Wednesday 12 April 2023
11.00 - 13.00
Historical Legacies of the Cash Crop Boom
Gareth Austin :
The Political Economy of Growth in Beverage-Crop Economies in Independent Africa: Ghana and Kenya Compared, 1973-1983
This paper compares two agricultural-exporting, specifically beverage-crop producing, countries in tropical Africa during the decade or so from the OPEC oil-price shock of 1973 to their respective adoption of economic liberalisation (‘structural adjustment’) programmes in the early 1980s, in agreement with the IMF and World Bank. Thus it offers a ... (Show more)
This paper compares two agricultural-exporting, specifically beverage-crop producing, countries in tropical Africa during the decade or so from the OPEC oil-price shock of 1973 to their respective adoption of economic liberalisation (‘structural adjustment’) programmes in the early 1980s, in agreement with the IMF and World Bank. Thus it offers a comparative approach to the problem of understanding the marked inter-country variations within the generally rather tortuous history of economic growth in post-independence Africa. Using both quantitative and qualitative sources, it examines two countries which shared enough to make their differences tractable and interesting for analysis. Ghana and Kenya had in common that they were not only specialized in primary-product exports, but specifically in beverage crops, whose prices boomed on the world market in 1976-1978, offsetting the oil shock. They were broadly similar in population and GDP size, in having coasts and a range of environmental zones, and in being former British colonies.
Yet, their trajectories in 1973-83, within the range of ‘Afro-pessimistic’ stories, were contrasting. Kenyan per capita income, up a third over the decade to 1972, stagnated during 1973-1983 overall. By the same measure, Ghanaian income had stagnated in 1963-1972; and fell a third by 1983. During these transitions, respectively, from expansion to stagnation, and from stagnation to free fall, Kenya experienced a failed coup, occasional assassinations – and a peaceful, constitution-abiding transition from the first to the second president. Meanwhile, Ghana had four changes of government, including two junior-ranks ‘revolutions’.
The paper first examines the economics of the contrast in growth performance, concluding that the key was a specific but crucial difference in the extent and form of state intervention. The institutions were similar (government monopoly of beverage-crop exports, monetary independence) but the policies were decisively different, with Ghana differing from Kenya in running an increasingly over-valued, inconvertible currency. Second, it explores the deeper political-economy reasons for the sustained policy difference, drawing on three insightful but recently-neglected debates: the Dependency-Marxist controversy about the nature of African capitalisms in the 1970s; the Batesian rational-choice analysis of Ghana as exemplifying the kind of stable, high-rent-seeking equilibrium to which Kenyatta’s Kenya was an exception; and differing views on the respective significance of smallholder politics in former settler and former non-settler colonies. Finally, the paper uses this analysis of the two countries’ respective paths into ‘structural adjustment’ to argue that the significance of the latter was very different in the two cases: decisive and exceptionally positive in the case of Ghana, far less transformative and perhaps negative in the case of Kenya. The paper thus challenges uniform interpretations of structural adjustment in Africa: illustrating the wider need for an empirical rather than ideological understanding of this highly controversial episode in African economic history. (Show less)
Michiel de Haas :
Africa and the ‘New History of Capitalism’: Colonialism, Coercion and Cotton, 1820-1960
In his landmark Empire of Cotton (2014), Sven Beckert has reiterated a long-standing and pervasive argument that, since the 18th century, European cotton capitalists successfully subjugated rural producers across the globe to their material interests, through state-backed and coercive interference (slavery and colonialism), with long-lasting consequences for development. Colonial Africa, ... (Show more)
In his landmark Empire of Cotton (2014), Sven Beckert has reiterated a long-standing and pervasive argument that, since the 18th century, European cotton capitalists successfully subjugated rural producers across the globe to their material interests, through state-backed and coercive interference (slavery and colonialism), with long-lasting consequences for development. Colonial Africa, in this rendition of affairs, was the latest cotton frontier, where raw material was extracted from African rural producers, and manufactured textiles were in return pushed onto the same subjects – this time in their capacity as consumers. To the extent that these exploitative efforts failed, it was due to resistant Africans and their resilient local economies, thwarting concerted attempts by European colonialists and cotton capitalists. I challenge this narrative through a comparative sub-Saharan Africa-wide study of i) local dynamics of cotton production and ii) trade flows of raw and manufactured cotton. Comparative analysis suggests that cotton production was not as much the inherently unattractive proposition to African producers that it is often presumed to have been. Instead, low output was as much a result of ecological constraints and poorly organized production and marketing systems and policies as it was of resistance and resilience. Moreover, European government departments, colonial officials, cotton traders, manufacturers and workers hardly formed a united front. Trade flows were diffuse, and ‘European cotton capitalists’ were typically not the prime beneficiaries of cotton production in African dependencies. An implication of these historical arguments is that we should also be cautious to link present day patterns of African poverty and income disparities to a history of cotton imperialism. (Show less)
Thomas Westland :
The Colonial Commodity Lottery: Linkages from Agriculture to Industry in the Tropics, c.1950-1970
The purpose of this paper is to analyse how, why and in what circumstances the cash crop cultivation led to economic diversification in the global tropics towards the end of European colonial rule in Africa and Asia. Why were some agricultural exporters — particularly in Southeast Asia — able to ... (Show more)
The purpose of this paper is to analyse how, why and in what circumstances the cash crop cultivation led to economic diversification in the global tropics towards the end of European colonial rule in Africa and Asia. Why were some agricultural exporters — particularly in Southeast Asia — able to break into global markets for manufactured goods, while others — particularly in Africa — experienced slow and fragile industrial growth? This paper takes inspiration from the ‘staples’ literature (Buckley, 1958; Watkins, 1963) which examines the role of linkages from agricultural growth in sparking broader-based economic growth in predominantly agriculture-oriented economies, and in particular the ‘neo-Europes’ of the temperate zones, like Canada and Australia. Earlier economic historians of Africa, including the pioneering synthesis of West African history by Hopkins (1973), drew on staple theory, but only in passing. The lack of attention to linkages is partly due to the perceived weakness of forward and backward linkages from export agriculture in West Africa, though other ‘traditional’ sectors, like long-distance trade and artisanal industry, have also been explored within a linkages framework (Roberts 1980). Austin’s (2013) discussion of cash-crop linkages remains the only sustained discussion of linkages from the cash crop revolution since the advent of the ‘renaissance’ of African economic history. Linkages have been more popular among historians of Asian economic growth (Kaur, 1980; Huff, 1993; Goldthorpe, 2015) and in the Latin American historiography, to date there has been little comparative quantitative work.
This paper will discuss the linkages from the global cash crop boom. Focusing on three kinds of linkages (final demand linkage, Hirschmanian linkages, and financial linkages) it will examine the trajectory of industrialisation in tropical Asia and Africa from roughly 1950 to 1980. New quantitative estimates of the final demand linkage will be derived from a comparison of household budget surveys undertaken in West Africa and Southeast Asia from the 1930s to the 1960s. Newly-digitised input-output tables will provide estimates of classic ‘Hirschmanian’ forward and backward linkages from export agriculture, showing that forward linkages in particular were highly commodity specific, confirming the analysis of scholars who, following Díaz-Alejandro, have posited the existence of a ‘commodity lottery’. The paper then undertakes a comparative institutional analysis of the financial institutions that underwrote cash crop expansion.
This paper will shed new light on the historical legacy of the cash crop revolution for structural change in tropical Asia and Africa, helping to explain why the two regions experienced such different economic trajectories in the second half of the twentieth century. (Show less)