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Settler dominance, agricultural production and the Second World War in Kenya*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2009

Ian Spencer
Lanchester Polytechnic


The article examines the ways in which European settler farmers successfully used wartime conditions to secure their economic recovery and lay a basis for future economic dominance in Kenya. In 1939–40 farmers attempted with only limited success to persuade the Imperial government to purchase high-priced agricultural products. London's acquiescence was given reluctantly to avoid the possibility of political difficulties. In Kenya, largely due to a shortage of manpower and wartime feelings of solidarity, settlers were drawn extensively into the government positions. After the call for increased production for the Middle East in November 1941 the Agricultural Production and Settlement Board was set up with a network of settler-controlled district committees to direct production and administer the distribution of a range of new subsidies. Various forms of indirect assistance and disguised aid were devised further to assist European producers. Minimum prices were fixed at differential levels for European and African maize growers. Both the War Office and the Colonial Office believed European maize to be overpriced whereas African payments were fixed at a level which depressed production and contributed to the famine of 1943. Cattle prices were also set at levels favouring European settlers. Forcible methods were extensively used in the reserves to collect cattle, some of which were sold to settlers at advantageous prices. Overall, the benefits enjoyed by the settlers during the war years can be sharply contrasted with the economic difficulties experienced by the African farmers. The benefits of increased African cash incomes were more than offset by rapid price rises in all imported goods and meat, forcible cattle purchases and severe food shortages in 1943 and 1944.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1980

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1 Wolfe, (Acting Director of Agriculture) to Chief Secretary, 25 Nov. 1939Google Scholar, in Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, Deposit No. 3, ARC(MAWR)-3 AGRI 2/15, Kenya National Archives, Nairobi (hereafter KNA).

2 Secretary of State for the Colonies to the Secretary to the Treasury, 30 Nov. 1939Google Scholar C.O. 533/508 38128/6, Public Record Office, London. An additional £250,000 had been requested from the Land Bank in June 1939; by September 1939 the Land Bank had advanced £865,000 to settlers: see C.O. 533/517 38017.

3 Wrigley, C. C., ‘Kenya: the patterns of economic life, 1902–45’, in Harlow, V. and Chilver, E. M. (eds.), History of East Africa, ii (Oxford, 1965), 249Google Scholar; Colony and Protectorate of Kenya, Seventeenth Agricultural Census, February 1938 (European Areas) (Government Printer: Nairobi, 1939).Google Scholar See also evidence of Lean, A. I. to the Food Shortage Commission of Enquiry, 1943: ARC(MAWR)-3 AGRI 1/79, p. 431 (KNA); hereafter cited as FSCE Evidence.Google Scholar

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18 See particularly minutes by Campbell, , 15 Mar. 1940Google Scholar, and Caine, , 25 Mar. 1940Google Scholar, ibid. For similar reasons, the Colonial Office allowed white mineworkers in Northern Rhodesia to consolidate an informal colour bar in 1941; there, of course, production was vital to the war effort from the first. Berger, Cf. E. L., Labour, Race and Colonial Rule (Oxford, 1974). 60Google Scholar, 64, 97.

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49 Both statements are to be found in FSCE Evidence, 55. Lockhart was not the only senior official so confused: other outstanding examples are provided by E. B. Hosking, the Chief Native Commissioner (FSCE Evidence, 335) and by H. R. Montgomery, a member of the Executive Council and Deputy Director of Manpower (FSCE Evidence, 349–50).

50 ibid. 75, 79.

51 For evidence of the order of events see A. B. Killick, the Deputy Director of Agriculture, and Blunt, D. L., the Director of Agriculture, FSCE Evidence, 20, 91.Google Scholar

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