The Journal of African History

Research Article

The Emergence of Capitalist Relations in South Asante Cocoa-Farming, C. 1916–331

Gareth Austin

The notion of capitalist relations in Ghanaian cocoa-farming is familiar, yet their development has been relatively little studied. In Amansie district, Asante, capitalist relations of production developed as a result rather than as a cause of the cocoa ‘take-off’, c. 1900–16. This paper examines their emergence, which occurred largely during the subsequent period of much slower growth and generally lower prices. The introduction and spread of regular wage-labour, the widening and deepening burden of rent on ‘stranger’ cocoa farms, the proliferation of ‘advances’, and the introduction of farm mortgaging are described, together with the accompanying decline of slavery, pawning, and other non-wage forms of labour. Colonial officials ineffectually deplored the growth of money-lending and, to a lesser extent, that of wage-labour. From the mid-1930s, however, the tendency towards greater separation of labour from control of the farm was partly reversed by a new insistence by northern labourers on the replacement of annual wage contracts by a managerial form of share-cropping. This demand was sustained against the opposition of farmowners and despite persistent unemployment, an achievement made possible by the migrants continued foothold in subsistence agriculture in their home areas. This case of migrant labourers successfully challenging the extension of wage relations raises questions concerning the relationships between commercial agriculture and ‘precapitalist’ social relations of production in Africa generally.


1 This article is part of a continuing study of rural capitalism in south Asante, c. 1817–c. 1980, the first stage of which was financed by the UK Social Science Research Council, through the Birmingham University Economic History Department's Quota Award, 1978–81. It was supervised by Professor Tony Hopkins. The article was drafted while I was teaching at the University of Ghana. For their comments on the drafts, I am grateful to two colleagues at the University of Ghana, Professors Kwame Arhin and Adu Boahen, as well as to the editors of this Journal. The following abbreviations are used: DC for District Commissioner (of Bekwai, now Amansie, unless otherwise stated); CCA for Chief Commissioner of Ashanti; NAGK for National Archives of Ghana, Kumasi; NAGA for National Archives of Ghana, Accra.