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Climate shocks, cash crops and resilience: Evidence from colonial tropical Africa

Kostadis Papaioannou and Michiel de Haas

No 76, Working Papers from Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History

Abstract: A rapidly growing body of research examines how weather variability, anomalies and shocks influence economic and societal outcomes. This study investigates the effects of weather shocks on African smallholder farmers in British colonial Africa and intervenes in the debate on the mediating effect of cash crops on resilience to shocks. We employ a dual research strategy, involving both qualitative and econometric analysis. We analyse original primary evidence retrieved from annual administrative records and construct a panel dataset of 151 districts across West, South-central and East Africa in the Interwar Era (1920-1939). Our findings are twofold. First, we qualitatively expose a range of mechanisms leading from drought and excessive rainfall to harvest failure and social upheaval. We then test the link econometrically and find a robust U-shaped relation between rainfall deviation and social upheaval, proxied by annual imprisonment. Second, we review a long-standing and unsettled debate on the impact of cash crop cultivation on farmersÕ resilience to environmental shocks and find that cash crop districts experienced lower levels of social tension and distress in years of extreme rainfall variability.

Keywords: Environmental and economic history; Africa; colonialism; tropical agriculture; social upheaval (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 55 pages
Date: 2015-11
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-agr, nep-dev, nep-env and nep-his
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