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Colonial Agricultural Development Schemes  

Monica van Beusekom

The period from the 1920s to the end of colonial rule saw increasing government intervention in agricultural production and the adoption of ambitious agricultural development schemes. These development schemes often aimed to increase and control the production and marketing of cash crops such as cotton and peanuts, essential to European industries. Examples include the Gezira Scheme (Sudan), the Office du Niger (French Soudan), the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme, the Compagnie Générale des Oléagineux Tropicaux (CGOT, Senegal), as well as a host of other schemes. Confident in their agricultural expertise, colonial planners often sought radical transformations in African agricultural systems, away from extensive hoe cultivation toward intensive plow agriculture following a strict crop rotation. Worries about environmental degradation and population growth, as well as the need to manage social dislocation and maintain political stability, framed colonial strategies. Encountering African farmers with priorities and practices that were often at odds with their own, colonial planners failed to transform agriculture in the ways they intended. Nonetheless, development still wrought significant change as farmers considered whether to circumvent, resist, adapt, or adopt new technologies and farming methods. If at first agricultural development schemes were localized and mostly ineffective efforts to make empire profitable, by the 1940s and 1950s, agricultural development interventions became more widespread and intrusive. This helped generate rural support for anticolonial movements. Nonetheless, by the last decades of colonial rule, the idea of planned development as desirable became commonplace, not just within colonial governments, but also in international institutions and among nationalist leaders. Thus, state-led agricultural development would remain a powerful force in independent Africa.


Technological Change in Late 19th-Century South Africa  

William Storey

Societies and technologies were deeply intertwined in the history of late 19th-century South Africa. The late 19th century saw the significant development of capitalist agriculture, together with the expansion of mining. The technological side of farming and mining had a significant influence on social and political development. Meanwhile, as in many other colonial outposts, local innovators and entrepreneurs played significant roles in business as well as government. Technological developments were not simply imported or imposed from Great Britain. Everyday technologies, ranging from firearms to clothing, were the subjects of extensive debate across southern Africa’s different cultures.


Saharan Peoples and Societies  

E. Ann McDougall

The Sahara: bridge or barrier? Today, most would answer that the desert was more a historical facilitator than hindrance in moving commodities, ideas, and people between North and sub-Saharan Africa. A recent publication even coined a new name for the region: “trans-Saharan Africa.” However, the Sahara is also a place where people live. Complex societies, sophisticated polities, extensive economies—all flourished at various times, waxing and waning in response to much the same factors as societies elsewhere. It is just that in the Sahara the vagaries of climate and the availability of water always established the parameters of development. A long-term drying era led to the dispersal of the Late Stone Age Dhar-Tichitt agro-pastoral settlements in eastern Mauritania, but in the east, Lake “Mega-Chad” shrank, leaving rich, sandy soils that attracted new cultivators. The Garamantes people of the Libyan Fezzan overcame their lack of water by developing a sophisticated underground irrigation system that supported an urbanized, cosmopolitan civilization that outlasted the Roman Empire. The introduction of the camel in the 4th century and the gradual growth of Islam from at least the 9th century added new possibilities for economic, cultural, and religious life. The Sahara benefited from the sequence of medieval empires emerging across its southern desert edge. Camel pastoralism, salt mining, oasis agriculture, and expansive trade networks shaped the region’s economy; those same networks facilitated cultural and scholarly exchanges. As Islam took root, growing its own understandings of North African and Middle Eastern schools of thought, a prodigious body of Saharan scholarship was created. It underpinned much of the jihad-led political upheaval and state-building in the 18th and 19th Sahel. Saharan clerics also directed their religious fervor against the invasion of French imperialists; “pacification” took the colonialists decades to achieve. But the impact of this violence exacerbated traditional clan conflict and disrupted economic life. So too did policies aimed at sedentarizing pastoralists and reshaping their social relations in the interests of the colonial economy. Much talked-about but largely ineffective efforts to abolish slavery had far less real impact than taxation policies; these both suppressed traditional exactions such as those levied by “warriors” and introduced new ones, including those to be paid in forced labor. Life in the Sahara became increasingly untenable. The arrival of Independence did nothing to address colonial legacies; the years of drought that devastated herds and crops in the desert and along its edge less than a decade later further fueled both political instability and economic crisis. That today the region nurtures radicalized Islamic movements promising to return “true meaning” (not to mention material benefits) to that life is not surprising.