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It is the mid- 1900s. Majority of the nations in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa who had spent the last 80 years laboring under the weight of a European colonial dispensation, were slowly but surely beginning to warm to the idea of going-it alone. By the early 1960s, almost all the countries in the region had attained independence.

Stamp_British_East_Africa_1897_2aIt was triumphant time for free-thinkers and glory-seekers, however, in all but five of these countries, the elation of emancipation was quickly and in some cases, subtly quelled, by the two decades of explicit or implicit military rule that followed. As Africa was struggling to emerge, the rest of the world was at odds; shadowed by the grim countenance of the Cold War. However, despite the relatively disfavorable global environment within which these African nations achieved independence, and began to emerge, they somehow began to occupy a place in the global marketplace. It was an occupation which was largely evidenced by subtle but clearly discernible shifts occurring in tandem with major world economic events like commodity price booms and oil shocks.

These nations were further distinguished from other regions of the world by the unique demographic factors that were common only to them at the time; such as high population growth rates. The education of the elite within these nations swelled significantly following independence, and these intellectuals were primarily educated in a small group of non-African nations.

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West African Student’s Union

Individuals within this group generally returned home and were largely responsible for the creation of development strategy in majority of the countries in the region. 


Development agenda within these nations however, was often subject to conditions imposed by a disproportionately small group of donor organizations which had significant influence over the allocation of public investment in many countries in the region, and it was these investments that formed the background of major ag development strategies disseminated by the African intelligentsia.

The atmosphere in those early years following independence was charged with a combustible mix of emotions. Expectation of the eventual emergence of the Continent into the global marketplace, mixed with an uncomfortable lack of knowledge about how to swim with the big boys, all shadowed by the unpredictability of the unfamiliar playing field they had been so suddenly thrust into,  caused African leaders to feverishly begin to reach for ways to ensure that they did not drown under the weight of their new responsibilities. It was from this turmoil of decision that various thought patterns began to emerge.

In the context of agriculture, the years following the independence of various African nations is a period checkered by development models and ideologies all geared towards fostering the growth and development of the region. Each paradigm had its own period of dominance and they were all similar in that they developed in Africa in roughly chronological order (with some overlap) beginning at the tail end of the colonial period.

ag dev paradigms

Dominant Paradigms of Agricultural Development in Africa

Furthermore, while none of these ideologies can accurately be attributed to any geopolitical or intellectual interest, every one of these paradigms by nature and application were in some significant way, the result of changes in global economic and political events. The application of each ideologies was always characterized by a tension between creating a structured, pragmatic tool of development and a desire to present a perfect, technically sound theory of development, and every single one of these paradigms, while championed by African leaders, was the direct result of some external influence or other.

Indigenous farmers in the regions were up until the early 60s, subsistent smallholders who ate what they grew. Production was limited by a complete lack of access to markets and services, labor was primarily available in seasonal spurts, and agricultural technology was non-existent. Export cropping in Sub-Saharan Africa however, began much earlier in 1910 and became even more pervasive after the Second World War. Following independence, governments began to explore agricultural potential within the contexts of their own productive landscape, and commercialized farming began to be viewed as economic activity with the dual capability of producing foreign currency reserves, and as a source of resources for industrialization.

And so smallholder commercialization began, and it was a transformative process. Individual farmers began to shift focus from a highly subsistence-oriented approach to production to a more specialized one in which they targeted markets for both the procurements of their inputs and the supply and marketing of their output. To overcome the issue of labor bottlenecks, in addition to existing seasonal cropping patterns, plants with significantly different seasonal labor profiles than the traditional food crops were introduced, thereby allowing for expansion of production using existing resources. These were the glory-days of cash crop production and they continued through the 1960s. Commodity prices were at their best and African smallholders previously unable to engage in commercial activity, now had access to cropping opportunities previously reserved for colonial farmers.

Now, enter the Kenyan tea farmers.