Changing grounds. Free and unfree coffee-growing labour in the Dutch East Indies and Belgian Congo, 1870-1960.

01 October 2014 → 30 September 2015
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • History
coffee-growing labour
Project description

Today, coffee is the world’ second most valuable legal commodity and the most widely consumed

psychoactive drug. It also provides a livelihood to 20 million workers in 70 countries. Much has been

written about the history of coffee, from its discovery in Abyssinia to the ubiquity of Starbucks. The

impact of the introduction of colonial coffee production on labour relations is however a highly

understudied field. This project will contribute to the development of a new perspective on the

transformation of colonial labour systems, by focusing on the interaction between colonial

production systems and local rural societies.

The project explores two coffee frontiers in two different continents in the period 1870-1960.

In response to the ascendency of coffee as a mass commodity, new zones of coffee cultivation

emerged in Asia and Africa. Two of these zones, the North-West (Equateur) of Belgian Congo and

Java and West Sumatra in the Netherlands Indies, will be studied by a single set of research

questions. They focus on a/ the interaction between large scale (plantations) and small scale

(smallholders) production systems, b/ the mobilisation and employment of labour and c/ the

strategies of rural populations to keep control over their resources. This comparative project will

provide new insights into the way labour relations changed in different parts of the world in the

times of ‘igh colonialism’in response to the pressures and incentives of the global commodity