Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 June 2015
The historical role of European farming in Southern and Central Africa has received a great deal of attention among scholars over the years. A striking consensus exists in the Scholarly literature, namely that the success or failure of European farming in Southern Africa was to a large extent dependent upon the colonizers' access to and control over cheap labour, which they in turn could only access through strong support of the colonial state. Yet, these propositions have so far not been systematically and empirically tested. This article is a first attempt to do that by analysing the ‘wage-burden’ European settler farmers faced. The wage-burden is identified by measuring wage shares (total amount paid in the form of wages as a share of total profits) on European farms in colonial Africa. Based on archival documents, we construct time-series for value of output, transportation costs, investments in agriculture, and wages paid for the European tobacco and tea sector in colonial Malawi. Our results contradict both previous research on settler colonialism in Africa and the historiography of Nyasaland. Our estimates show that settler farming did not collapse in the 1930s as commonly assumed. On the contrary, the value of production on both tobacco and tea farms increased significantly. And so did the settler farmers' capacity to capture the profits, which was manifested in a declining wage share over time. In contrast with previous research, we argue that the declining wage share cannot be explained by domestic colonial policies but rather through changes in regional migration patterns, and global commodity markets. Migration patterns had a significant impact on the supply of farm labour and global commodity markets influenced value of production. Market forces rather than colonial policies shaped the development trajectory of settler farming in Nyasaland.
Earlier versions of this article have been presented as the Swedish Economic History Meeting in Lund, 4–5 October 2013 and at the eighth Economic History Workshop in Lund, 6–7 December 2013. We are grateful for the comments received from participants at the two meetings. We are also thankful for the comments received from two anonymous reviewers. The article is part of the project ‘Tracing the Institutional Roots of Economic Development’ led by Professor Christer Gunnarsson and generously funded by the Swedish Research Council. All remaining errors are ours. Authors' email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Elkins, C. and Pedersen, S. (eds.), Settler Colonialism in the Twentieth Century: Projects, Practices and Legacies (New York, 2005)Google Scholar, 1–20.
3 Austen, R., African Economic History: Internal Development and External Dependency (London, 1987)Google Scholar, 173.
4 See, for example, Arrighi, G., ‘The political economy of Rhodesia’, New Left Review, 39 (1966), 35–65Google Scholar; Cohen, R., ‘From peasants to workers in Africa’, in Gutkind, P. C. W and Wallerstein, I. (eds.), The Political Economy of Contemporary Africa (London, 1976), 155–68Google Scholar; Palmer, R. and Parson, N. (eds.), The Roots of Rural Poverty in Central and Southern Africa (Berkeley, CA, 1977)Google Scholar; Phimister, I., An Economic and Social History of Zimbabwe, 1890–1948: Capital, Accumulation and Class Struggle (Harlow, 1988)Google Scholar.
7 Acemoglu, D. and Robinson, J. A., Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (New York, 2012)Google Scholar, 87ff, 258ff.
8 See, for example, Cooper, F., ‘Africa and the world economy’, African Studies Review, 24:2/3 (1981), 1–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cooper, F., ‘Conflict and connection: rethinking colonial African history’, The American Historical Review, 99:5 (1994), 1516–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cooper, F., Africa since 1940: the Past of the Present (New York, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Frankema, E., ‘Raising revenue in the British Empire, 1870–1940: how “extractive” were colonial taxes?’, Journal of Global History, 5:3 (2010) 447–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
10 See, for example, Mosley, Settler Economies.
11 Palmer, R., ‘White farmers in Malawi: before and after the Depression’, African Affairs, 83:335 (1985a), 213Google Scholar.
12 See, for example, Pachai, B., ‘Land policies in Malawi: an examination of the colonial legacy’, The Journal of African History, 14:4 (1973), 681–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar; McCracken, J., ‘Planters, peasants and the colonial state: the impact of the Native Tobacco Board in the Central Province of Malawi’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 9:2 (1983), 172–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Palmer, ‘White farmers’, 211–45; Palmer, R., ‘The Nyasaland tea industry in the era of international tea restrictions, 1933–1950’, The Journal of African History, 26:2 (1985), 215–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Chirwa, W. C., ‘“The Garden of Eden”: sharecropping on the Shire Highlands Estates, 1920–1945’, in Jeeves, A. and Crush, J. (eds.), White Farms, Black Labor: The State and Agrarian Change in Southern Africa, 1910–1950 (Oxford, 1997), 265–80Google Scholar; Green, E., ‘Land concentration, institutional control and African agency: growth and stagnation of European tobacco farming in Shire Highlands, c. 1900–1940’, in Hillbom, E. and Svensson, P. (eds.), Agricultural Transformation in a Global History Perspective (London, 2013), 229–52Google Scholar.
