Présentation du projet de thèse de Maria do Mar Gago, « Agricultural science and the Portuguese coffee empire (1926-1961) »

Coffee was one of the most important agricultural commodities of the late Portuguese empire, which figured as a key player in the global market. From 1946 onwards Angola was for several years the first exporter among African producers, sharing this position with Uganda and Belgian Congo; in 1974, it was the forth world coffee producer. My thesis is about the emergence of a ‘scientific imperialism’ in Angola during a distinctive phase of development of this Portuguese colony: 1926-1961.

 

The first part of this thesis focuses on the role agricultural scientists played on Angolan coffee production. I will also investigate until what extent, if any did Angola coffee species and systems of cultivation influence imperial scientific policies and the ‘colonial relation’. My goal here is to illuminate the hidden environmental history of Coffea canephora, known as the Robusta coffee. The sources used are mainly agronomists’ reports, not only the ones describing breeding, physiological and chemical experiments, carried out at the experimental stations and colonial laboratories, but the ones resulting from the surveying missions performed by these actors along the Angolan territory.

 

On second part of this thesis I will show how this ‘Portuguese coffee empire’ established in Angola became close connected to the Coffee Rust Research Centre (CIFC), launched in 1955 near Lisbon, and funded by both governments of Portugal and the United States. Firmly rooted in the CIFC’ s correspondence, which has remained intact and untouched until today, I will follow thetrans-imperial (or transnational) circulation of seeds, plant clones and fungus enlisted to participate on a fight against what was considered to be the most dangerous threat to coffee production,Hemileia vastatrix. This is not a story about the impact of a plague, a cultivar or a hybrid. It’s a story about an idea of a plague and how diplomatic, political and even epistemological wedges, separating the ‘free world’ from authoritarian and colonialist Europe, were bracketed, under the sign of ‘scientific cooperation’.

Maria do Mar Gago


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