Mode of Production or Mode of Cultivation: Explaining the Failure of European Cocoa Planters in Competition with African Farmers in Colonial Ghana

  • Gareth Austin


Early colonial Ghana2 was the site of one of the most dramatic pioneer booms in the world history of cocoa cultivation. Ghana began to export cocoa in 1891 (Tudhope, 1909–10, 34); only twenty years later it became the world’s largest producer with a harvest of nearly 40 000 tons; and in 1923 the harvest was over 200 000 tons for the first time (Kay, 1972, 336). Given that the average gap between planting and first fruiting was about five years (Austin, 1984, 389–90) and that a tree’s yield did not peak until much later (Beckett, 1944, 71), it is clear that the capacity to yield over 200 000 tons a year had been planted before 1918. The growth of output slowed and stopped within the next decade and a half, primarily in lagged response to much lower real producer prices from 1917 onwards (Bateman, 1974, 286–303, 316–18). The 1936 total of 311 000 tons was a record and remained so until some years after Ghana’s independence from Britain in 1957 (Kay, 1972, 336–7). The last decade of colonial rule saw a partial revival of real producer prices. This stimulated an increased rate of planting, especially in the northwest of the forest zone, which increasingly offset a decline in productive capacity in the older cocoa areas which were suffering from ageing trees, deteriorating soil fertility and, especially, swollen shoot virus (Bateman, 1974, 286–307, 315–19, 323).


Labour Input Rubber Tree Wage Labour Eastern Province Gold Coast 
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© William Gervase Clarence-Smith 1996

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  • Gareth Austin

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