Wednesday, June 11, 2008

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Harbel Rubber Plantation

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Built in the 1920s and 1930s, the Harbel rubber plantation just north of Monrovia, Liberia, is the largest in the world. This large monoculture plantation has created a host of environmental problems, including loss of biodiversity and the release of chemical waste into surface waters. Plantation workers are also exposed to compounds and chemicals that are internationally recognized as toxic and environmentally damaging.

These two images show that the extent of the Harbel rubber plantation has expanded slightly in 30 years (yellow arrow). The change in colour of most of the plantation's vegetation may be the result of seasonal variations—rubber trees drop their leaves at least once per year—or the age of the trees in the later image. Mature stands have more shadows and allow less of the leafy understory vegetation to show through than younger trees.

Most of the trees on Liberia's rubber plantations are nearing the end of their productive lifespan. This has brought the country's rubber industry to the brink of collapse. A new extension to the lease arrangement between Harbel's owners and the Liberian government was signed in 2005 which, according to the company, will allow for replanting to begin. However, it will likely take many years for the older trees to be replaced.
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