The phosphate archipelago: imperial mining and global agriculture in French North Africa

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This article analyzes the network of phosphate producing sites in French colonial North Africa in the twentieth century. By tracing phosphate flows across the region between mining sites, and by placing the North African network into imperial and global perspective, the article develops the concept of a phosphate archipelago, capable of recognizing the shared specificities of the phosphate mines as extractive spaces and of describing their insertion into adjacent local and regional dynamics. Drawing on political-economic writings after World War One, the article focuses mainly on phosphates’ role in the colonial politics of economic autarky, but also touches on labour migration, the role of phosphates as an actor, and the trajectory of the phosphate archipelago in North Africa across the watershed of independence in the 1950s and down to the present day, when it plays a key role in the politics of global nutrition and food security.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-214
JournalJahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2016


  • global agriculture, World War One, North Africa, phosphates, mining, colonial empire, Morocco, Tunisia