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New Approaches in African Agricultural and Rural History

In recent years there has been a significant increase in longitudinal studies of state capacity, urban welfare, population growth and infrastructure in African economic history (e.g. Gardner 2012, Frankema and Jerven 2014, Jedwab, Kerby and Moradi 2015). These studies have rightly been recognized as substantially increasing our knowledge of Africa’s past. Meanwhile, despite dominating African historiography in the past, agricultural and rural history has so far played a relatively limited role in the current growth of studies in African economic history. The output pf papers is limited, but includes for example (Austin 2005, de Haas 2014, Fourie 2014. Green and Bolt 2015). This state of affairs is likely explained by data constraints and challenges with rightly capturing the commonly informal rural economy. The aim of this session is to bring together researchers with an interest in African agricultural and rural history to identify new and innovative methods to understand Africa’s rural past from a long-term perspective. We welcome papers that use so far unexplored quantitative data, put together well-known sources in new ways and/or apply conceptual frameworks not before used for Africa. We further encourage studies that transcend the common division of pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial Africa.

Organizer(s)

  • Erik Green Department of economic history, Lund University erik.green@ekh.lu.se
  • Ellen Hillbom Department of Economic History, Lund University ellen.hillbom@ekh.lu.se
  • Jutta Bolt Faculty of Economics and Business, Groningen University j.bolt@rug.nl

Session members

  • Igor Martins, Department of economic history, Lund University
  • Michiel de Haas , Rural and Environmental History Unit, Wageningen University
  • Klas Rönnbäck , Department of Economic History, Gothenburg University
  • Jutta Bolt , Department of Economic History, University of Zimbabwe
  • Dimitrios Dimitrios Theodoridis, Department of economic history, Gothenburg University
  • Emelie Till, Department of economic history, Lund University
  • Maria Fibaek , Department of economic history, Lund University
  • Calumet Links, Department of economics, Stellenboasch University
  • Heinrich Nel , Department of economics, Stellenboasch University
  • Erik Green , Department of economic history, Lund University

Discussant(s)

Papers

Panel abstract

In recent years there has been a significant increase in longitudinal studies of state capacity, urban welfare, population growth and infrastructure in African economic history. These studies have rightly been recognized as substantially increasing our knowledge of Africa’s past. Meanwhile, few studies have so far tried to analyse Africa’s rural and agricultural history using a longitudinal quantitative approaches. This is likely explained by data constraints. The aim of this session is to bring together researchers with an interest in African agricultural and rural history to identify new and innovative methods to understand Africa’s rural past from a long-term perspective. We welcome papers that use so far unexplored quantitative data, put together well-known sources in new ways and/or apply conceptual frameworks not before used for Africa. We further encourage studies that transcend the common division of pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial Africa.

1st half

When the leader leaves the market: the Slave Trade Act 1807 and the effect of bans

Igor Martins, Heinrich Nel

By 1807, the British Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act aimed to abolish slave trade within the empire. From an economic standpoint, the ban represents a shock to a system where slaves were in the core of the productive activity. The effects of the Act, however, are still unclear. In this paper we conduct a micro-level analysis to further explore the outcomes of the Act using the Cape Colony as our case. The Cape provides us with a unique environment to study the effects given its wide agro-climatic variation and importance of slavery in its economic life. Using newly digitized historical datasets covering more than 40 years in two different districts of the Colony – Stellenbosch and Graaff-Reinet -, we find that the ban was more effective in Stellenbosch. We speculate that slaves’ distributional differences between both districts are key to understand how the ban’s effects operated distinctly throughout the...

By 1807, the British Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act aimed to abolish slave trade within the empire. From an economic standpoint, the ban represents a shock to a system where slaves were in the core of the productive activity. The effects of the Act, however, are still unclear. In this paper we conduct a micro-level analysis to further explore the outcomes of the Act using the Cape Colony as our case. The Cape provides us with a unique environment to study the effects given its wide agro-climatic variation and importance of slavery in its economic life. Using newly digitized historical datasets covering more than 40 years in two different districts of the Colony – Stellenbosch and Graaff-Reinet -, we find that the ban was more effective in Stellenbosch. We speculate that slaves’ distributional differences between both districts are key to understand how the ban’s effects operated distinctly throughout the Colony.