15 Pachai, ‘Land policies', 682.
16 Palmer, ‘Tea industry’, 217.
18 Malawi National Archives (MNA), Circular from Acting Chief Secretary to all Provincial Commissioners on Crop Production Policy, 13 Sept. 1951.
19 Palmer, ‘White farmers', 221.
20 By 1937, it was calculated that about 178,000 African households in Nyasaland were dependent on cash crops as their major source of income, which accounted for about 30 per cent of the African population, and is about the same amount as the number of households that depended on wage labouring on the European farms. See MNA, Malawi Population Census 1966, National Statistical Office, Government of Malawi, Public Records, PRO CO 525/182/44176, Nyasaland Protectorate Annual Report on Native Affairs, 1937.
21 Palmer, ‘White farmers', 230.
22 MNA, Annual Report Department of Agriculture, 1925–41, miscellaneous.
23 See MNA Annual Report Department of Agriculture (various years). In 1940, the district commissioner in Thyolo district in Shire Highlands argued that constant labour shortages held back production of both tea and tobacco on European farms. MNA NSE 1/1/1, Correspondence between District Commissioner Thyolo District and Provincial Commissioner Southern Province, 17 Apr. 1940.
24 Chirwa, ‘“The Garden of Eden”’, 279.
25 Green, ‘Land concentration’, 246–7.
27 Chirwa, ‘“The Garden of Eden”’, 270. See also, MNA, Annual Report Department of Agriculture, 1933–1938, miscellaneous.
28 Chirwa, ‘“The Garden of Eden”’, 273.
29 Baker, ‘Tax collection’, 52.
30 MNA S1/411C733, Circular 15, Production of Native Economic Crops, 1934.
31 See, for example, Haviland, W. E., ‘The rise of the African tobacco industry in Nyasaland and its production problems’, South African Journal of Economics, 23:2 (1955), 141–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Palmer, ‘White farmers'; Palmer, ‘Tea industry’; Chirwa, W. C., ‘Alomwe and Mozambican immigrant labor in colonial Malawi, 1890–1945’, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 27:3 (1994), 525–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
32 Rupert, S. C., Most Promising Weed: A History of Tobacco Farming & Labor in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1890–1945 (Ohio RIS Africa Series, Ohio, 1994)Google Scholar.
33 Whenever maximum and minimum wages were recorded, we have used a lognormal distribution, which places more weight on the lower values, to correct for overestimation.
34 Chirwa, ‘“The Garden of Eden”’; Palmer, ‘White farmers'; Green, ‘Land concentration’.
35 Early on, the colonial authorities blamed the European planters for taking advantage of their control over land to access labour. This was made possible since there were no registered boundaries for existing villages, which enabled European farmers to go beyond their rights and force ‘free’ peasants to pay labour rent. This was against the intention of the authorities. There is no data on how common the practice was, but it was obviously taken seriously by the authorities and even caused a riot in the Shire Highlands in 1915. B. Pachai, ‘Land policies in Malawi’, 681–98, esp. 684 and 687. The colonial authorities even took the matter to court in 1903. The colonial authorities alleged that a European farming company in the Shire Highlands had entered into illegal land deals and had negotiated labour-tenancy arrangements, which ignored the terms of the non-disturbance clause. The judge ruled in favour of the colonial administration: Palmer, ‘Working conditions', 107.
36 M. Vaughan and G. H. R. Chipande, ‘Women in the estate sector of Malawi: the tea and tobacco industries', Working Paper No. 42, Rural Employment Policy Research Programme, 12, 1986.
37 Chirwa, ‘“The Garden of Eden”’, 529; Green, ‘Land concentration’.
38 Palmer, ‘Working conditions', 108.
40 Palmer, ‘White farmers', 230.
41 I. Phimister, An Economic and Social History; Mosley, Settler Economies.
42 Mosley, Settler Economies, 172–82.
43 MNA, Annual Report Department of Agriculture, 1938, miscellaneous.
44 Palmer, ‘White farmers' and ‘Tea industry’; Vaughan and Chipande, ‘Women in the estate sector’. Chirwa, ‘“The Garden of Eden”’; Palmer, ‘Tea Industry’, 230. See also MNA, Annual Report Department of Agriculture, 1938, miscellaneous.
45 Palmer, ‘Tea Industry’, 230. See also, MNA, Annual Report Department of Agriculture, 1938, miscellaneous.
46 Kettlewell, R. W., ‘Agricultural change in Nyasaland, 1945–1960’, Food Research Institute Studies, 5:3 (1965), 229–85Google Scholar; Palmer, ‘White farmers'.
47 Cited in Palmer, ‘Tea industry’, 220.
48 In 1933, the Amsterdam Tea Association initiated an International Tea Agreement with the aim of avoiding further price slumps by introducing a global quota system for tea production, Palmer ‘White farmers', 221, 223.
