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Climate, ecosystem resilience and the slave trade

Fenske, James and Kala, Namrata (2012): Climate, ecosystem resilience and the slave trade.

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Abstract

African societies exported more slaves in colder years. Lower temperatures reduced mortality and raised agricultural yields, lowering the cost of supplying slaves. Our results help explain African participation in the slave trade, which is associated with adverse outcomes today. We merge annual data on African temperatures with a panel of port-level slave exports to show that a typical port exported fewer slaves in a year when the local temperature was warmer than normal. This result is strongest where African ecosystems are least resilient to climate change, and is robust to several alternative specifications and robustness checks. We support our interpretation using evidence from the histories of Whydah, Benguela, and Mozambique.

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