United States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign Commerce.

Consular reports, Issues 224-227 online

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El Banco Colombiano.



RUBBER IN GUATEMALA.

Consul-General Beaupr6 sends from Guatemala, under date of
January 28, 1899, translation of an article on rubber, prepared by
Mr. Jos6 Horta, of the city of Guatemala. Mr. Horta, adds the
consul-general, is an experienced agriculturalist, and has handled
the subject ably. Extracts from his report are given below:

Rubber was first brought into Europe from Latin America, much later from Asia,
and lastly from Africa. The milky substance is produced by many and distinctly
different trees, of which we cite: In Brazil, Peru, and Guiana, the rubber called
•*Para;** from the trees of the following families, Siphonia or Hevea (Siphonia elastic
Pras, Siphonia brasiliensis Wild); in the East Indies, the Ficus elasHca; in Sumatra,
the Urceola; and in Africa and Madagascar, the Artocarpus and Vahea gummifera.

In Guatemala, the Castilloa elasHca Cero (an Artocarpus) is found in the wild state,
which covers an immense zone in Central America; and the rubber which this tree
produces is of the best and most valuable for the industry.

The Castilloa elasiica is a tall, well-shaped tree, with smooth, greenish-white bark.
At a height of from 15 to 20 yards from the ground, there start from the trunk
(of spongy and porous wood) large and almost horizontal branches, from which hang
two rows of leaves, long, oval shaped, and smooth edged (not dented).

The milk of the rubber tree, or its mercantile product, is contained principally
in the fibers between the woody portion of the tree and the bark. This fibrous part
is a vital |>ortion of the tree.. For this reason, in making incisions in the bark to
obtain the milk, it is necessary to proceed with great caution and according to the
method described further on.

The milk contains more or less watfcr, according to the time of its extraction;
on an average, it can be calculated to hold about 60 per cent water and other sub-
stances and 40 percent salable product; of this, approximately 33 per cent is rubber
of superior quality.

The climate most appropriate for rubber is the hot or coast, with a temperature
of from 25° to 35" Celsius (93* to 103" F.) and altitude above sea level up to 1,500 feet.
The ground should be moist, deep, and loose; neither clay nor stone. Rubber should
not be planted in the sun. We found our opinion upon the following reasons:

(i) The nature of the rubber tree.

(2) The trials made in Guatemala since 1872.



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148 RUBBER IN GUATEMALA.

(3) The consideration that, planting in the shade, there is complete security of a
satisfactory result.

If the wild tree always seeks the shade of trees of greater growth in the natural
forests, it is because, by the help of these, its sap remains in the state imposed by
nature as a condition of its proper growth and production. It is not the desire here
to make a detailed study of the tree; but we do wish to note that its leaves do not
resist the sun, nor do they, by the nature of their surface, oppose the evaporation
of the sap of the tree. It is clear that without shade, there is an evaporation which
must exercise a harmful influence upon the production of the milk of the tree. It
should also not be lost sight of that on the Pacific coast we have a dry season for
six consecutive months, very prejudicial to plantations in the sun. Allow the rub-
ber tree a high and well-distributed shade, without undergrowth or brush, and the
result will be healthy and robust trees of rapid growth, long life, and abundant
yield. It is a mistake to wish to cultivate, with the desire of obtaining good yields
in both branches, plants such as coflfee and rubber, requiring distinct climatical con-
ditions, soil, and atmospheres. The result is that neither one nor the other finds
the requirements necessary for proper development. It would appear much more
feasible to conduct the cultivation of vanilla simultaneously with that of rubber,
utilizing the trees for shade.

Advocating the planting in the shade is equivalent, in a country like Guatemala,
still possessing so much virgin forest, to planting in the woods. There are thou-
sands of acres of land where it would be sufiScient to clear the forest (cutting down
part and removing the low branches and undergrowth) in order to obtain ground
sufilciently shaded and with the necessary ventilation, the latter a condition of
greatest importance. The trees and undergrowth cut down could be spread over
the ground to prevent the growth of weeds, as well as to serve as manure. In
planting the rubber tree, the ground should be perfectly cleaned for a circle at least
a yard in diameter, and the tree placed in the center. We advise the planting of
trees taken from a nursery, as incomparably better results will be obtained than by
planting by seed. The nursery is formed in damp ground, shaded and well worked,
and the seed (which is gathered here in March and April) planted at intervals of about
a foot. The seed is planted just as gathered, with gum and all; washing may injure
the later growth and may even prevent sprouting. After a year in the nursery, the
trees are taken out with great care (it is best if the earth adheres to the roots) and
transplanted.

