"Stinky and smelly - but profitable" : the Cape guano trade, c.1843 - 1910

Snyders, Hendrik (2011-12)

Thesis (PhD)-- Stellenbosch University, 2011.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Soil infertility and concomitant low levels of food security under conditions of population pressure and land scarcity have been, and still remain, one of society’s most daunting challenges. Over time, societies have tried to maximize the yield from the available land through the use of various fertilisers. In the 19th century in the midst of an environment infertility crisis, guano (bird dung) from the Peruvian coastal islands became, through a combination of factors, the international fertilizer of choice for most commercial farmers. As a result, a combination of natural factors, monopoly control and price manipulation contributed to the relative scarcity of the product. Nevertheless, strategic manoeuvring between the major players prevented any significant change in the supply regime. News of discoveries along the African coasts in the 1840s, some inside the territorial waters of the Cape Colony, introduced a new dimension to the trade. Both established merchant houses and new contenders strategised in an attempt to gain monopoly control. These events created new policy crises for the Cape Colony, the closest legal authority, and led to new policy and other initiatives in the absence of imperial precedents. The trade in guano also impacted on constitutional, political and scientific developments in the colony. Key amongst these was the struggle for monopoly control over both the Cape- and Ichaboe-based supply, which pitted individuals, family members and businesses against each other. The process became intertwined with political developments such as the transfer of political control from the Imperial authorities to the colonies. In addition, a coercive labour system developed under the colonial administration and colonial farmers struggled for fair access to the fertiliser, which added another dimension to the trade.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Daar is ‘n noue verband tussen bevolkingsgetalle, oesopbrengs, voedselsekuriteiten die beskikbaarheid van voldoende bewerkbare landbougrond. Waar samelewings probleme ervaar met die gehalte van hul landbougrond, is daar heel dikwels ook lae vlakke van voedselsekuriteit en word daar gewoonlik ook ‘n onsekere van-die-hand-tot–die-mond bestaan gevoer. As ‘n teenvoeter vir hongersnood as gevolg van lae oesopbrengs, het uiteenlopende samelewings met verloop van tyd en na gelang van hulle natuurlike omstandighede, bepaalde bemestingstradisies ontwikkel in ‘n poging om ‘n volhoubare opbrengs te verseker. Gedurende die 19de eeu, het ghwanobemesting te midde van ‘n wêreldwye grondgehalte krisis, ongekende gewildheid onder winsgedrewe landbouers bereik en voorts ook daarin geslaag om ander vorme van bemesting soos beenmeel en kraalmis as voorkeur produkte te vervang. As gevolg van ‘n kombinasie van natuurlike faktore, monopoliebeheer oor die eiland-gebaseerde ghwanobron en prysmanipulasie, was die produk wataanvanklik net vanaf Peru in Suid Amerika ingevoer is, dus nie vrylik beskikbaar nie en moes belangstellende boere hoë pryse daarvoor betaal. Vanselfsprekend het dit tot groot frustrasie en ontsteltenis in die geledere van diegene wat ‘n belegging in kommersiële landbou wou maak, gelei. Die onderlinge politieke intriges, knoeiery en pogings van plaaslike en oorsese sakemanne om mekaar te uitoorlê in die soeke na alleenbeheer oor die beskikbare ghwanobronne, het sake nie juis verbeter nie. Inteendeel, die situasie het net vererger toe alternatiewe ghwano bronne langs die wes- en ooskus van Afrika sowel as op ‘n reeks ander eilande in die Atlantiese Oseaan ontdek is. Die ontdekking van ghwano binne die Kaapse gebeidswaters in die 19de eeu, het die owerhede met ’n beleidsdilemma waarvoor daar nie enige presedente in die Britse Ryk bestaan het nie gelaat. Daarbenewens was die kolonie te midde van heelparty konstitusionele en ander kwessies en het die toevoeging van die ghwanohandel die maatskaplike en politieke lewe van die kolonie wesenlik beïnvloed.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/17800
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