Profits, harvests or public revenue? Divergent interests and guano fertiliser struggles in the Cape Colony; c. 1872–1910

Snyders, Hendrik (2015-11)

CITATION: Snyders, H. 2015. Profits, harvests or public revenue? Divergent interests and guano fertiliser struggles in the Cape Colony; c. 1872–1910. Historia, 60(2):160-184, doi:10.17159/2309-8392/2015/V60N2A8.

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Article

During the first 50 years of its existence, the Cape guano trade was controlled by entrepreneurs who were profit and export orientated. They used their control over certain offshore islands through long-term exploitation leases to fix prices and to manipulate supply to their maximum advantage. Internal divisions, limited financial means and a lack of sophisticated fertiliser knowledge as well as weak farmer organisation, prevented Cape farmers from reversing this situation. Faced with declining soil quality, noxious weeds and decreasing harvests that threatened to scupper their livelihoods, Cape farmers made skilful use of protest, petitioning and pressurising their public representatives and finally succeeded in securing government intervention and access to cheaper and subsidised guano. Fearing their exclusion from the hitherto lucrative trade, guanopreneurs and their political allies resisted this move strongly. The ensuing battle for control of the Cape guano fertiliser market not only saw the last attempts by entrepreneurs to resist state appropriation of the product, but also inadvertently gave guano a small role in the unfolding of political events in the years leading up to the establishment the Union of South Africa.

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