Climate Shocks, Cash crops and Resilience: Evidence from colonial tropical Africa

K.I. Papaioannou, M.A. de Haas

Research output: Working paperAcademic


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 farmers’ resilience to environmental shocks
and find that cash crop districts experienced lower levels of social tension and distress in
years of extreme rainfall variability.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherCentre for Global Economic History
Number of pages53
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015

Publication series

NameCGEH Working Paper Series
PublisherCentre for Global Economic History


  • Environmental and economic history, Africa, colonialism, tropical agriculture,

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