On the politics of food

Or maize.

Today we take a break from that strand of critique of capitalism and politicians to talk about something that is close to your stomachs or mine in this particular case.

I am presently reading Siaya: the historical anthropology of an African Landscape by Cohen and Atieno Odhiambo and in a chapter on hunger, they make some very interesting comments, to wit

The consumption of white maize meal has been associated in Siaya with the process referred to as ‘westernization’. Maize first entered the local economy through the intervention of the colonial government, an intervention that involved pressure.

But you all, by now, know that’s not all why I am writing this post.

They say

For the people of Siaya, maize is both a part of what is viewed as progress and a part of what they term disaster.

Why disaster?

[ ]The adoption of maize as a cash crop also involved a new cultivation practice: planting in rows, with a second weeding to remove the undergrowth. These practices caused soil erosion which by 1930s resulted in continuous famine that has plagued Uyoma and lower Asembo people for decades.

Had the introduction of maize been beneficial to the people of Siaya, there would be no concern. But our authors note

Within the households it has long been recognised that whatever the claims for maize, the actual yields per hectare relative to sorghum and millet on a cultivated plot are not in fact superior, particularly when nutritional value is taken into account.

They continue to note

Despite this evidence, for eight decades now, the official voice has not relented in its sponsorship of maize as the preferred food crop in Siaya.

One should note here that by introducing a crop as a cash crop, the goal was not food sufficiency for the locals but for export. In the end we have manufactured famine and food shortages since local foods, that are nutritious, are relegated to the back burner without funds for improving their varieties.

They write

For the authorities, maize has virtues as a national grain, as a potential export crop, and as an agent of of the commodification of agriculture and the expansion of a regulated cash economy into the countryside. But for recent and present Siaya, maize means hunger.

It is unfortunate this circumstance has not changed many years later.

Happy Saturday friends.

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