Rainfall Variability and Agricultural Output in the Dutch Cape Colony

Erik Green, Lund University
Stefan Grab, University of Witwatersrand
Igor Martins, Lund University

The growing recognition of climate change has led an increasing number of scholars to investigate how resilient or vulnerable local farming systems in the developing world are to natural disasters. (Bankoff 2019). Rainfall is one of the most important climate variables because of its two-sided effects, i.e. flooding and droughts (Alam et al. 2011, Dell, Jones and Olken 2014). Less dramatic variability in annual rainfall has also been shown to be important in order to understand the paths of agricultural development (Hatibu and Mahoo 2000). This paper analyses the effects of variability in annual rainfall in a pre-industrial agricultural setting in the global south, more precisely the Stellenbosch district in the south-western part of the Cape Colony, 1773-1791. Our interest in this specific region and period is that preliminary results show a high degree of annual volatility in wealth mobility among the European farmers located in the region, which might be explained by their vulnerability to weather changes (Fourie et al. 2022). Using transcribed tax censuses and ‘day registers’ that provide daily weather records (Fourie and Green 2018, Grab and Williams 2022) our preliminary results show that the number of rain days increased during the period and that an increase in rain days positively correlated with wine output, while being negatively correlated with grain output. Average rainfall is not only factor at play. The timing is also of importance. Are tentative findings show the grain output respond negatively to rainfall in February, August and December, while wine output negatively correlates to rain in August to November? The paper explores the reasons for these patterns and discuss to what extent annual rainfall variability can explain volatility in wealth mobility.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 210. Work in agrarian times and societies