49 Palmer, ‘White farmers', 235; Vaughan and Chipande, ‘Women in the estate sector’, 4.
50 Palmer, ‘White farmers'.
51 Palmer, ‘Tea industry’. See also, Chirwa, ‘“The Garden of Eden”’; Green, ‘Land concentration’.
52 Palmer, ‘White farmers', 219.
53 Palmer, ‘White farmers'.
54 The picture after 1952 is distorted as we could not find information on tea prices after that year. Instead we used the average price for tea for the 1940s to calculate the total value of tea produced in (and exported from) Nyasaland. This most likely caused the sharp drop in the value of tea exports in 1953 (as prices in 1950–2 were very high). Moreover, the increasing trend from 1953 onwards is now only driven by the increase in quantity exported, as the price we used to calculate value remained constant.
55 Chirwa, ‘“The Garden of Eden”’, 527–9; Kettlewell, ‘Agricultural change’, 265.
57 Cited in Kuczynski, R. R., Demographic survey of the British Colonial Empire, Vol. II (Oxford, 1949)Google Scholar, 550.
58 See, for example, Read, M., ‘Migrant labour in Africa and its effects on tribal life’, International Labour Review, 45:6 (1942), 605–31Google Scholar; Vail, L., ‘The making of an imperial slum: Nyasaland and its railways, 1895–1935’, The Journal of African History, 16:1 (1975), 89–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Vail, L., ‘The State and the creation of colonial Malawi's agricultural economy’, in Rotberg, R. (ed.), Imperialism, Colonialism and Hunger: East and Central Africa (Toronto, 1983)Google Scholar.
59 Green, E., Peasant Production and Limits to Labour: Thyolo and Mzimba Districts in Malawi, mid-1930s to late-1970s (Stockholm, 2005)Google Scholar, chs. 2, 4, and 5.
60 Sanderson, ‘Labour migration’, 263.
61 Kuczynski, ‘Demographic survey’, 550, 567.
62 In 1903, the colonial authorities even took a European farming company in the Shire Highlands to court alleging that the company illegally entered land deals and had negotiated labour-tenancy arrangements which ignored the terms of the non-disturbance clause. The judge ruled in favour of the colonial administration. He noted that the plantation owner's main concern was not to extract land rent but to assure sufficient supplies of labour. The colonial authorities reacted by setting up a Land Commission whose findings confirmed the judge's conclusions. The commission found that the estate owners did nothing to provide their African inhabitants with sufficient land and that labour tenancy was subject to all sorts of abuses: Green, ‘Land concentration’, 239–40. The settlers, on the other hand, complained about their lack of control over tenants as they complained to the colonial authorities that the tenants tended to spend more time in their own gardens during the critical planting season. Chirwa, ‘“The Garden of Eden”’, 530.
63 Green, ‘Peasant production’, 99ff.
64 Palmer, ‘Working conditions', 106.
65 Quoted in Chirwa, ‘Immigrant labor’, 541.
66 Chirwa, ‘“The Garden of Eden”’, 529.
67 The authorities were aware of the crucial role the immigrants played as farm labourers (see above), but had already in the early colonial period forbidden organized recruiting after a scandal involving mistreatment of immigrant labour by two recruiters. See Chirwa, ‘Immigrant labor’.
68 Quoted in Chirwa, ‘Immigrant labor’, 525.
69 Quoted in Chirwa, ‘Immigrant labor’, 525.
70 Kuczynski, ‘Demographic survey’, 545.
72 Chirwa, ‘Immigrant labor’, 546.
73 Kuczynksi, ‘Demographic survey’, 553, 580.
74 Palmer, ‘Tea industry’, 233. The incentives for the African population to migrate were strong. In 1946, it was calculated that a mineworker in South Africa could earn between £3 and £5 per month, which could be compared with the minimum wage in Nyasaland that was 35 shillings. MNA NNM 1/10/10, Memorandum on land tenure in Mzimba, prepared by J. H. Ingman, Secretary of Nyasaland Land Commission.
75 Green, ‘A lasting story’.
76 Chirwa, ‘“The Garden of Eden”’, 271–2. Chirwa unfortunately does not specify land sizes or labour input, nor does he provide any references to those estimates. However, his calculations are partly supported by findings from Thyolo district. See Green, E., ‘Diversification or de-agrarianization? income diversification, labour and processes of agrarian change in southern and northern Malawi, mid-1930 to mid-1950s’, Agricultural History, 82:2 (2008), 164–92CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.
78 D. Jacks, ‘From boom to bust: a typology of real commodity prices in the long run’, NBER Working Paper No. 18874, 48, 2013.
79 For more details see Appendix 1.