This panel will look at rural agricultural development in the 20th century, and how central governments and political elites sought to modernise the countryside in times of urbanisation and industrialisation. The panel also focusses on agricultural producers' and labourers' experiences.
Throughout the twentieth century, large parts of Africa experienced far-reaching spatial, economic, and social changes due to urbanisation and industrialisation. Our panel seeks to explore urbanisation from the perspective of the rural. Economic centres attracted people from the countryside for increased living standards or wage labour opportunities. The "agrarian question" - rural flight, poverty, and processes of concentration in the countryside - led to a range of governmental attempts to "modernise" both agricultural production and rural communities. While urbanisation and the "agrarian question" were widespread phenomena across the continent, the resulting policies and development interventions in Africa's rural areas have received little systematic attention. The panel aims at exploring different trajectories of engineered agrarian change - from cases in which export-oriented commodity production predominated to those that aimed at smallholder farming, subsistence production, and food security. In what ways did colonial and independent governments, but also missionaries, African elites, international organisations, and NGOs try to navigate structural change? What aspects of farming did they try to change and what methods did they propagate? How did the related policies and interventions impact rural development and agricultural production? How did peasant producers experience the agrarian change and what made agricultural development sustainable from a socio-economic and cultural perspective? Central topics of the panel are the commercialization of agriculture, colonial economies, decolonization, international aid, national development, peasant production, agricultural labour, education and race. Even though this panel is especially interested in historical approaches to agricultural development, proposals from other disciplines are also welcome.