Impact of the groundnut
November 8, 2010 8:31 PM   Subscribe

Sources about social and economic impact of groundnut growing in Africa. Groundnut=Peanut

I'm in high school and my teacher is having us make a project presentation on a commodity commonly produced in Africa. I am looking for sources to help my presentation about the social and economic effects of groundnuts and/ or groundnut industries. We have just been looking a the diamond trade in Africa and all its impacts on the world, we even watched Blood Diamond! That's the kind of impacts I'm looking for, just with groundnuts.
posted by andykapahala to Education (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can only speak for one part of eastern Africa, but I'm thinking you may want to pick a different topic. From what I have seen, g-nuts are grown and eaten locally and are not an export crop. For this reason the social and economic impacts are limited, because they are grown and eaten by households who are subsistence farmers (no money changes hands).

Might I suggest sugar? That one jumps out to me because in Uganda the Kakira Sugar Works has all kinds of interesting issues in terms of environmental threats and economic effects, to the point that the government is selling them one of the rare areas of natural jungle they have left in the country. Now that's a Blood Diamond type story in my book.

The largest export crops in that area aside from sugar cane that I have noted are tea and coffee. Most of the subsistence farmers grow low value crops like corn, potatoes, and rice rather than export crops that have high value for weight, like passion fruit or hot peppers.

Looking at something like "bush meat" or poached wildlife products would probably be low hanging fruit for a project like this.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:30 PM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I only have a vaguely tangential knowledge of ground-nuts / peanuts in Africa (looked at it from an environmental/ecological PoV for a uni assignment once), but as I understood it treehorn+bunny is right - production is largely for local use, not export production. Though, if it's an historical case you're after, I do recall the British trying to develop a groundnut oil industry in one of the colonies just after WWII.

Palm oil might be a better subject - while it's more associated with Asia (particularly Indonesia & Malaysia) the oil palm is native to Africa, and I understand there's currently investigations and/or attempts at establishing an export industry on the continent. Plenty of scope to map the problems (environmental, ecological, economic, & social) that are current issues in SE Asia back on to African production (if it's progressed past the investigation stage - I don't know for sure).
posted by Pinback at 10:14 PM on November 8, 2010

treehorn+bunny might be right. It'll certainly be hard to tell a story about the impact of groundnuts that has anything like the instant hook that diamonds have, mostly because any impacts are less obvious and less dramatic. I would also be surprised to problems that are specific to groundnuts the way you see problems particularly associated with diamonds--groundnut impacts are likely to be similar to those from other primary agricultural commodities. So yes, bush meat, palm oil (with its particular associations with the current biofuel craze), oil and mineral extraction would all be more attractive for projects from that perspective. Especially oil--mefimail me if you want sources on that.

That said, groundnuts might provide a case where you could talk about the dangers of countries becoming over-dependent on the export of a single commodity, making them highly vulnerable to changes in the world market. This student case study from American University has a detailed account of this sort of thing with groundnut production in Senegal, with plenty of citations to primary and peer-reviewed sources.

You might want to look into the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme from the last years of British colonialism in Tanzania, which is fairly well-known as a failed development scheme (probably what Pinback had in mind). Here's a recent analysis of the case (if the abstract interests you, email the author with a polite note explaining your project and he'll probably provide you with a pdf). There is a Wikipedia article on the scheme, but it appears to be quite poorly sourced.
posted by col_pogo at 11:06 PM on November 8, 2010

Yeah, I second deciding on a different food. I suggest coffee, it is the blood diamonds of agricultural production.

See coffee is grown as an export commodity and can not be consumed, if a food crises hits you are screwed. No food and no money. If you decide to change look into the Rwanda food crises and the coffee price decline. Basically Rwanda was producing coffee, coffee prices went down on a global level because the market fell out. All of a sudden there was no money and no food, rioting and bad stuff insures and farmers rip out fully grown plants and start growing food again. Rwanda still pushes farmers to grow export crops.

