ANTH Colloquium - Amanda Logan (Northwestern University) "The Scarcity Slot: Excavating Histories of African Food Security"

Monday, November 4, 2019 - 12:00pm

3260 South Street, Penn Museum Rm 345

Have the people of Africa always starved? Why is this question rarely posed, and how can it be answered? In this talk, I suggest that much thinking about African agricultural capabilities remains occluded by the scarcity slot, a form of Othering that assumes lack of resources. Combining archaeological, historical, and environmental data with food ethnography, I illustrate how a longue durée approach can combat these stereotypes. Drawing on a case study in Banda, west-central Ghana, I show that people maintained high food security during the worst drought on record in the last millennium, lasting from 1400-1650, in part through diverse economic strategies. I argue that seasonal chronic food insecurity increased in severity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in association with changing labor dynamics and market economies further institutionalized under British colonial rule. This long-term view challenges notions of the African continent as a forever food scarce place, and suggests that the past can act as an inspiration for food secure futures.