The least distance at which rubber trees should be set out is 6 yards apart,
and they should be in straight rows, so far as possible; if a choice can be made, 8
or 10 yards would be preferable. During each of the first two years, from three
to four cleanings should be made, these to consist principally of cutting with the
machete the undergrowth which has sprouted, and covering the ground as has
previously been explained. In the third and fourth years, two to three cleanings
per year should be made; and from the fifth year, one cleaning annually will suffice,
until the growth of the tree impedes the further development of weeds. Before
beginning to exploit, the trunk of the tree should measure at least 12 inches in
diameter, and from 12 to 15 yards in height, for which from nine to ten years is
necessary.

The milk may be extracted from the trees twice each year, during the rainy sea-
son; about two months after its commencement and towards the termination, the
most propitious time being when the tree has dropped its leaves.

A tree planted and cultivated under good conditions will give an annual product
after nine or ten years of i pound of rubber, or, say, 2>^ to 3 pounds of milk. With
proper study of the nature of the rubber tree, the progress of its sap, and the stim-
ulants and fertilizers that might be best for it, it is very probable that this yield
would be greatly increased.



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RUBBER IN GUATEMALA. I49

EXTRACTION OF RUBBER.

Until now, the machete has been used in Guatemala to make the incisions in
the bark, incisions in the form of small canals about three-fourths of an inch wide,
which receive the milk. In other countries (as in the East Indies), there is employed
a kind of knife which allows the making of an incision which is cleaner and better
directed.

To extract a good quantity of milk, it is not suflScient to make only one incision
at the foot of the tree, as the fibers are not good conductors, reuniting in a short
time and distilling all the milk in one point. Care should be taken that the bark
of the tree remains intact in one continuous strip the entire height of one side of
the tree; if the entire circumference of the tj-unk were cut (even by incisions situated
at different heights), the tree would die within a few days. To avoid this danger,
we have seen the following modes employed:

(i) From a certain height above the roots, incisions are made in the trunk every
meter or meter and a quarter approximately, until within 2 meters of the first
branches. Each incision consists of two symmetrical cuts, which, together, will
cover two-thirds of the circumference of the tree, and will form an angle of 45**,
in order that the milk may run freely to the lowest point. The points of all the
incisions must be in a perpendicular line, so that the milk from the highest incision,
after concentrating in the angle formed by the two cuts, may run to the lowest
point of the next lower incision and from there on to the following, etc., until reach-
ing the lowest, where it is collected, as explained further on.

(2) The incision is extended to the same height of the trunk as indicated in the
first method, but is continuous and consists of cuts, one perpendicular to the other,
always taking care never to cut into more than two-thirds of the tree's circumference,
thus leaving one-third of the bark intact.

It is useless and even dangerous 10 make the incisions so deep as to penetrate
the woody part of the tree. On the contrary, great caution should be exercised to
preserve the" fibers closest to the wood.

From the point of the incision nearest the ground, the milk is conducted by a
canal to a receptacle of clay or wood. When collected thus, the milk must be co-
agulated to obtain the solid marketable product. This part of the process merits a
serious study, as the best mode of obtaining the finest and most abundant product
has not been decided. We limit ourselves to indicating the principal processes we
have seen employed.

The most rudimentary consists in collecting the milk in a trough or even a hole
excavated in the ground (which detracts from its value) and employing in its coagu-
lation the juice of the vine here called ••Quiebra-Cajete'*(an infusion of the leaves
of the vine). Alum can also be employed, and exercises a very rapid action over
the milk.

The water contained in the milk may be evaporated by indirect fire, taking care
that the receptacle does not communicate a bad color to the rubber; or, the milk
may be mixed with water, which is poured off at intervals, until all impurities are
removed. The clean rubber, which presents the aspect of a spongy mass, is passed
through a press toexpel the water, thus obuining a white product of superior quality,
which is left to dry in the shade, in order that it may not show on the outside a
glutinous liquid, which detracts from its market value.

