BY Stephen Nartey, 8:56am September 20, 2022,

How the French Exploited Peanuts Cultivation to Extend Slavery in African Colonies

Peanut farm in Africa

When the transatlantic slave trade became unattractive, with growing pressure on colonial powers to abolish the ignoble practice by the first half of the 19th century, the French sought for alternative ventures to meet the revenue shortfalls.  

One of the options French officials hopped onto was the cultivation of peanuts in the Western part of the African continent.

The manufacturing companies in Europe badly needed peanuts to meet the growing demands for vegetable oil and soap on the international market.

The French made a strong justification why its presence was needed in West African nation of Senegal because the region had good soil for the cultivation of peanut and there was availability of free human resource.

Environmental journalist, Jori Lewis, in his book ‘Slaves for Peanuts’ which published in the Nature journal revealed how the rise of the peanut crop on the international market influenced the delays in abolishing slavery in the Senegambia region.

She said archival documents, newspapers and botanical manuscripts revealed the targeting of kingdom of Kajoor in Senegal to make it a peanut hub in 1850.

According to her, the peanuts were grown by people enslaved by African’s despite the announcement by France that it had abolished slavery in its colonies.

Jori said many French officials exploited the loopholes in the laws ending slavery. One of them was that slavery was permissible if the enslaved people were classified as domestics or servants.

She indicated that there were historical records where French officials argued that if slavery was totally abolished, it will diminish their profits and destroy peanut farms everywhere.

She explained that the colonialists repackaged the definition of slavery to continue the cultivation and export of peanuts in Senegambia region.

Jori said the French officials asserted that enslaved Africans had volunteered for servitude and it would be unfair to grant them freedom when they are voluntarily opted to work on the farms.

She explained that to satisfy the demand for peanuts in the international market, the French government overthrew traditional authority and leaders who did not support its venture.

She cited a military campaign by the French against the Kajoor kingdom when the traditional ruler kicked against attempts by the construct railway to facilitate the transportation of the peanuts.

The Environmental journalist said the French justified its military assault under the pretext of fighting against those standing in the way of its efforts to bring civilization to the region.

She said Africans fled from Kajoor and other interior regions to French colonial outpost in Saint Louis in their quest to seek freedom, forcing the hands of the colonial government to make a declaration it had abolished slavery.

She said historical records revealed the intentions of the French government which later returned the enslaved to the peanuts farms to continue their servitude.

Jori indicated that the escapees however found solace in Christian missionaries who provided shelter for the victims.

According to her, one of the very few African pastors for the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society, Walter Samuel Taylor, provided a means of protection of the escapees.

She cited a story of Moussa Sidibe, a young man whom Walter hid until the three-month residency period had passed and he could obtain papers announcing his freedom.

Last Edited by:Sedem Ofori Updated: September 20, 2022


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