Coffee, tea or pepper? : factors affecting choice of crops by agro-entrepreneurs in nineteenth century south-west India
Tharakan, P.K. Michael
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Ever since plantation agriculture initiated by European capital and enterprise became an important form of exploitation of resources in the colonies, small holdings and small holders in the plantation sector were considered a separate category. There were a number of European proprietary planters among the pioneers. They got phased out with the vertical integration of production, distribution and marketing. Another group of small-holders were the indigenous farmers who took up cultivation of plantation crops. Almost all over Southern India and Ceylon such farmers were active in coffee; the earliest plantation crop. But one plantation area in South-west India, completely, and another, partially, was conspicuous by their absence. Significantly there were farmers involved in cash crop cultivation, particularly in pepper, in these areas. Meanwhile, upwardly mobile sections of the lower echelons of the caste hierarchy were very active in coffee, in another area of the same broad region. This paper investigates why small holders were absent in the former areas. Only in a few specific areas within the early plantation regions of Southern India and Ceylon did coffee survive a widespread blight in late nineteenth century. Though small holders and their coffee cultivation also had set backs in this crisis, they seem to have played important role in the survival of the crop in some areas. This paper also investigates what were the advantages held by small-holders in these areas and which were found lacking in other areas. JEL Classification : N50, N55 Key Words : plantations, proprietary planters, small-holders, plantdiseases, monopoly system, trade.