COST AND PROBABLE PRODUCT OF A PLANTATION.

This calculation must naturally be incomplete, as the cost will depend In great
part on the price of the lands, on the greater or less facilities for obtaining work-
men, the mode of paying them (by day, by task, with advances, etc), on the distance



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150 RUBBER IN GUATEMALA.

apart that trees are to be planted, whether the land is to be used exclusively for
rubber or not, and on many other considerations.

The figures expressed herewith, therefore, do not pretend to a rigorous exacti-
tude, but will serve as a guide for the agriculturist.

We will suppose that the trees are to be planted at 8 varas (i vara=33 English
inches) distance, so that each will have an approximate area (with space occupied
by shade trees) of 64 square varas, which we believe necessary for the proper de-
velopment, thus allowing approximately 10,000 trees to the caballeria(ii2 acres);
cost of land at $400 ($175.60 in United States currency)* per caballeria, a price
somewhat high, as some coast land (Hot) adequate for this cultivation can be pur-
chased in Guatemala for less; but we have adopted this figure, as, according to ex-
isting laws, it is the average cost of public lands in the Republic.

Cost per manzans^f $6. 25=$2. 74

Fencing per manzana. 10. 00= 4. 39

Nursery, at $10 per 1,000, say, for 159 plants i. 59= • 698

Preparation of ground and arranging natural shade, per manzana.. 8.00= 3. 51

Planting 159 trees to the manzana 3. 00= i. 32

Cleaning by machete, four in first year 16.00= 7.02

Three cleanings in second year 12. 00= 5. 27

Twocleanings in third year 8. 00= 3. 51

One cleaning each year from fourth to sixth, inclusive I2» 00= 5. 27

Interest on Invested capital, at 10 per cent for ten years 68. 78=30. 19

Management, etc '. : 4* 38= i. 92

Total cost in Guatemala (200 per cent premium is ruling rate
on gold to-day) of 159 trees occupying a manzana of ground
and 10 years old 150.00=66.00

From the foregoing calculation, it may be seen that a plantation of, say, 100,000
trees requires 10 caballerias* of ground (besides that which may be necessary for
buildings, huts, etc.), and would cost, after ten years, about $95,000 ($41,700).

If the annual yield of each tree after ten years is i pound of rubber of good
class, 100,000 trees would give 1,000 centals per year of good rubber. At present
price of the article, these 1,000 would be valued in Guatemalan money at to-day's
exchange $262,500 ($115,238). There is to be deducted from this:

Cost of extraction and collection of the milk and manufacture of ^

product (which together may be calculated at 30 cents per
pound of rubber) for 1,000 centals $30,ooo=$i3, 170

Expense of transporution to point of shipment (which varies in
each case, but can be calculated in lands situated on the Pacific
coast at $1.50 to $2 per cental) for 1,000 cenuls...« i, 750= 7^

Expense for embarking, more or less, 80 cents per cental, or, for

1,000 centals 809= 355

Ocean freight, insurance, commission on sales, and other ex-
penses, approximately 40,000= 17,560

Total.... 72, 559= 3i» 853

♦ The value of the Central American peso or dollar was estimated by the United Sutes Director
of ihe Mint, January x, 1899, at 43.9 cents,
t Square of xoo varas, or 275 feet.



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CULTIVATION OF THE VANILLA BEAN IN MEXICO. I5I

Deducting the cost of $72,559 ($31,853) from the income leaves a balance of
$189,941 ($83,385).

According to these calculations, one crop, after ten years, will produce double
the amount expended during that time. Even reducing these figures (which are
not too high) to one-half, in order to be free from any exaggeration, and supposing
a yield per tree of 6 ounces of good product, the net annual product will be
incomparably more remunerative than that which coffee under the best and most
favorable circumstances can yield.



CULTIVATION OF THE VANILLA BEAN IN

MEXICO.

The State of Veracruz has been considered the home of the va-
nilla, but recent developments show that vanilla can be cultivated in
the State of Tobasco and on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The true
home of the vanilla^ where it flourishes best in its wild stdte, is a
narrow strip about 30 miles wide, 5 miles back from the coast, and
90 miles long. The upper end of this strip is about 50 miles south
of Tampico and extends along the coast 90 milas toward the city
of Veracruz, the bottoms along the Tuxpan, Casonez, and Nautla
rivers and the creeks contiguous constituting the richer parts. Here
the cultivated varieties yield most without artificial fecundation,
either on account of the large number of wild bees in this locality
or by self-pollination, which some claim is impossible. Artificial
fecundation must be practiced in order to produce the beans in com-
mercial quantities.

