A plantation economy is an economy which is based on agricultural mass production, usually of a few staple products grown on large farms called plantations. Plantation economies rely on the export of cash crops as a source of income. Prominent plantation crops included cotton, rubber, sugar cane, tobacco, figs, rice, kapok, sisal and indigo. The longer a crop's harvest period, the more efficient plantations are. Scale economies are also achieved by long distances to markets and reduction in the crop's size. Plantation crops also differ in that they need processing immediately after harvesting. Sugar, tea sisal and palm oil are most suited to plantations, coconuts, rubber and cotton to a lesser extent.
Regions with plantation economies have usually been in the southern United States, South America, the Caribbean, and Africa. Fordlândia is a 20th century example of a plantation economy. Plantation economies are also historically associated with slavery, particularly in the Americas. Plantation economies usually benefit the large countries to which they are exporting, which usually manufacture the raw materials grown on the plantations into goods which are then traded back to the plantation economy. Throughout most of history, the countries receiving the crops have usually been in Western Europe.
Sugar has a long history as a plantation crop. Growing had to follow a precise, scientific system in order to profit from the production. Sugar plantations everywhere were disproportionate consumers of labor—often enslaved—owing to the high mortality of the plantation laborers.
The slaves working the sugar plantation were caught in an unceasing rhythm of arduous labor year after year. Sugarcane is harvested about 18 months after planting and the plantations usually divided their land for efficiency. One plot was lying fallow, one plot was growing cane, and the final plot was being harvested. During the December–May rainy season, slaves planted, fertilized with animal...