The Transformation of the Global Palm Oil Cluster: Dynamics of Cluster Competition between Africa and Southeast Asia (c.1900–1970)

Valeria Giacomin

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This article explains the rise of palm oil as a global commodity during the twentieth century as the result of cooperation and competition between two different clusters in former colonial territories. The connection between these two locations was mediated by Western companies, colonial officials, scientists, and businessmen. Eventually, the Southeast Asian cluster, organized on estate lines inherited from rubber, outcompeted the old one in Africa, mostly based on the farming of semi-wild trees. The article investigates the activities of scientists and businessmen exchanging information, knowledge, and practice between Africa and Asia for almost a century. It shows that cooperation among communities of practice helped to advance palm oil knowledge, but also created increased rivalry between the two locations. Thanks to the mobility of experts, and to knowledge exchange in colonial and early postcolonial times, multinationals were able to replicate clusters across locations with similar climate, taking advantage of a business environment more conducive to foreign investment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Global History
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)374-398
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Africa
  • Cluster competition
  • Communities of experts
  • Palm oil
  • Southeast Asia

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