PLANTING THE VINE.

The vanilla plant is a vine of a ligKt-green color, with a smooth,
waxy, transparent bark. It has a thick, waxy-looking leaf, light
green in color, 6 to 9 inches long, i)4 to 2 inches wide, and sharply
pointed. The vine reaches out tendrils which cling tightly to its
tree support, but do not, as some believe, draw nourishment from
the tree.

The best time to set out the vines, or rather cuttings, is in April
or May. The cuttings are the vines divided into lengths usually 2^
to 3 feet long. Some of these can be cut in two according to the
number of joints. Two to three joints are sufficient to put under
the ground, with the same number of joints above ground. The
plants are easy to propagate; in fact, they are hard to kill if kept
from being bruised. A cutting can be kept in the house on a dry
shelf, and it will live for nvonths with scarcely any apparent change.
Cuttings can be procured soon after the beans have been gathered,
and usually sell for from $10 to $20 Mexican per thousand.



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152 CULTIVATION OF THE VANILLA BEAN IN MEXICO.

PREPARING A VANILLA PLANTATION.

Much depends upon the selection of location. The first thing
is to have your plantation where one can prevent the pilfering of
the beans while ripening. Enough can be carried away in a person's
pockets to amount to more than a month's wages. The temptation
is great, and often one does not harvest the fruit of his own labor;
others do that for him, unless his vines are where a strict watch can
be kept over them. Always select wild lands and clear out all the
large trees. A vanilla plantation need not be large. A few acres,
with care and proper fecundation, will soon produce a fortune. Pa-
tient care and attention at the proper time is the chief secret of suc-
cess. For instance, if fecundating is not done in the proper way
and at the proper hour of the day, the fruit is lost for that year.
There are other peculiarities about the vine equally as essential to
know, and success comes only with painstaking and patient care.

The vines require rich soil, heat, ventilation, shade, and mois-
ture. Rich pockets of land along the creeks and river bottoms are
best. A profusion of wild vines of all kinds growing into a jungle,
with abundant loose soil affording ventilation at the roots, is the best
proof of the adaptability of the land. Let the land be free from sand,
on account of drought, and free from clay, which would cause the vines
to rot during the rainy season. Let there- be plenty of small trees at
the feet of which the vines may be planted. Trees which have smooth
bark, and which never shed their bark or leaves, which grow to be no
larger than 2 to 4 inches in diameter and from 7 to 10 feet high, are
best for this purpose. Usually, a variety of such grow on all wild
lands and any of them are good, if the trunk of the tree be smooth,
with plenty of sap. A small orange tree affords a good trunk for
vanilla to grow to. If, while clearing the land, there be not enough
of such trees found already growirig to plant the desired number of
vines (there should be from 1,500 to 2,000 vines to the acre), enough
should be planted, selecting the kinds that make the most rapid
growth, which exist in abundance and are destroyed by the thousands
in nearly every new clearing of land.

The ground should be kept clean from weeds. All undergrowth
should be thrown around the vines to decay, and serve as a mulch
for the roots. The ground around the roots should not be disturbed.
One or two vines should be planted to each tree and tied at first to
the trunk with some flat, flexible band, such as strips of cocoanut
leaves or plantain fiber. Round cord should not be used, as it is
liable to cut and injure the green, succulent stem of the vine. Live
stock should never be permitted on a vanilla plantation. The stem
and roots of the vine should be disturbed as little as possible. The
vine needs no cutting or pruning. All other wild vines should be



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CULTIVATION OF THE VANILLA BEAN IN MEXICO. 1 53

cut out and kept from choking the vanilla vines. The trees should
be topped to prevent too high a growth, so the flowers can be reached
from the ground. Light and ventilation beneath, shade from the
sun above, rest, and plenty of moisture — but free from standing sur-
face water — are the prime requisites for the growth of vanilla vines.

DECAY AND RECUPERATION OF THE VINE.