Seasonality and agricultural commercialization in the African savanna: the peasant cotton revolutions in colonial Uganda and Côte d’Ivoire

Michiel de Haas

This paper provides an environmental explanation for variegated historical responses of African smallholders to the introduction of cash crops – cotton in particular. Accounting for subsistence versus cash crop trade-offs and technological change, the paper investigates how farmers’ production possibilities and cropping risks were shaped by rainfall seasonality. Based on historical agricultural surveys, I provide estimates agricultural production possibilities of cotton-growing savannah smallholders in colonial Uganda (bi-seasonal) and Côte d’Ivoire (uni-seasonal). I demonstrate that the contrast between the initial Ivorian rejection versus Uganda’s widespread adoption can be explained by differences in seasonal labour requirements. Analysing a district-level panel of rainfall fluctuations and cotton acreages in Uganda (1925-1960), I also demonstrate that bi-seasonal farmers benefitted from having two cropping choices annually, as they were able to tailor cotton planting choices in the second growing season to food crop harvest outcomes of the first growing season

This paper provides an environmental explanation for variegated historical responses of African smallholders to the introduction of cash crops – cotton in particular. Accounting for subsistence versus cash crop trade-offs and technological change, the paper investigates how farmers’ production possibilities and cropping risks were shaped by rainfall seasonality. Based on historical agricultural surveys, I provide estimates agricultural production possibilities of cotton-growing savannah smallholders in colonial Uganda (bi-seasonal) and Côte d’Ivoire (uni-seasonal). I demonstrate that the contrast between the initial Ivorian rejection versus Uganda’s widespread adoption can be explained by differences in seasonal labour requirements. Analysing a district-level panel of rainfall fluctuations and cotton acreages in Uganda (1925-1960), I also demonstrate that bi-seasonal farmers benefitted from having two cropping choices annually, as they were able to tailor cotton planting choices in the second growing season to food crop harvest outcomes of the first growing season

African agricultural productivity and the transatlantic slave trade: evidence from Senegambia in the nineteenth century

Klas Rönnbäck, Dimitrios Theodoridis

Previous research has argued that the low productivity of African economies has posed significant challenges to African efforts to produce an agricultural surplus or to develop commercial agriculture. Low agricultural productivity also served as an explanation for the transatlantic slave trade, on the basis that it was more profitable to export humans overseas than to grow and export produce. However, the field has suffered from a lack of comparable empirical evidence. This article contributes to this field by presenting quantitative data on historical land and labour productivity in Africa, using Senegambia in the early nineteenth century as a case. Our results suggest that both land and labour productivity was lower in Senegambia than it was in all other parts of the world for which we have found comparable data. This article lends support to claims that stress ecological factors as one of the main determinants of Africa’s historical development.

Previous research has argued that the low productivity of African economies has posed significant challenges to African efforts to produce an agricultural surplus or to develop commercial agriculture. Low agricultural productivity also served as an explanation for the transatlantic slave trade, on the basis that it was more profitable to export humans overseas than to grow and export produce. However, the field has suffered from a lack of comparable empirical evidence. This article contributes to this field by presenting quantitative data on historical land and labour productivity in Africa, using Senegambia in the early nineteenth century as a case. Our results suggest that both land and labour productivity was lower in Senegambia than it was in all other parts of the world for which we have found comparable data. This article lends support to claims that stress ecological factors as one of the main determinants of Africa’s historical development.

What is beautiful? The inverse relationship between farm size and productivity in maize farming in Southern Rhodesia 1910 – 1965

Jutta Bolt, Erik Green

In searching for the best way to improve agricultural productivity, the broad consensus has for decades been that there exists an inverse relationship between farm size and productivity levels. Small-scale farms are found to be more productive than large-scale farms and should thus be supported in order to increase productivity (Lipton, 2009; Griffin et al. 2002; Berry and Cline, 1979). In this paper, we investigate this inverse relationship by systematically analysing the relationship between farm size and agricultural productivity across time and space for large, medium and small-scale farms growing maize in Southern Rhodesia between 1910 and 1965. We use newly collected information from colonial sources on the location of farms, total acres under cultivation and total output for all farm sizes, and control for technology use (farm equipment), fertilizer use, soil suitability for maize growing, and average rainfall when estimating the effect of farm size on productivity.

In searching for the best way to improve agricultural productivity, the broad consensus has for decades been that there exists an inverse relationship between farm size and productivity levels. Small-scale farms are found to be more productive than large-scale farms and should thus be supported in order to increase productivity (Lipton, 2009; Griffin et al. 2002; Berry and Cline, 1979). In this paper, we investigate this inverse relationship by systematically analysing the relationship between farm size and agricultural productivity across time and space for large, medium and small-scale farms growing maize in Southern Rhodesia between 1910 and 1965. We use newly collected information from colonial sources on the location of farms, total acres under cultivation and total output for all farm sizes, and control for technology use (farm equipment), fertilizer use, soil suitability for maize growing, and average rainfall when estimating the effect of farm size on productivity.

