Plantation Agriculture

First thing in the morning– perhaps you can't get anything done until you've had your first cup of coffee. Or perhaps you prefer a banana for breakfast? I’m sure you at least use sugar regularly, whether that be in your morning coffee or baking desserts. Either way, all of these different products are grown on plantations. But what exactly are agricultural plantations, and why are they important? 

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Table of contents

    Plantation Agriculture Definition

    There are a variety of agricultural methods used across the world. Plantation agriculture is one of these.

    Plantation agriculture is the clearing of forest or land to create an area of farming for one specific crop, which is grown on a large scale.

    This type of intensive, commercial farming method is typically owned by a single company or government, and this owner employs labourers to work on the plantation.

    Have a look at our explanation of Intensive Farming.

    Plantation Agriculture, Tea Plantation, StudySmarterFig 1. Tea Plantation.

    Plantation Agriculture Climate

    Despite the fact plantations can be found in the USA, plantations are mostly located in tropical and subtropical regions. This is because the climate most suitable for plantations is hot and humid regions. These are mostly located around the equator.

    Examples of countries that have plantations are Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Brazil, and Kenya.

    The locations that plantations are grown in are not only humid environments but they are also often surrounded by large amounts of rich vegetation, such as rainforests.

    Plantation Agriculture Crops

    Various crops are grown on plantations. The list below names some examples of plantation crops.

    • Cocoa
    • Coffee
    • Tea
    • Sugarcane
    • Tobacco
    • Rubber
    • Cotton
    • Pineapple
    • Bananas
    • Palm Oil

    Most of these crops are used on a daily basis by the average person. Ultimately, they are cash crops.

    Cash crops are a type of crop that is grown because of their high commercial value. This type of crop is grown to be sold rather than used by the cultivator.

    This means that the crops grown in plantations are grown for economic factors. These crops are sold and exported out of the countries where the plantation itself is located.

    Plantation Agriculture, Palm Oil Plantation, StudySmarterFig 2. Palm Oil Plantation

    Characteristics of Plantation Agriculture

    There is a large range of characteristics associated with plantation agriculture. Let's take a look at some of these characteristics.

    Commercial Aspects

    Plantations are very much commercial in the sense that the products grown on plantations are cash crops. These crops are grown in mostly low and middle-income countries as exports to gain foreign investment, typically from countries in North America and Europe. High yields, therefore, generate high amounts of money, which is key for the commercial aspect of plantations.

    Large-Scale Operation

    Plantations occur on a huge scale and require large amounts of work in order to produce high-quality crops regularly to meet high demands. Such a commercial process means large yields of the crops are grown, requiring numerous employees. These employees are laborers, who work on the plantation working long hours, mostly harvesting the crop.

    Monocultures

    Plantations are essentially monocultures.

    Monocultures are when one crop is grown in one area of agricultural land.

    Monocultures are necessary aspects of plantations because it allows increased efficiency of planting, harvesting, and processing, as only one type of crop is grown across the entire plantation.

    However, monocultures can create environmental issues as they can cause the spreading of diseases and pests since there is only one type of crop grown. This ultimately reduces soil quality and leads to a loss of biodiversity. This can have negative impacts on crop growth and therefore turnover of yield, leading to a loss in profit for plantation owners.

    Innovation and Development

    Plantations are aided by well-developed transportation and strong communication networks. This combined with the economic gain of plantations leads to the research and development of machinery that is used in plantations to enhance the processing and speed of crop growth and harvesting. Many plantations use this advanced machinery, which allows for fast turnover of crop and therefore a large economic gain.

    Importance of Plantation Agriculture

    Although plantation agriculture may seem like an excellent commercial farming technique, it is important to remember that there are negatives as well as positives to this intensive farming.

    Positives of Plantation Agriculture

    Plantation agriculture is deemed important due to a variety of factors. These include; job opportunities, income to governments, and modern development.

    Job Opportunities

    Plantation agriculture provides many job opportunities and income to locals. Plantations are most commonly located in developing countries; therefore, it may be hard for many citizens to find work and receive an income. This is due to challenges such as poor working conditions, low wages, wage gaps, and workplace discrimination. However, plantations provide employment opportunities for locals, including labour work such as growing, harvesting, and processing the crop. This ensures a steady income for the workers.

    Income to Governments

    Plantation agriculture also offers income to the government as it is a source of foreign trade. This is because external companies from foreign countries may use the land as plantations and export the crops, which provides income to the country via foreign revenue. This is vital for developing countries, helping them to become more connected due to globalization and economic gain.

