Title

Shallow roots: The early oil palm industry in Southeast Asia, 1848–1940

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

12-2020

Department

Department of Social Sciences

Abstract

In most narratives, the beginning of the oil palm industry in Southeast Asia boils down to entrepreneurial spirit, scientific research, and good fortune. The colonial context in which the industry emerged barely figures in the story. This article argues that colonial power was critical, providing access to land and labour that proved more important than plant selection, capital, or technology. The plantation model pushed the region ahead of Africa as the leading exporter of palm oil by the late 1930s, but its future was in doubt as the Depression and Second World War shattered the colonial order.

Publication Title

Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

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