What happens if rubber production is stopped

Impending fungal attack: the rubber apocalypse

However, the various species provide innumerable shades between resistance and economy. Hevea-Trees are extremely variable in their properties. Each seed is unique. It is drifted by the floods, and wherever it lands, the seedling adapts to the conditions. No rubber tree is like another in the rainforest.

The worldwide distribution of Microcyclus ulei is just a matter of time

A nightmare for plantation owners. Trees that sometimes produce more, sometimes less latex, sometimes grow faster, sometimes slower, sometimes taller and sometimes bushier, sometimes break more easily in the wind, sometimes more robust - that is not efficient. Plantation owners cannot afford unpredictable seedlings. He wants a productive, high-performance, optimized clone. It is the same with apples or almonds. And so it is with the millions of rubber trees in the Asian plantations.

Almost all of them go back to the few hundred trees from Henry Wickham's seed collection that made it to Asia at the time. Carefully selected for generations, planting clones in good locations is up to ten times more productive than planting seedlings. But these trees have nothing to oppose the fungus - and so far they don't have to. Because the mushroom is still only widespread in South and parts of Central America. For many experts, the worldwide spread of Microcyclus ulei but only a matter of time. The consequences would be catastrophic. Because the plantation is paradise for the mushroom: In the 1930s, the successful car maker Henry Ford wanted to become independent of rubber imports from Asia. He founded a city in the rainforest, Fordlândia, and planted a million and a half rubber trees on the banks of the Rio Tapajós. But in 1934, when the trees were big enough to form a closed mulch, the fungus could no longer be stopped. Within a year the plantation was bare. For Ford one of the biggest bankruptcies of his life.

A few years later, the Americans experienced what it means when rubber really becomes scarce. In 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the US was suddenly cut off from world rubber production in Asia. The reserves were sufficient for another year. Rubber was the first economic commodity to be placed under state control during the war, car production was cut back and the speed limit was lowered to 35 miles per hour. Regular tire inspections became compulsory, and fuel was also rationed - not to save fuel, but to protect the nation's tires. In 1942, President Roosevelt radioed the population to comb the neighborhood for every scrap of usable rubber that could be dropped off at one of the 400,000 collection points in the country for a penny a pound: "There is enough rubber for us to build airplanes can to bomb Berlin and Tokyo (...) enough rubber to win the war. " The White House led by example in this move, weighing 400 pounds of old rubber, including the bite-sized toy bones of the famous presidential dog, Fala (here is a video of the speech).

However, a nation's rubber needs during war could not be met in this way. In 1942 the Americans sent 50,000 Brazilian farmers to the Amazon as "rubber soldiers" in order to tap into wild rubber trees again. But the company was a suicide mission. The "military" training of the peasants consisted primarily of marching and practicing patriotic chants; they were not equipped to work in the rainforest. By 1945 almost half of the "rubber fighters" died of malaria or yellow fever, malnutrition or snakebites. She did not remedy the rubber emergency.

Ordnance Microcycle

At that time, the US also sent botanists to the Amazon to look for resistant variants of the rubber tree. One of them was the ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, who was 700,000Hevea- Collected seeds for the US rubber program with the aim of expanding the genetic base for breeding. 1953, after twelve years of intensive research on wild growing Hevea-Bäumten, the program was discontinued because it was mistakenly assumed that in the future only synthetic rubber would meet the demand for rubber. In fact, the proportion of natural rubber in rubber products has risen dramatically since then - the genetic basis for production, however, is narrower than ever before.

There are now new approaches to expand the gene pool and switch to other species and cultivation methods. However, the plantations in Asia are still defenseless. In the German War Weapons Control Act is Microcycle listed as ordnance. A release of the fungus by terrorists, for example, could have far-reaching consequences, not only for the Asian plantation owners, but also for rubber markets around the world.

Meanwhile, Manaus is experiencing a new boom. Almost two million people live in what is now the fastest growing city in Brazil. The free port attracts companies to the Amazon, especially manufacturers of motorcycles and consumer electronics, Honda, Panasonic, Samsung. The international flow of goods has long been flowing through the distant city in the rainforest. And 2014 is the World Cup - the new stadium in Manaus, the Arena da Amazônia, is currently being built and the airport is being expanded. The likelihood that a few fungal spores will stick to the soles of shoes and find their way across the ocean increases with every new flight connection. Completely automatically, without terrorists. For the mushroom that would be the way to paradise.