Plantation agriculture (photo: Jakub Michankow).Plantation agriculture emerged during the period of European colonialism. It is a labor intensive form of food production.  In the past, slaves often provided the labor. The plantation was developed in tropical and sub-tropical countries. Traditionally, this form of agriculture was primarily for the export of goods.

Photo: Plantation agriculture (tea) is concentrated in the tropics (Creative Commons: Jakub Michankow).

Definition of Plantation Agriculture

There are many definitions of plantation agriculture. However, it is commonly described as having these properties.

  • Export Oriented:  Crops are produced for sale in other countries.
  • Foreign Ownership:  Plantations are usually owned by foreigners.
  • Capital Intensive:  Plantations require many inputs such as labor, machinery and fertilizer.
  • Large Scale:  Large areas of land are needed.
  • Monoculture: One crop is grown.

Origins of Plantation Agriculture

Plantation agriculture had its beginning in South America in the 1500’s. Portugal colonized Brazil’s coastal areas. They soon developed sugar plantations in those areas. They later imported slaves for labor. Brazil soon became the world’s major supplier of sugar.

Plantations required a large land area. In the early years, the plantation depended heavily on human labor. Slave labor was often used. Most plantations produced one crop. Historically, important plantation crops were sugar, cotton, tea, coffee, cacao, banana, oil palm and coconuts.

In later years, the plantation spread to North America, Asia and Africa. Supporters of plantation agriculture saw the benefits from jobs and foreign cash. Critics cite an unstable economy and environmental damage as negatives.

Improving Your Reading and Thinking Skills

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Plantation Agriculture, LearnThings.
Plantation agriculture in the tropics, CiteSeer.
Theory and Practice in Plantation Agriculture, Overseas Development Institute.


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