Monday, February 14, 2011

I Heart Food Systems

For Valentine's Day, a subject close to my heart.  Food systems!  Yay!  

In America, most people get their food from the supermarket.  This is changing in some places, as people become more concerned where their food comes from, and discover the joys of CSAs, farmers’ markets, and home production.  But, for the most part, we buy our food at the supermarket, and few of us are responsible for producing the food that we eat.

Not so in Senegal.  Here, food production and distribution is a much more decentralized, democratic, and civic activity.  I’ve taken to calling it an in-your-face food system because food is everywhere.  It wanders the street, it’s on top of peoples’ heads, in the backs of their cars, in their backyards/frontyards/sideyards, vacant lots, extra spots of land at businesses, etc, etc, etc.  In general, average citizens shoulder much of the responsibility of keeping themselves fed.

I’m going to hold off on critiquing food systems with this post.  I’ve actually got another post in the works that does that.  But, what I want to state clearly is that, generally, I think that people in the US think of African food systems (when/if they think of Africa at all) as backwards, inefficient, impoverished, and unproductive.   This is not my experience here.  Very often, if people are not eating here, it is because they don’t have money to buy food, not because there is no food. Those lines sometimes get blurred, which has allowed the corporate agri-food companies to wield an inordinate amount of influence over how agricultural development is conducted, as well as to unduly influence terms of global trade.

Okay…so, now onto some pictures of the food system here in M’bour.

From my doorstep, here are some of the things I can buy.





The fish and langouste were caught that day, the eggs were probably laid within the last 24 hours.  The veggies were grown in close proximity to town, so didn't have to travel thousands of miles to get to my kitchen, thus wasting inordinate amounts of energy.  I can also get many different kinds of fruit, and, believe it or not, several varieties of goat cheese, made from the milk of goats here in town.  None of it is packaged and processed, and all of it is fresh.

Fresh fish and meat from chickens, pigs, goats, sheep and cattle, slaughtered daily, is widely available at the local markets:




But, people commonly kill their own meat at their houses, too.

While we're at it, I might as well show you the picture of the chicken that I killed.  Okay, yes, I've only killed one chicken in my life, but at least I know I can do it.

Food wanders the streets (this next one is actually from my trip last year to a different town in Senegal):

and is produced in small, in-between spaces:

Just a few days ago, one of the farmers in my study filled my backpack with eggplant and hot pepper produced on a relatively small space next to her house.  Yum.

This next one is in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal:


Of course, much food is also produced on large, rural tracts of land.  This next one is of rice fields in the southern part of Senegal:






As I said, I won't get into the implications too deeply here.  What is important to realize is that just because the food system is different, and does not resemble a 'modern' system, does not mean it is unproductive.

4 comments:

  1. "What is important to realize is that just because the food system is different, and does not resemble a 'modern' system, does not mean it is unproductive."

    Stephanie, some of these photos show quite an abundance of food that you describe - definitely not "unproductive". (And that one with the lovely eggplants and red peppers is especially nice, including the tile floor on which the bowl is resting:)
    How is the food production in M'bour over a full year (I checked & see that it's very near the Atlantic coast)? Are there periods when very little can be grown and harvested due to climate conditions? I expect that conditions may be very different in other parts of Senegal.
    How are the storage methods for local usage? And how much of the abundance (like seen here) makes its way to markets at a distance? In this last I'm thinking of how much wastage from spoilage may occur.
    Is there some division of crops raised by locale according to expertise/environment and therefore trade by growers or entrepreneur middlemen?

    One last question... are the individuals raising crops/tending herds on their own land? What is the status of private land ownership in at least the area on which you are writing this piece?
    Oops, that was 2 questions :)

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  2. Food is produced in M'bour year round. One of the obstacles to production in the dry season is lack of water, and that obstacle doesn't exist in the rainy season. Though the heat of the rainy season prevents people from growing some veggies. The rainy season is when most of the staple crops are grown, such as millet, corn, sorghum, black eyed peas and peanuts.

    Storage method would depend on what crop we're talking about.

    I couldn't give you numbers on how much food is transported out of M'Bour. All of the gardeners and farmers in my study sell locally.

    I don't understand this question-"Is there some division of crops raised by locale according to expertise/environment and therefore trade by growers or entrepreneur middlemen?"

