The Plantation Paradigm: colonial agronomy, African farmers and the global cocoa boom, 1870s-1940s

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Colleges, School and Institutes


This article investigates the powerful normative role of plantation-oriented agricultural practices in what was arguably the premier indigenous crop revolution of the colonial era: the West African cocoa boom. It traces the links between the extraordinary growth of cocoa production in the region – above all in the Gold Coast – and the longer experience of cocoa estates in other parts of the world, in particular the Caribbean, which served as a key reference point for the expanding global cocoa frontier in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In spite of the manifest competitive success of African farmers’ extensive agricultural practices during this period, most outside observers retained a strong partiality towards intensive production techniques under centralized European management. This article emphasizes the role played by the transcontinental exchange of ideas in sustaining the cultural authority of such cultivation techniques long after their commercial viability came into question.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-71
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Global History
Issue number1
Early online date12 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • agriculture, cocoa, environment, knowledge, plantation