    Modern Development

    Plantations increase modern development and industrial growth. Since plantations occur on a mass agricultural scale, the development of technology and machinery to increase processing times is needed. This encourages the growth of agro-based processing industries.

    Agro-based industries are industries that produce raw agricultural materials.

    Plantations also encourage further agricultural development and research, such as growing strains of crops that are resistant to diseases and pests.

    Disease-resistant crops are vital in plantation agriculture because if one crop develops a disease, all the surrounding crops also develop the disease due to the proximity of the fields and because they are the same type of crop. Therefore, developing a strain of crop resistant to the disease allows all the crops to grow healthy.

    Issues of Plantation Agriculture

    Despite these positive aspects of plantations, there are multiple issues associated with plantation agriculture.

    Colonialism

    The history of plantations is associated with colonialism. This is because plantations were set up by British colonialists during the Colonial Era (between the 15th and 19th centuries). Large areas of land deemed suitable for farming were turned into plantations, and the exploitation of slave labour occurred.

    It is considered that plantations are still exploitative due to the fact companies utilize foreign countries and use cheap labour to rely on the production of various crops. This is neocolonialism, as developed countries take advantage of developing countries by owning the plantations.

    Competition

    Other issues surrounding plantations include competition against plantations. Due to the employment opportunities of plantations and the income generated from this employment, the living standards in countries that have plantations are increasing. This causes an increase in production costs, which leads to competition between plantations. Some plantations then may struggle to meet the higher incomes offered by other plantations or jobs as the living standards continue to be raised.

    Additionally, monopolization is becoming an issue with plantations. This means that local farmers cannot compete with large foreign-owned corporations and are often put out of business.

    Crop Failure

    Crop failure can also often occur on agricultural plantations, especially since climate change is having a large impact on agriculture. If crops do not require harvesting due to crop failure, there becomes a lack of required employment, and this creates unstable earnings for workers on plantations.

    Environmental Issue

    Plantations are criticized for their lack of sustainability. This is due to the high amount of greenhouse gas emissions, their impact on biodiversity, soil erosion, and pollution. Plantation agriculture utilizes large machines during the growing, harvesting, processing, and transportation of crops. These processes produce greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide. These gases contribute to global warming and can also affect the local environment.

    It is crucial to remember that there are both positives and negatives when discussing plantation agriculture. Try to remain unbiased when discussing or debating this topic!

    Plantation Agriculture - Key takeaways

    • Plantation agriculture is the clearing of large areas of forest to grow one crop on an intensive scale.
    • Plantations are mostly located in humid climates such as tropical and subtropical regions.
    • Characteristics of plantations include commercial purposes, large-scale operations, monocultures, and innovation and development.
    • Positives of plantations include job opportunities, income to governments, and modern development.
    • Negatives of plantations include colonialism, competition, and crop failure.

    References

    1. Fig 1. Tea Plantation. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tea_plantation_in_Ciwidey,_Bandung_2014-08-21.jpg), by Crisco 1492 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Crisco_1492), licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en).
    2. Fig 2. Palm Oil Plantation. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Palm_Oil_Plantation_-_Near_Tiberias_-_Galilee_-_Israel_(5710683290).jpg), by Adam Jones (https://www.flickr.com/people/41000732@N04), licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en).
    Frequently Asked Questions about Plantation Agriculture

    What is plantation agriculture?

    Plantation agriculture is the removal of forest in order to create land for large-scale commercial growing of one particular crop (such as cocoa, coffee, tea, sugarcane, tobacco, rubber, banana, cotton, and palm oil). It is an intensive farming practice. 

    What crops are grown in plantation agriculture?

    Crops grown in plantation agriculture include cocoa, coffee, tea, sugarcane, tobacco, rubber, banana, cotton, and palm oil.

    What are the characteristics of plantation agriculture?

    The characteristics of plantation agriculture are commercial aspects, large-scale operations, monocultures, and innovation and development.

    Why is plantation agriculture important?

    Plantation agriculture is important because it provides job opportunities, income to locals and governments, as well as modern development.

    Where does plantation agriculture still occur?

    Plantation agriculture still occurs in tropical and subtropical locations such as Puerto Rico.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Fill in the blanks. Plantation agriculture is considered an ____ and ____ farming practice.

    True or false? Plantation agriculture is typically owned by government or a single company who employ a lot of laborers. 

    What is the most suitable climate for plantation agriculture?

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