SfAA Report: Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of Food Insecurity

Colin Thor West
UNC Chapel Hill

Anthropologists from around the world gathered last week at the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA) Annual Meeting in Vancouver, B.C. Dr. Colin Thor West (UNC – Chapel Hill) organized a two part session and roundtable titled ” Rural Livelihoods and Food Security: Ground-Truthing Global Progress.” Global assessments by the UN, FAO, WFP and other international agencies indicate we are making substantial progress toward eradicating hunger worldwide. Participants in this session discussed these positive trends but grounded them in empirical case studies. Collectively, members of the panel emphasized that on-the-ground empirical fieldwork is vital for contextualizing this global progress. Below are some highlights from the papers.

Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of Food Insecurity: The Case of Burkina Faso – Colin Thor West (UNC-CH)

Sub-Saharan Africa remains a region where hunger and food insecurity persist. Participatory ethnographic fieldwork among Mossi rural producers in northern Burkina Faso revealed a general sense of optimism that “famines of the past could never happen again.” West used a variety of secondary data to test this perception and see whether food insecurity has decreased and how this compares with other parts of the country. Using GIS, Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) monthly reports, and USAID Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data, his team assembled a time series of food insecurity indicators. These data allowed them to detect spatial patterns and temporal trends in food insecurity from roughly 2000 to 2010. In one example, they found that the prevalence of childhood stunting decreased across all regions of Burkina Faso between 2003 and 2010 (see Figure 1), but that the northern Sahel Region remains an area where stunting rates exceed 45%.

Child Stunting Burkina Faso

Figure 1. Childhood Stunting in Burkina Faso, 2003 and 2010

Ekiuka and Black Death: Comparing Food Insecurity in Tanzania and St. Lucia – Caela O’Connell (NCSU) and Valerie Foster (Cornell U.)

Black Sigatoka disease is a fungal disease that affects banana plants all around the world. Drs. O’Connell and Foster investigate the implications of this hazard for communities in St. Lucia, a Caribbean island heavily dependent on banana exports, and Buhaya, Tanzania where bananas are an important cash and subsistence crop. In both areas, farmers are becoming increasingly threatened by this fungus as climate change creates warmer and wetter conditions that favor its spread. O’Connell’s fieldwork in St. Lucia documented how climate change and natural hazards interact to quickly turn the lingering threat of Black Sikatoka into a catastrophe (see Figure 2). St. Lucia was hit by Hurricane Tomas in 2010. The fungus was once isolated to a small area but torrential rains, landslides, and wind spread it throughout the entire island. The disease devastated banana farms throughout St. Lucia, but O’Connell’s fieldwork showed that some communities recovered more quickly than others. Communities that rely on communal family lands were less financially¬†vulnerable and able to manage the disease outbreak more easily than those who owned their land privately and owed mortgage and loan payments. Family lands were also less susceptible to the fungal pathogen because these irregular shaped fields have natural vegetation buffers surrounding them that limit windblown spores from reaching the banana plants. In contrast, privately owned lands are surveyed blocks of regular polygons that adjoin one another and contain few or no buffers exposing them to more intense infection. Thus, the people farming family land are financially and environmentally more resilient and food secure to this double threat from agricultural disease and climate change.

St Lucia Banana plantation

Figure 2. St. Lucia Banana Plantation after the Huricane, 2012 – Photo by C. O’Connell

Other panelists presented research on efforts to reduce food insecurity in Alaska, North-East Brazil, Mali, East Africa, and Idaho. They include: Dr. Don Nelson (UGa), Jim Magdanz (UAF), Dr. Lisa Meierotta (Boise State), Dr. Tara Deubel and Micah Boyer (USF), Dr. Kathy Galvin (CSU), and Dr. Philip Loring (U Sask). Dr. J. Terrence McCabe (CU Boulder) and Dr. Timothy J. Finan (UofA) additionally participated along with the audience in the round table.

2 Comments

Filed under anthropology, applied anthropology, food security, SfAA

2 responses to “SfAA Report: Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of Food Insecurity

  1. Luis Alberto Vargas

    In a couple of papers published in Spanish I argue that international and national planning about food insecurity should take in account not only the amount of food available, but also which foods are scarce or have increased cost that diminishes their availability. This is the case of maize in Mexico, our staple or basic food, mostly in the form of tortillas. We have historical records of two civil upheavals due to insufficient maize in the Mesoamerican and Colonial times. In our time the price of tortillas has increased due to the low petroleum sales and the higher cost of the American dollar with respect to the Mexican peso. This is a matter of concern.

  2. troufs

    Colin,
    Thanks for the summary of this session.
    Tim Roufs
    University of Minnesota Duluth

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