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The plantation paradigm: colonial agronomy, African farmers, and the global cocoa boom, 1870s–1940s*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2014

Corey Ross*
Department of History, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK E-mail:


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.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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I would like to thank the British Academy for generously supporting the research upon which this article is based, as well as Francesca Carnevali, Matthew Hilton, and Tom McCaskie for their helpful comments on an earlier draft. In addition, the two anonymous reviewers as well as the journal editors deserve a special word of thanks for the exceptionally constructive comments they provided.


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