Plantation economy (Ofer Abarbanel online library)

plantation economy is an economy based on agricultural mass production, usually of a few commodity crops grown on large farms called plantations. Plantation economies rely on the export of cash crops as a source of income. Prominent crops included cotton, rubber, sugar cane, tobacco, figs, rice, kapok, sisal, and species in the genus Indigofera, used to produce indigo dye.

The longer a crop’s harvest period, the more efficient plantations become. Economies of scale are also achieved when the distance to market is long. Plantation crops usually need processing immediately after harvesting. Sugarcane, tea, sisal, and palm oil are most suited to plantations, while coconuts, rubber, and cotton are suitable to a lesser extent.[1]

Conditions for formation

Plantation economies are factory-like, industrialised and centralised forms of agriculture, owned by large corporations or affluent owners. Under normal circumstances, plantation economies are not as efficient as small farm holdings, since there is immense difficulty in proper supervision of labour over a large land area. However, when there are large distances between the plantations and their markets, processing to reduce the bulk of the crop greatly lowers shipping costs. Hence, large plantations which produce large quantities of the good are able to achieve economies of scale from these expensive processing machinery, as the per unit cost of processing is greatly diminished. This economy of scale can be achieved best with tropical crops that are harvested continuously through the year, fully utilising the processing machinery. Examples of crops that are suitable to be processed are sugar, sisal, palm oil, and tea. [2]

Industrial Revolution in Europe

Western Europe was the final destination for the plantation produce. At this time, Europe was starting to industrialize, and it needed a lot of materials to manufacture goods. Being the power center of the world at the time, they exploited the New World and Africa to industrialize. Africa supplied slaves for the plantations; the New World produced raw material for industries in Europe. Manufactured goods, of higher value, were then sold both to Africa and the New World. The system was largely run by European merchants[7]

Sugar plantations

Sugar has a long history as a plantation crop. Cultivation of sugar had to follow a precise scientific system to profit from the production. Sugar plantations everywhere were disproportionate consumers of labor, often enslaved, because of the high mortality of the plantation laborers. In Brazil, plantations were called casas grandes and suffered from similar issues.

The slaves working the sugar plantation were caught in an unceasing rhythm of arduous labor year after year. Sugarcane is harvested about 18 months after planting and the plantations usually divided their land for efficiency. One plot was lying fallow, one plot was growing cane, and the final plot was being harvested. During the December–May rainy season, slaves planted, fertilized with animal dung, and weeded. From January to June, they harvested the cane by chopping the plants off close to the ground, stripping the leaves and then cutting them into shorter strips to be bundled off to be sent to the sugar cane mill.

In the mill, the cane was crushed using a three-roller mill. The juice from the crushing of the cane was then boiled or clarified until it crystallized into sugar. Some plantations also went a step further and distilled the molasses, the liquid left after the sugar is boiled or clarified, to make rum. The sugar was then shipped back to Europe. For the slave laborer, the routine started all over again.

With the 19th-century abolition of slavery, plantations continued to grow sugar cane, but sugar beets, which can be grown in temperate climates, increased their share of the sugar market.

Indigo plantations

Indigofera was a major crop cultivated during the 18th century, in Venezuela, Guatemala—and Haiti until the slave rebellion against France that left them embargoed by Europe and India in the 19th and 20th centuries. The indigo crop was grown for making blue indigo dye in the pre-industrial age.

Mahatma Gandhi’s investigation of indigo workers’ claims of exploitation led to the passage of the Champaran Agrarian Bill in 1917 by the British colonial government.


The currency for the Georgia colony was the Pound sterling, a gold coin or very light green bill with the national pound symbol. The currency is worth about one and one half U.S. dollar.

The currency for the New York was at the time of the colony the New York pound. This currency was primarily used and made in the 1700s.


  1. ^Jeffery Paige, Agrarian Revolution, 1975.
  2. ^Jeffrey M. Paige (1978). Agrarian Revolution. Simon and Schuster. pp. 14–15. ISBN 0029235502.
  3. ^The Southern Colonies:Plantations and Slavery, by Kalpesh Khanna Kapurtalawla
  4. ^The Southern Colonies: Plantations and Slavery
  5. ^“PBS The Slaves’ Story”. Retrieved 2006-03-24.
  6. ^Stephen Behrendt (1999). “Transatlantic Slave Trade”. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience
  7. ^The Abolition Project,, accessed 3-26-2013


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