Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences


Modern Languages and Literatures

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Daniel Mengara

Committee Member

Rabia Redouane

Committee Member

Lois Oppenheim


This work examines the link between environmental degradation and cash crops in sub-Saharan Africa by comparing colonial and post-colonial agricultural practice in Kenya, and the Central African Republic (CAR). It argues that there is a historical link between the agricultural policies instituted by the colonial powers and the subsequent environmental damage. Due to the fact that their agricultural choices centered on the production of tea and coffee, the British tended to engage in land management policies that eventually led to substantial environmental degradation in Kenya. The French, on the other hand, engaged less intensively and less extensively in adverse agricultural land tenure policies, and this, among other factors, led to less environmental damage in the CAR. The study also looks at how Africans themselves, especially in Kenya, contributed to environmental degradation by continuing these policies.

Specifically, in Part I of this work, the paper looks at how Africans viewed nature before the arrival of Europeans, and how their worldview and the agricultural practices that resulted from this worldview helped preserve the environment. It shows that, with the advent of colonialism which brought a new religion, as well as new modes of production, African traditions became neglected and undervalued and, as a result, the old practices that helped preserve the environment were forgotten. In Part II, the paper explores the colonial policies and economy, especially as they pertain to the production of cash crops, created the conditions for environmental degradation in Kenya and the CAR. It argues that the introduction of cash crops such as tea, coffee and cotton, and new foodstuffs such as maize (com) and English potatoes dealt a lasting blow to traditional farming methods and changed African diets. Since the cultivation of cash crops often required commercial farming and hence required a lot of farmland, the Europeans proceeded to cut down indigenous trees and forests in order to create room for huge plantations that could accommodate these exotic crops. As a result, deforestation occurred on a large scale in countries such as Kenya, and a lot of land was degraded. Part III finally, examines the failure of post-independence African governments to substantially change the agricultural policies and methods that they inherited from colonial administrations. The Kenyan government, for instance, encouraged farmers to grow cash crops (especially tea and coffee) in order to bring in more foreign exchange earnings, and this policy led to further environmental damage.

Our study ends with recommendations on how to reverse the environmental damage brought about by the exotic cash crop economy in Africa, especially for countries such as Kenya whose economies rely in large part on income from the export of cash crops. Specifically, it recommends that Kenyans go back to valuing those crops that are indigenous to their land, and that can be promoted into both income-generating and environmental-friendly status, in replacement of exotic ones, that the government implement ways to reduce its population growth to levels that will allow for adequate resource distribution, and that it rehabilitate arid areas in order to make them both habitable and agriculture-friendly. Other measures, some of which the government has begun to implement, such as zero grazing, agro-forestry and intercropping should be encouraged. In addition to this, the Kenyan government should develop new policies that take into account recent reports by the United Nations that advocate the use of small scale farming as well as agricultural methods that are ecologically friendly and that value local farming knowledge.

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