The implementation of cotton cultivation schemes in the Eastern Congo: from extra-economic to scientifically-based coercion (1917-1960)
Sven Van Melkebeke
Paper short abstract:
This paper will examine the continuities and changes between two labor coercive cotton schemes. Cultivators in the Eastern Congo offer a good testing ground to highlight both the top-down (re)implementation of these schemes and the bottom-up feedback (resistance, adaptation) of local peasants.
Paper long abstract:
In order to force Congolese peasants to produce for the export market, the Belgian colonial government implemented a system of compulsory cultivation in 1917. Peasants had to produce a certain cash crop within a given timeframe and against a meager wage. But in the 1930s, such a harsh regime had caused a rural exodus. In response, the administration attempted to improve rural conditions and introduced a new program aimed at revolutionizing African agriculture: the paysannats indigènes. These 'indigenous peasantry schemes' were voluntary according to the colonial discourse. The schemes were scientifically-based and allegedly aimed to increase land productivity, fight erosion, raise revenue and improve peasants' living conditions. Peasants who signed up were allocated a plot of land and had to cultivate crops following the rules (e.g. regarding rotation, intercropping, labor organization) dictated by European agronomists, and often in contrast with local knowledge. However, in reality, the paysannats were designed to reestablish control over the peasantry while keeping the peasant outside the market. This paper will examine the continuities and changes between these two labor coercive regimes. Cotton cultivators in the Eastern Congo offer a good testing ground to highlight both top-down (re)implementation and bottom-up feedback (resistance, adaptation) of local peasants. The region around Bambesa (Bas-Uele) suffered from harsh cotton extraction in the period after 1917 under the compulsory cultivation scheme, followed by a scientifically-framed scheme after WWII that was as restrictive albeit more sophisticated.
Commodity frontiers and knowledge regimes in Africa, 1800 to present