    People in my study generally raise crops on borrowed land. Can you clarify what you mean by 'status of private land ownership?' I suppose I can say that when it comes right down to it, the state owns all land. But, individuals (including women) can 'own' land. It's really more like a lease...but they are allowed to buy and sell it, and land is appreciating here at a zillion miles per hour.

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  3. Thanks for the info Stephanie.

    Do the growers irrigate in some manner during the dry season or just not grow certain/many/all items?

    "I couldn't give you numbers on how much food is transported out of M'Bour. All of the gardeners and farmers in my study sell locally."
    From this I interpret that you are doing research on a certain number of individuals and that they use themselves or sell locally all that they grow. Also that other growers outside your study group do "export" out of the area, but how much of what they grow is "exported", you do not know.

    My previous question, "Is there some division of crops raised by locale according to expertise/environment and therefore trade by growers or entrepreneur middlemen?" - is to understand if certain growers specialize in certain crops (due to their own expertise or the location/appropriateness of their land) and trade with others or use middlemen (like the seller of the 50lb potatoes sold on "credit" to the market owner by an apparent middleman so that you could purchase a few - on another entry). It's the degree of specialization that I'm trying to get a handle on.

    "People in my study generally raise crops on borrowed land."
    Is this like the little plots of typically unbuildable land that some residents of various cities in certain regions of North America make use of for gardens after getting permission from the land owners, often the city government - until those owners do arrange some permanent usage?

    "I suppose I can say that when it comes right down to it, the state owns all land."
    Do you mean outright - by declaration/law - or by virtue of the fact that governments can, will and do seize land when property taxes (which they determine of course) are not paid?

    "But, individuals (including women) can 'own' land. It's really more like a lease...but they are allowed to buy and sell it,"
    If it's truly a lease of land from the government which has declared its ownership of all land - I'm assuming all of Senegal, so please correct me if that's not the case - it does put the lessee (the lease holder) at somewhat more risk, then if s/he had true ownership, of being dispossessed if the government decides to not renew and lease to someone else. But then governments all over the world have been known to - and sometimes with regularity - dispossess land owners even when there are no delinquent taxes....

    "and land is appreciating here at a zillion miles per hour."
    I did a quick web search (and recall George Ayittey's Economist debate last year) and see that there are Saudis and Chinese (mostly gov, but I can't tell for sure if its individuals in some cases) wanting to lease large amounts of agricultural land in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

    Thanks again, Stephanie.

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  4. Yes, growers need to irrigate and do it in a number of ways, most often by hand.

    Yes, I am doing research on certain number of growers. Yes, stuff is transported out, but I don't know how much. And there are expat operations working in the area.

    Yes. Certain growers specialize in certain crops, while other growers grow a wide range of vegetables and fruits. Most of the farmers in my study grow several things over space and time. Some things are sold to neighbors, some things are sold in the market, some things are sold to people who come by the gardens and buy them. People have a number of options how they sell things. It's very dynamic, and there's not any one way that people do things.

    People who may buy land may not be able to build on it right away because they don't have money, so, very often, if that piece of land has a fence and a well, some enterprising individual will plant something there.

    Land tenure is a complicated thing, and I imagine, varies by place. You'd probably get a better handle on it by doing a search online. It is part of my study here, but, thus far, I've not gotten a complete handle on it, so can't really say exactly how it works in M'Bour.

    From http://www.fao.org/docrep/007/j2815e/j2815e04.htm:
    The 1964 law on the “domaine national” abrogated customary land tenure and nationalized most of the land. The State is the exclusive trustee of this land and is responsible for its management. The domaine national is subdivided into four categories:

    Urban zones (zones urbaines);

    Zones for special use (zones classées);

    Zones used for agricultural production (zones de terroir); and

    Development zones (zones pionnières), which remain under the control of the state.

    In Senegal, land administration is closely linked to decentralization, in place since the early 1970s and reformed in 1996. In rural areas, rural councils (“communautés rurales”) are responsible for the management of land and natural resources in their territory (zones de terroir). They can allocate land to those who can show they develop and use it productively (“mise en valeur”). Farmers who use their land productively have their access to this land protected by law.

    The Chinese, from what I can tell, are not as active here in Senegal, but there are expat land owners who seem to export pretty much everything they grow.

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