Throughout history, the global economic state has largely been dependent on commodities’ development. A prime example of this is a progressive trend observed through the 18th and 19th centuries that illustrate wide-scale economic changes due to the commoditisation of various items. Peanuts, cotton, and diamonds have engendered similar effects to the extent of changes not only monetarily, but also in leadership and working-class positions. Each of these commodities’ effects illustrates broader implications on the economic landscapes of countries in India and Africa, as well as much of the Western World, especially Europe. The global economy, an amalgamation of the socio-economic states of many nations worldwide, has thus been affected as well. Unifying the instances of cottons, diamonds, and peanuts leads to a more encyclopedic deduction: commodities have altered the global economy by changing dynamics of interdependence in trade, revenue, and working classes, while ultimately benefiting the Europeans, often to the detriment of other continental regions.
In the 17th to 19th centuries, the landscape of trade was completely changed in most parts of India, and countries in Africa and Europe, namely South Africa, France, and Senegal, largely due to the new canvas of commodity market value from diamonds and peanuts. Peanuts were scaled to Africa during the 1830s after their expansion from Portugal during the 1500s. A short time after their discovery in Portugal, peanuts were brought to the Sahel Region, where they were used in both culinary and medicinal fashions by the different peoples of West Africa. Similar to peanuts, the recognition diamond received as a commodity also began in the 1500s, where a majority were mined out of South Africa, or fished out of rivers and mined in India, which subsequently piqued the interest of elites in Europe. As a large diamond player, India saw its entire trade infrastructure restructured around diamonds, even employing diamond experts known as Mandalins to cut and shape diamonds for their usage in wealthy individual’s embroidery. Peanuts also led to a similar change in Senegal, where the legume was extremely well received by European customers in the 19th century, and farmers also began basing their environmental agriculture on the movement of the peanut trade.
However, through the 1800s, the ebb and flow of both peanuts and diamonds as commodities led to drastic changes. From the 18th and 19th centuries, India began to experience a decline in their diamonds, which led them to focus more on crops and produce, while Brazil began to remodel and shift towards a diamond-centric wealthy trade economy as they began to mine more and meet demand. As peanuts became more profitable in the 1800s, European corporations were able to capitalise on the trade focus and monopolise the market, making the African upper classes – who were once profiting – cheaper suppliers.
During the 19th century, trade was constant in Africa and South America, and their sought-after goods were focal points that sparked their interactions with European countries, which led to changes in their revenue streams. By the mid-19th century, African exports of peanuts had skyrocketed to nearly 30,000 tons, a majority of which were sent to France. This was the beginning of an epoch in African and European history. Almost concurrently, demand for raw cotton (a material whose origin and date of discovery are unknown, but typically attributed to early century Mali) in numerous West African colonies, such as Senegal and Mali. These countries started trading with North America, and some countries in Europe, which fuelled Western industrialisation. These interactions were remunerative for the Western parties. Unfortunately, both cash crops from West Africa led to apparent exploitation against them. Due to The Gambia and Senegal’s dependence on peanut profits, they were subjected to slave cultivation and the institution of French currency. America’s increased demand for cotton also affected West African colonies significantly; they purposefully caused the value of raw cotton to deflate, and the value of cotton products they produced to inflate, preventing the West Africans from making larger profits by creating their finished cotton products. Interestingly, the prevalence of commodities led to changes in revenue for West Africa, which caused multiple negative economic effects for West Africa and positive trends for the Western World, which can still be partially observed today.
The effects of commodities on the global economy result in an important integration with those at the lower end of social hierarchy; peanuts, cotton, and diamonds throughout the 17th to 19th-century time frame increased the prominence of slave and low-income work. Each of these commodities has been historically mined or cultivated by slaves. Separate from this historical context, low-income individuals were also heavily disenfranchised due to the rapid spread of these commodities globally, particularly the high demands for them in various European countries. Preceding peanuts and cotton, diamond demands increased rapidly up through the 17th century, and major diamond producers, such as India and South Africa, and later Brazil, used those with the lowest financial status to complete the backbreaking manual labour. This led to an even larger economic divide, as well as contention and internal conflict surrounding the commodity as a whole, which subsequently resulted in the coining of the term blood diamonds, as thousands of individuals died as a result of mining for them. In totality, this was a negative impact on the diamond economy in major producers. Then, in the 18th and 19th centuries, cotton production to meet the demands for the industrial revolution offered low-wage or no pay hourly work for cotton picking, which was also perpetuated by settlers in Algeria. Practically synonymously, the peanut trade on a small island off of Senegal called Gorée Island was used by the French for African-slave run peanut farms, which were then converted to wealthy export hotspots after the slave trade declined in the 19th century. However, many freed slaves went back to Gorée island for employment on the peanut farms after French Abolition, which was a low-paying occupation. The effects of each of these commodities display a cycle of misutilisation by wealthy parties to create high profit and economical supply chains from lower-income individuals.
Overall, the effects of each of these commodities – and many profitable goods from the 17th to the 19th century – on the global economy demonstrates a very skewed overall impact that very heavily benefits the Western World, and wealthier areas in other continents, but a negative impact on what is considered “3rd world areas”. In trade, revenue, and the working class, the effects of peanuts, diamonds, and cotton in each of these sectors elucidate the inversely proportional trend between success in the Western world and economic degeneration in other continents. In contemporary society, the effects of this trend are still being realized, and are slowly being reversed as the shift to an inclusive economy occurs.
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