. As part of the plan to revive the

country's industry it is hoped that 120,000 hectares will eventually be

developed.

At the opening of the exhibition Prince Ranariddh said he

hoped that tax breaks and other financial incentives offered by the Ministry of

Agriculture would boost the revival of the industry.

Philippe Monnin, an

agronomist and specialist in rubber cultivation said that this country produced

exceptional quality in the commodity, with trees outliving those found in other

countries by up to 17 years, with some reaching the age of 47.

"That's an

extraordinary age for a tree," he said. When the tree dies it is cut down and

used in furniture making. "Nothing is wasted," Mr Monnin added.

A large

variety of rubber plants contain latex, a milky fluid with globules of rubber in

an aqueous suspension, but only the tropical species has been commercialized.

Trees are planted in long straight avenues, and as they mature the rows take on

a beautiful cathedral-like shape.

During collection the bark of each tree

is cut in a circular motion downwards and the latex 'bleeds' out and drips into

special pottery bowls attached to the trunk. In a year a plantation will process

one to two million cups of latex.

The exhibition also touches on the

origins of the industry. The Incas, Aztecs and Mayas of South America, for whom

the analogy of 'bleeding' rubber was significant, used rubber for, among other

things, shoes, water-proofing fabrics and for making containers.

European

interest in the use of rubber did not begin until the 18th century when reports

were made to the French Academy of Sciences by Charles de la Conda-mine and

Francois Fresneau.

The first rubber factories were established in 1803

near Paris, and in England in 1820. Three years later Charles Macintosh produced

the first waterproofed coats. Rubber balloons, pardon the pun, burst on the

scene in 1825. Then the first rubber hose, resistant to heat and cold, was

invented for fighting fires. Then the Goodyear company introduced vulcanization,

which revolutionized the industry, producing the pneumatic

tire.

Delightful engravings showed the first bicycles with rubber tires,

with attendant punctures. One shows Queen Victoria sitting majestically on a

tricycle in 1869.

Another advertisement from 1906 declares: "The tire

... is Death! The Elastic wheel, by Roussel, is Life!" A violent polemic erupted

between supporters of the elastic-covered wheel and those of the rubber tire.

A two-and-a-half km race between the two types of suspension proved the

elastic wheel's downfall. The rubber tire won.

In the 19th century wild

rubber was harvested in south America. Seeds of the tree were smuggled to

England's Kew Gardens in 1873 by three Englishmen, Markham, Collins and Hooker.

The resultant seedlings, anxiously watched over day and night as they

germinated in the greenhouse, were sent to the Malay area and Indonesia. They

started the huge Far Eastern rubber industry. When World War II cut off supplies

from the east, synthetic rubber was produced.

Currently Indonesia and

Malaysia, still are among the largest producers of natural rubber. Nevertheless,

Cambodia's unique red soil produces rubber of special quality.

"Cambodian rubber was recognized as being the best because it is very

clean, without any trace of mineral elements," explained Pou Choti, a former

rubber planter before the Pol Pot years.

"It has to do with our long dry

season which ensures that there are no fungi in the earth to destroy the trees.

You get a better price for clean rubber with no marks on it. It's the same when

you buy diamonds," he said.

The exhibition shows that rubber could again

be the jewel in the crown of Cambodia's economy.

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