What kind of 'sustainability' might African Anthropogenic Dark Earths and their social and ecological context point to?
Dr James Fraser, Lancaster Environment Centre
Wednesday 22 May 2013, 1230-1330
LEC Training Room 1
Today we face grand challenges in ensuring food security in the face of climate change. Commentators suggest that 'Anthropogenic Dark Earths' - high fertility carbon rich soils that are most well known as a legacy of pre-Columbian populations in Amazonia - could inspire solutions to achieving 'sustainable intensification,' or 'climate-smart agriculture,' especially in food and climate insecure regions such as West Africa. I will present interdisciplinary research that shows how Loma speaking Mande people in North-western Liberia have been creating and manipulating anthropogenic soils that are analogous to those in the Amazon fairly continuously since the late 1600's. I will show that these soils contribute to food security, livelihoods and biodiversity conservation; and therefore a certain kind of 'sustainability' in the region. The formation and use of these soils, however, is deeply embedded in local ontologies (think landscapes saturated with the presence of ancestors and pervasive initiation societies), in steady-state (rather than growth oriented) economies, and in a society that operates on multi-generational (rather than working-lifetime) timescales. I will argue that attending to the broader social and ecological context in which African Dark Earths form might point to alternative development pathways that are very different to our current growth-at-any-cost model.
James Fraser joined LEC in March 2013 as Lecturer in International Development and Natural Resources. Prior to this he taught Geography and Anthropology for a year at Universidad de Los Andes and Universidad Nacional in Bogota, Colombia. This followed 10 months research in Libeira, West Africa, on a Sussex postdoc. He received his PhD in Environmental Anthropology in 2010 at the University of Sussex, during which he conducted 2 years fieldwork in the Brazilian Amazon. He also holds an MSc (with distinction) in Management of Agricultural Knowledge Systems from Wageningen University (2003), and a BScEcon in Development Studies from the University of Wales, Swansea (2001).