Sharecropping is a system of farming in which farmers work a parcel of land which they do not own, in return for a fraction of the parcel's crop production. The system occurred extensively in colonial Africa, came into use in the United States during the Reconstruction era (1865-1876), and is used in many rural poor areas today, notably in India.


United States

Sharecropping developed as a response to economic upheaval caused by the emancipation of slaves in the agricultural South. Plantations had relied on slave labor and were unable to function without it. Similarly, slaves relied on plantation owners for food and shelter. Following emancipation, sharecropping came to be an economic arrangement that largely maintained the status quo through legal means. Sharecroppers worked a section of the plantation independently, often growing cotton, and received a very small percent of the parcel's output. Though the arrangement protected sharecroppers from the negative effects of a bad crop, many sharecroppers were economically confined to slave-like conditions of poverty. To work the land, sharecroppers must buy seed and implements, typically from the plantation owner who may charge exorbitant prices against the sharecropper's next season. Arrangements also typically gave half or less of the crop to the sharecropper, and the sale price was typically set by the landowner. Thus both the cost of production and price of sale were both largely controlled by the land owner, with the sharecropper having little if any margin for profit. These factors made sharecroppers dependent on the plantation owners in a way similar to slavery. The sharecropping system in the U.S. continued up to the era of the Great Depression when many share croppers moved to the industrial north.


In colonial South Africa sharecropping was a feature of the agricultural life. White farmers, who owned most of the land, were frequently unable to work the whole of their farm for lack of capital. They therefore allowed black farmers to work the excess on a sharecropping basis. The 1913 Natives Land Act outlawed the ownership of land by blacks in areas designated for white ownership, and effectively reduced the status of most sharecroppers to tenant farmers and then to farm labourers. In the 1960s generous subsidies to white farmers meant that most farmers could now afford to work their entire farms, and sharecropping virtually disappeared.

The arrangement has reappeared in other African countries in modern times, including Zimbabwe.

Modern sharecropping

A variation on this system still exists in places like rural Montana as a way for landowners to farm their land without owning the required equipment. It goes by names like "custom haying." As an example, a landowner might have 50 acres (202,000 m²) of land, which would be capable of producing roughly 300 tons of alfalfa in a year. At a market rate of US$75 per ton, the annual revenue from sale of the alfalfa would be insufficient to justify purchasing a tractor, swather, baler, and the other equipment required for modern hay farming. The solution is to have a modern-day sharecropper provide all of the equipment and do all of the work in return for a share of the crop (typically half or more).

This system is in widespread use in the midwestern Corn Belt today though it is rarely called that. The farmer provides all of the labor and machinery while the landowner provides the land. Typically fertilizer and herbicide costs are shared between the two. They also share the income from the crops harvested. Arrangements vary from community to community. In Illinois some share on a 50/50 basis while others share 60% to the farmer and 40% to the landowner. Some less productive land is shared at 2/3 to the farmer and 1/3 to the landowner, though this arrangement is disappearing. Strangely this system just goes by the name "rented land" as opposed to another method called "cash rent". Cash rent is a system whereby the farmer pays the landowner a set cash fee to farm the ground every year. The farmer then keeps all of the income.

These systems are not a form of exploitation of either party but serve to allow farmers to farm and landowners to earn money from their property.

See also

External links

The term sharecropping has also become common in Science fiction criticism, by analogy with the agricultural system, to describe the practice of authors writing stories within another author's established setting (usually for an anthology with the setting's owner's name most prominently displayed on the book cover)


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