One peculiarity of the vine is that after three or four years* plant-
ing, the stem will rot off at the roots and continue to rot 3 to 4 feet
up the vine, while the top looks green and flourishing. In the
meantime, from above where it is going to rot, it shoots out fine
little rootlets like threads and continues them to the ground. So
delicate are these threads running along the trunk of the tree, and
so prominent the rotted-off end of the stem that it gives the vine the
appearance of living independent of the earth, .giving rise to the
theory that it is an air plant. It will sustain itself in a severed state ;
but to make material growth and fruitage, it must connect itself
with mother earth.

YIELD.

The new vine will commence bearing the third year from plant-
ing, and full crops may be expected the fifth year. A vine will bear
from fifteen to forty- five beans a year. I have seen as high as thir-
teen full-sized beans in one cluster, and frequently see clusters of nine.
Some vines have been known to produce as high as sixty-five beans
at one time. Twenty beans to a vine is a good average.

A green bean is worth from 8 to 14 cents at present in this mar-
ket, or an average of 12 cents. In some years, the bean brings as
high as 18 cents.

Rarely do those who grow the beans cure and market their crops.
Others buy the green beans and make a business of curing and ex-
porting them. Judging from the way they all get rich at the busi-
ness and the difference between the price at which they buy the green
bean and the price at which they sell the cured, there must be more
profit in the curing than in the growing. Still, in view of the price
of vanilla and the demand for it all over the world, there are large
profits for both parties.

PRICE OF VANILLA LANDS.

Wild lands, suitable for vanilla, can be bought for from $5 to $10
per acre. There are vanilla-producing plantations in the vicinity of
Papantla that could not be bought for $500 an acre. Various esti-
mates are being furnished as to the cost per acre of converting wild
lands into vanilla-producing plantations. Approximately, $85 an



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154 CULTIVATION OF THE VANILLA BEAN IN MEXICO.

acre is correct, which is very moderate for so profitable a plant. To
make a success in this industry, a man should move his family here,
turn every member into workers at the proper time, then wait and
make a living at something else for four years, until the first crop is
gathered. They fail who try to make a vanilla plantation produce
by the use of money alone.

HOW TO SUCCEED IN THE INDUSTRY.

The greater part of the vanilla in this consular district is grown
about Papantla, much of which is exported from Veracruz, it being
easier to reach Veracruz by water than Tuxpan by land. I do not
regard Papantla any better for vanilla than the balance of the dis-
trict that I have already outlined, the success being due to the
colonists who settled there years .ago — patient, industrious, hard-
working French people, who came here poor, with large families,
the women and children all turning out to help at the necessary
seasons. The most of them have since grown rich. Some of them
are now living in France, while others continue to make their homes
in Mexico.

POLLINATING AND HARVESTING.

The two busy seasons of the year are during the pollination
months — March, April, and May — and the gathering months — No-
vember, December, and part of January. During the balance of the
year, the plantation should have absolute rest, other than keeping
down the weeds and undergrowth.

Many of the beans are gathered in October, sometimes before
they reach their growth, by those who see an opportunity of gather-
ing them unknown to the owner, or by the owner for fear of losing
them because he has not his vines where he can watch them. Beans
gathered too soon are woody and inferior in quality, lacking the oil
that furnishes the flavor. Good, ripe beans lose but little of their
weight while curing; 5 pounds of green beans will weigh 4)^ pounds
when cured. The quality and flavor is increased by allowing them
to mature and by proper curing.

The curing is principally done by Spaniards who have followed
this business. The process adopted is slow and laborious. The
secret is to evaporate the water, while retaining the oil, prevent the
bean from molding, and not injure the flavor.

CONCLUDING REMARKS.

Neither space nor time will allow me to go into the many little
details necessary in planting, growing, and curing. In this report
I only describe the kind of lands necessary, the best location, the



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SHOE TRADE IN MEXICO. 1 55

profits of the business, the necessary requirements for successful
fruitage, and the causes of failure. Minor details can be learned
after getting here.

There: are a few Americans already here in the business with plan-
tations about ready to bear. Some have just started. Many others
are coming, judging from the numerous inquiries. Heretofore, the
French have mainly cultivated the vanilla, with now and then a
Mexican, while the Indians hunt and gather the wild vanilla.



Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign CommerceConsular reports, Issues 224-227 → online text (page 19 of 92)