The decline of Indonesian quinine production

Indonesia - or rather the Dutch East Indies - was once the largest producer in the world of quinine, commanding around 90% of total production.

The Second World War changed it all. During the war, the Japanese invaders kept operating the estates and the factory, because their own troops were fighting in regions that were rife with malaria. While the Japanese enjoyed the use of Indonesian (and Philippinian) quinine, tens of thousands of US troops in Africa and the South Pacific died due to the lack of it. As in all wars, they destroyed all the trees on the estates at the very end of the war, leaving ruin in their wake. After the war the estates were neglected and most of them switched to other commodities, such as tea, rubber or oil palms.

The loss of access to that supply in 1942 sparked the development and dominance of synthetic antimalarial drugs for about fifty years. Another natural compound, artemisinin from Chinese suppliers, today dominates the market and therapy of acute malaria.
The years 1965 and 1966 were the scene of mass unrest in Indonesia. Large-scale killings occurred, targeting communists, ethnic Chinese and alleged leftists, often at the instigation of the armed forces and government. Known as the Indonesian Massacres, some estimates say that between 500,000 to one million people were killed, though other claim even higher numbers of casualties. During that period of unrest, extensive looting took place in the remaining estates. Cinchona bark was removed from the trees, the total production of Cinchona bark was just about 1,000 tons, compared to about 12,000 tons before the war.

This drastic decrease of Indonesia quinine production has continued until this day and present day Indonesia is now a quinine importing country. The estates are in a sorry state of disrepair and abandonment.

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