If not look into the triangle food trade with the US and southern African nations. They will not accept GMO's because they want to sell their food to the EU and so they turned down US aid for starving nations. They came up with a plan to mill all incoming grain so it would not be planted and create GMO crops.

Basically if you want to write a paper on a blood diamond food, local nuts are not going to be it. Look for export foods, they tend to cause the most drama.
posted by Felex at 11:11 PM on November 8, 2010

If you're trying to find something to get irate about, in a "they're ruining their soil to grow crops for export" way, then peanuts really are a bad choice. Since peanuts are legumes, and fix nitrogen, they improve the soil. (That's why George Washington Carver tried so hard to convince his farmers to switch to growing peanuts.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:31 PM on November 8, 2010

Well... just from a quick google, there does seem to be a massive international demand for groundnuts, groundnut oil, pressed groundnut paste (for animal feed), etc.

So I'd guess you'd want to start by defining the fact that (eg) Senegelase or Nigerian peanuts are traded internationally, working out where they're traded (ie where is the actual buying and selling done), finding out who buys them, and then establishing what they're used for.

Then I'd guess some of the things you want to look at are stuff like:

Does groundnut production for home consumption by subsistence farmers improve or worsen traditional diets? Do people eat their own groundnuts, or only sell them?
Did the introduction of groundnut production enable people who were previously subsistence farmers to raise a cash crop?
Did changing over to partial cash cropping strengthen or weaken the economic position of the farmers doing it?
-eg did they need to buy seed, did buying seed leave them vulnerable to money lenders, did they have more children as a result of a perceived strengthening of their position, but then get wiped out by the first drought or bad local epidemic of whatever disease peanuts get, etc.
-another eg did having access to a cash crop lead to population increases that then led to urban immigration, thereby creating slums and overwhelming social service provision in cities. Or did it just give farmers a chance to send their kids to school?
Did the introduction of large scale commercial groundnut production undermine small farmers?
-eg could small farmers match the production costs and sale prices achieved through the used of technological and industrial farming methods?
Did the very presence of an international market mean that local elites stole the land of small farmers for commercial cropping?
On the environmental front, do either small scale or large scale groundnut farms improve or deplete the soil?

If you search google on any of those fronts - eg "subsistence groundnut production africa" or "groundnuts diet africa" or "small/large scale (or industrial/commercial) groundnut cropping africa" or "soil depletion groundnuts africa" - you should start to get hits on some useful articles.

And just a thought, you might do better picking a single country than trying to cover the whole of Africa.
posted by Ahab at 11:32 PM on November 8, 2010

I don't have much to add past the first answer you got - groundnuts is going to be pretty tough to get solid data on, IMHO. Seconding coffee, tea, or sugar (I live in east Africa, work in western, southern, and eastern, fwiw).

Another interesting non-food one that could make for good discussion is flowers - east Africa, particularly Kenya, supplies a lion's share of Europe's flowers, if what I've read about the industry is indeed accurate.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:36 AM on November 9, 2010

Another commodity of interest may be vanilla. Which is seeing growth in Africa as alternative to more traditional sources. You have an emerging export market and a information rich global market history.
posted by jadepearl at 5:29 AM on November 9, 2010

Depending on how much time you have before the project is due, you might try reading The World and a Very Small Place in Africa, which is about the groundnut industry in the Gambia. From one of the reviews on Amazon:
"The nation of Numi (which is now part of The Gambia and Senegal) was proud and completely self sufficient, mostly through its own agriculture. Its trading relations served only to provide luxuries that people desired, but not what they required. With European expansion, Numi became dependent on European traders for staple food supplies while supplying peanuts to European buyers, with prices set in Europe -- i.e., the global model of trade we have now."
posted by rebekah at 7:30 AM on November 9, 2010

Here's a story about how groundnut cultivation all went wrong for the British in Africa just after WWII - gives some interesting insight to the topic of groundnut cultivation in Africa.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:40 AM on November 9, 2010

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