Commodities and Anti-Commodities

The Commodities and Anticommodities research programme focused on modes of indigenous production as sustainable practice and resistance against agrarian commercial capitalism in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean during the colonial era. It was a collaboration between Commodities of Empire and Wageningen University’s Technology and Agrarian Development Group, and was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

The introduction of commercial agriculture in colonised regions of the world is often considered as serving the interests of the colonisers at the expense of local populations, their knowledge and cultural identity. This programme takes a different approach, arguing that changes triggered by colonial introductions of commercial agriculture (‘commodity’) included forms of resistance against and creative responses to those changes that led to specific ‘indigenous’ forms of production (anti-commodity). By investigating and bringing together unexplored expressions and various examples of anti-commodity practices, the programme intends to shed new light on the impact of commercial agriculture in the colonial era and how it has affected agricultural changes in developing nations today.

The research team consisted of:

  • Professor Paul Richards (Wageningen University), researching West African rice cultivation as rebellion against the slave trade.
  • Dr Harro Maat (Wageningen University), researching rice as commoditiy and subsistence crop in South-East Asia.
  • Dr Sandip Hazareesingh (Open University), researching indigenous cotton cultivation and the economic, social, and ecological impact of the imposition of foreign varieties in western India in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
  • Dr Jonathan Curry-Machado (University of London/Wageningen University), researching sugar cane cultivation, rural diversity and sustainable development in the Hispanic Caribbean (1840-1920).
  • Mr Simeon Maravanyika (doctoral student, Wageningen University), researching cotton and resource conservation policy in colonial Zimbabwe.

Workshops were held to discuss Anticommodities in 2010 and 2012, and an edited book has now been published by Palgrave Macmillan: Sandip Hazareesingh and Harro Maat (eds), Local Subversion of Colonial Cultures: Commodities and Anticommodities in Global History.