2nd half

Rural labour markets in Kenya and Tanzania: a long-run analysis of farm workers’ wages and welfare, 1900-2010

Maria Fibaek

Contemporary development studies, have recently promoted large-scale farming (LSF) arguing that it can generate more jobs and higher wages than the small-scale sector. The historical literature on LSF in colonial Africa is more pessimistic. In African countries where LSF was pursued the colonial authorities intervened to keep wages low and thereby aided in creating a class of impoverished workers. Which strain of literature should we trust? To contribute to both the contemporary and historical debates on LSF and rural wage employment, I calculate real wages for unskilled male workers in a former settler economy (Kenya) and in a non-settler economy (Tanzania). I classify the quality of the rural jobs into three categories ‘good’, ‘medium’, and ‘poor’ depending on the level of wages, the length of contract and access to non-wage benefits. The findings aide in examining the scope for rural employment in promoting broad based welfare changes for the rural...

Contemporary development studies, have recently promoted large-scale farming (LSF) arguing that it can generate more jobs and higher wages than the small-scale sector. The historical literature on LSF in colonial Africa is more pessimistic. In African countries where LSF was pursued the colonial authorities intervened to keep wages low and thereby aided in creating a class of impoverished workers. Which strain of literature should we trust? To contribute to both the contemporary and historical debates on LSF and rural wage employment, I calculate real wages for unskilled male workers in a former settler economy (Kenya) and in a non-settler economy (Tanzania). I classify the quality of the rural jobs into three categories ‘good’, ‘medium’, and ‘poor’ depending on the level of wages, the length of contract and access to non-wage benefits. The findings aide in examining the scope for rural employment in promoting broad based welfare changes for the rural populations.

The Relevance of Agricultural Demand-led Industrialization (ADLI) in Sub-Saharan Africa Revisited: Ethiopia’s ADLI Strategy

Emelie Till

Focusing on “Agricultural Demand-led Industrialization” (ADLI), this study discusses the role of agriculture in economic development. While a large literature offers support for agriculture-first development strategies drawing on Asian contexts, there is a lack of empirical support that such a strategy would be relevant for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This study tests for the relevance of ADLI in SSA through a case study of Ethiopia, which has implemented an ADLI-strategy since the early 1990s. The study estimates the economic linkages among sectors in Ethiopia’s economy using a Semi-Input-Output (SIO) multiplier-model, based on empirical data contained in three Social Accounting Matrices (SAMs) for 2002, 2006, and 2010. The study finds that the agriculture-led growth strategy has generated more growth in Ethiopia than a manufacturing-led strategy would have; and that agricultural growth linkages have not diminished over time. These results indicate that ADLI could be a relevant development strategy for countries in SSA.

Focusing on “Agricultural Demand-led Industrialization” (ADLI), this study discusses the role of agriculture in economic development. While a large literature offers support for agriculture-first development strategies drawing on Asian contexts, there is a lack of empirical support that such a strategy would be relevant for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This study tests for the relevance of ADLI in SSA through a case study of Ethiopia, which has implemented an ADLI-strategy since the early 1990s. The study estimates the economic linkages among sectors in Ethiopia’s economy using a Semi-Input-Output (SIO) multiplier-model, based on empirical data contained in three Social Accounting Matrices (SAMs) for 2002, 2006, and 2010. The study finds that the agriculture-led growth strategy has generated more growth in Ethiopia than a manufacturing-led strategy would have; and that agricultural growth linkages have not diminished over time. These results indicate that ADLI could be a relevant development strategy for countries in SSA.

Was Slavery a Flexible Form of Labour? Division of Labour and Location Specific Skills on the Eastern Cape Frontier

Calumet Links, Erik Green

The flexibility of slave labour as an economic institution has often been assumed as a given. In general, some capital investment is necessary to retrain novice slaves but essentially they could be substituted for any other form of labour. This paper refutes the claim of the flexibility of slave labour through employing a longitudinal study for the Graaff-Reinet region of the Cape colony. We calculate Hicksian elasticity of complementarity coefficients for each year of a 21-year combination of cross-sectional tax datasets (1805-28) in order to test whether slave labour was substitutable with other forms of labour. We find that indigenous Khoe and slave labour remained complements throughout the period of study even when Khoe labour becomes scarce. We argue that the lack of substitutability of slave labour was due to the need of the settlers to acquire labour with location-specific skills such as the indigenous Khoe.

The flexibility of slave labour as an economic institution has often been assumed as a given. In general, some capital investment is necessary to retrain novice slaves but essentially they could be substituted for any other form of labour. This paper refutes the claim of the flexibility of slave labour through employing a longitudinal study for the Graaff-Reinet region of the Cape colony. We calculate Hicksian elasticity of complementarity coefficients for each year of a 21-year combination of cross-sectional tax datasets (1805-28) in order to test whether slave labour was substitutable with other forms of labour. We find that indigenous Khoe and slave labour remained complements throughout the period of study even when Khoe labour becomes scarce. We argue that the lack of substitutability of slave labour was due to the need of the settlers to acquire labour with location-specific skills such as the indigenous Khoe.