The Political Economy of Famine : Ecology and History in Machakos District during the Colonial Era
Matheka, Reuben M.
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The study documents food problems in colonial Machakos in the context of the changes wrought by the development of capitalism in the area. The paradigm of articulation of~10des of production is therefore applied to the analysis of food crises in their particular historical context. Each food crisis is examined in the light of social, political, economic and ecological changes emanating from the interaction I between aspects of pre-capitalist Kamba system of production and the capitalist mode of production. The process of articulation between the two modes of production was initiated by mercha~t capitalism in the late nineteenth century and intensified by colonial capitalism in the twentieth century. The basic concern of this study is the role of. the colonial state (and therefore colonial capitalism) in the transformation of the Kamba society, and how that transformation featured in food problems. For example, land alienation caused overcrowding and overstocking which_engendered lover-cultivation, over-grazing and soil erosion. Land degradation was further aggravated by monetisation of the economy, which bred commodity production and wage labour. This socio-ecologica transformation was not accompanied by technological advancement and therefore the society's margin of security against climatic variability was progressively reduced. Thus, after the ecological disasters of the late 1890s, the Kamba economy recovered to the extent that the society was able to resist large scale 'proletarianisation' until about 1930. However, the impact of land alienation, drought and locust invasion in 1928-29, and the Great Depression (1929-35) greatly eroded the economy's dynamism. The 1930s therefore witnessed increased proletarianisation and ecological degradation, processes which culminated in severe food shortages during the Second World War. Despite its pervasion, the post-war development programme did not provide immediate solutions to environmental degradation and food crises. On the whole, the study asserts. that climatic factors notwithstanding, the colonial state's policies on land, labour, taxation, public expenditure etc intensified the frequency and intensity of food crises in Machakos District.