Accepted Paper:

The tree against hunger is dying: a critical commentary on brave crops, resilient farmers, and sustainable food choices which policymakers have purposely neglected in southern Ethiopia  


Valentina Peveri (The American University of Rome (AUR))

Paper Short Abstract:

Enset cultivation/culture is a successful, environmentally friendly and risk-free system, and yet it is arbitrarily stigmatized as a ‘poor’ food. This paper provides an emic approach to hunger, food security, and poverty, and reflects upon the destiny of socio- and bio-diversity of rural communities.

Paper long abstract:

The enset is the least studied domesticated plant in Africa. Only as recently as 1997 did the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture recognize it as a source of national wealth. Yet, in terms of food and economic security, this tree has been described as a kind of 'bank'. The crop is an important staple for over 20 millions people in south-central Ethiopia, where it is mostly grown by smallholder farmers. These populations have never starved, even during the tragic drought of the 1970s and '80s. The enset and its cultivators represent examples of resilience in challenging situations: the former as a sustainable food against hunger, the latter as a potential breaking point in mainstream politics of development.

The production of this ancient crop is greatly threatened by a bacterial wilt disease which attacks all its varieties, as scientists have failed to find any genes of resistance after over 30 years of research. Enset has always been an orphan tree and has received less attention from policymakers as compared to cereals and cash crops. The history of enset sheds light on a case of intersection between the policy of a military conquest, land management, and a cultural campaign, when the élites' need of publicly acceptable, representative foods has resulted in the manipulation of specific tastes. Each time I meet the Hadiya farmers they ask me to save their dying enset; this paper aims at bringing to the fore this case of sustainability, as well as the social and political aspects of an alternative food system.

Panel P081
Sustainably solving the causes and consequences of the global food crisis: new roles, multi-decade challenges and expanded opportunities for anthropologists to provide significant aid