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The world’s oldest clove tree

June 19, 2017

Afo the clove tree

Afo: The world’s oldest clove tree

(excerpt)

Afo was once 40 metres tall and four metres round. Sadly, today, all that remains is a massive stump and some bare branches.

A few years ago, villagers hungry for firewood even attacked Afo with machetes. A brick wall now surrounds it.

If the Dutch had had their way, Afo would not have survived at all.

The Netherlands United East India Company, or Voc, was the world’s first multinational corporation

And just as corporations today seek to monopolise plant genes in the developing world, the Voc set about seizing total control of spice production.

In 1652, after displacing the Portuguese and Spanish, the Dutch introduced a policy known as extirpatie: extirpation.

All clove trees not controlled by the Voc were uprooted and burned.

Anyone caught growing, stealing or possessing clove plants without authorisation faced the death penalty.

On the Banda Islands, to the south – the world’s only source of nutmeg – the Dutch used Japanese mercenaries to slaughter almost the entire male population.

Like Opec today, the Voc also limited supply to keep prices high. Only 800-1,000 tonnes of cloves were exported per year. The rest of the harvest was burned or dumped in the sea.

Somehow, Afo managed to slip through the net. A rogue clove. A guerrilla plant waging a secret war of resistance.

Afo would eventually bring down the Dutch monopoly on cloves.

In 1770, a Frenchman, appropriately named Poivre, stole some of Afo’s seedlings.

This Monsieur Pepper took them to France, then the Seychelles Islands and, eventually, Zanzibar, which is today the world’s largest producer of cloves

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