Labour Control and the Establishment of Profitable Settler Agriculture in Colonial Kenya, 1920-45

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T1 - Labour Control and the Establishment of Profitable Settler Agriculture in Colonial Kenya, 1920-45

AU - Fibaek, Maria

AU - Green, Erik

PY - 2019/4/10

Y1 - 2019/4/10

N2 - This article contributes to the growing literature on the impact of colonial legacies on long-run development. We focus on Kenya, where it is previously argued that land tenure and taxation policies created an impoverished class of wage workers leading to lower living standards, high inequality, and stunted economic development. We take issue with this interpretation. Using archival sources, we map the rise of profitable settler agriculture. Next, we correlate settler profitability with taxation and the development of African agriculture. Contrary to previous studies, we find that labour came from areas that became increasingly more commercialized. Thus, a decline in African livelihoods was not a necessary pre-condition for the establishment of successful European settler agriculture. Instead a restructuring of the settler agricultural sector coinciding with tightened labour control policies can explain the increased profitability. An increased cultivation of high-value crops raised the value of labour. Reductions of African mobility lowered both the wage and transaction costs of finding and retraining workers enabling the settlers to raise their profit share. Our finding calls for a revision of the colonial legacy of European settler agriculture for long-term economic and social development in Kenya.

AB - This article contributes to the growing literature on the impact of colonial legacies on long-run development. We focus on Kenya, where it is previously argued that land tenure and taxation policies created an impoverished class of wage workers leading to lower living standards, high inequality, and stunted economic development. We take issue with this interpretation. Using archival sources, we map the rise of profitable settler agriculture. Next, we correlate settler profitability with taxation and the development of African agriculture. Contrary to previous studies, we find that labour came from areas that became increasingly more commercialized. Thus, a decline in African livelihoods was not a necessary pre-condition for the establishment of successful European settler agriculture. Instead a restructuring of the settler agricultural sector coinciding with tightened labour control policies can explain the increased profitability. An increased cultivation of high-value crops raised the value of labour. Reductions of African mobility lowered both the wage and transaction costs of finding and retraining workers enabling the settlers to raise their profit share. Our finding calls for a revision of the colonial legacy of European settler agriculture for long-term economic and social development in Kenya.

KW - settler agriculture

KW - rural development

KW - Kenya

KW - colonial institutions

M3 - Article

VL - 34

JO - Economic History of Developing Regions

T2 - Economic History of Developing Regions

JF - Economic History of Developing Regions

SN - 2078-0397

ER -