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Distributing Responsibilities in an Agricultural Ecosystem

Insights from the Lake Naivasha Water Basin in Kenya

Gaële Rouillé-Kielo

This article explores the responses to acknowledged anthropogenic transformations of Lake Naivasha in Kenya, whose ecosystem is considered to have been disturbed by the intensification of agricultural uses of natural resources (notably land and water) over the last half century. It examines the ways in which a “payments for environmental services” (PES) project has been implemented, reflecting the rationale of ecological modernization. This article aims to challenge the environmental narrative that supports the project by revealing its oversimplifications. Empirical data demonstrates how the environmental issues addressed by the project are embedded in historically inherited land trajectories. This in turn forces us to reflect on the necessary question of responsibility, an issue at the heart of the debate since the emergence of the Anthropocene concept.

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Fragile Transfers

Index Insurance and the Global Circuits of Climate Risks in Senegal

Sara Angeli Aguiton

In recent years, Senegal’s developed a program of index insurance to cover farmers from economic losses due to drought. I investigate this emerging market in light of Jane Guyer’s question: “What is a ‘risk’ as a transacted ‘thing’?” To grasp the social practices required to make “rainfall deficit” a transferable risk, I explore the climate and market infrastructure that brings it into existence and follows actors who function as brokers allowing the risk to circulate from Senegalese fields to the global reinsurance industry. I show that the strategies set up to convince farmers to integrate a green and rational capitalist management of climate risks are very fragile, and the index insurance program only endures because it is embedded in the broader political economy of rural development based on debt and international aid.

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Hesitant Recognition

Toward a Crop Ontology among Sugar Beet Farmers in Western Poland

Dong Ju Kim

In response to climate change, sustainability has become the keyword for exploring alternative ways of cultivation in different parts of the world. However, local farmers still understand these sustainable alternatives in terms of soil nutrients and their absorption by crops. I examine how sugar beet farmers in western Poland read the condition of crops and field conditions, and accordingly try to cope with agricultural droughts in spring and early summer. While they maintain a practical position that is extremely inductivist, they simultaneously allow for symbolic, indexical meanings. These meanings of farming practices are multilayered and evoke relationships, local histories, and traditions. The farmers accept the reality of climate change only hesitantly, and their aspiration of gaining recognition in Europe has only started to penetrate the multilayered indexical meanings of farming practices.

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Introduction

Agri-cultures in the Anthropocene

Martin Skrydstrup and Hyun-Gwi Park

Today when we think about climate change and Greenland, we do not think about agriculture, but of the melting ice. Perhaps the most evocative articulation of this connection was made in December 2015, when Paris was hosting the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP21. At this event, artist Olafur Elisasson and geologist Minik Rosing exhibited their art installation Ice Watch at the Place du Pantheon: a circle of icebergs with a circumference of twenty meters, which resembled a watch ticking and/or a compass providing orientation for the world’s leaders in the palm of Paris. The ice had been transported by tugboat from the harbor of Nuuk—Greenland’s capital—to France. The captain of the tugboat was Kuupik Kleist, former prime minister of Greenland, who was quoted saying: “Ninety per cent of our country is covered by ice. It is a great part of our national identity. We follow the international discussion, of course, but to every Greenlander, just by looking out the window at home, it is obvious that something dramatic is happening” (Zarin 2015).

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Hyun-Gwi Park

This article presents an ethnographic study of watermelon cultivators in the Russian Far East and how they approach and respond to climatic risk. For watermelon cultivators, the spatial boundaries of climatic risk are perceived as the baseline condition for the watermelon market, in which cultivators compete with each other by dealing with uncertainties caused by weather changes. While the market is linked to the spatial boundaries of climatic risk, this connection is only meaningful when there are weather changes that differently affect individuals within the boundary; weather changes that affect individual performance in the competitive watermelon market is perceived according to a recursive and cyclic timescale, rather than a linear one as discussed by most theories of the Anthropocene.

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People, Clouds, and Roots

Between the Unseen, the Seen, and the Unforeseen

Yunita T. Winarto, Sue Walker and Rhino Ariefiansyah

Various studies reveal the paradox of farmers’ local knowledge. Farmers are equipped with traditional cosmology and detailed empirical knowledge of their agricultural habitats. However, these same knowledge frameworks seem to contribute to entrapping farmers in a mind-set that prevents them from understanding the diverse unintended consequences of changes in their environment. To avoid this, we utilize the learning arena of science field shops (SFSs) to help farmers better understand the relationships at work from the “clouds to the roots and in between”, and to address ongoing changes and vulnerabilities in the environment. This article seeks to explain the changes that occurred to farmers following the learning they acquired from SFSs and its impact on their anticipation and decision making.

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Marilyn Strathern

This stimulating collection puts agriculture into current conversations on the Anthropocene. In particular it relates, as an effect of the impetus toward defining responsibility, the contemporary sense of urgency that makes “us” find new reasons for thinking of humankind as a whole. The articles carefully unpick this holism, both in terms of people’s varying relations to the circumstances of cultivation or marketing and in terms of populations being divided through offsetting or knowledge-distribution strategies. It is a small extrapolation to observe that the same must be true of the particularity of crops: no more than persons can they be lumped together.

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The Weatherman

The Making of Prepared Farmers and the Postcolonial Predictive State in Kenya

Martin Skrydstrup

This article explores weather forecasting as an emergent technology of governmentality through a detailed ethnography of the ways in which the relationships between weather and crops are rendered knowable in a two-day “participatory scenario planning” (PSP) workshop in Naromoru in the Central Highlands of Kenya. Farmers were “made into meteorologists” and developed their preparedness for hazards, impacts, opportunities, strategies, and responsibilities within the context of facing El Niño. The ethnography targets seemingly novel ways of preparing farmers for El Niño. I argue that the PSP served two principal functions: (1) to redistribute responsibilities of the farmers themselves by making them into “meteorologists”; and (2) to integrate “scientific expertise” with “local knowledge” to generate public trust in the metrological institutions of the postcolonial predictive state.

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The Academic Reserve

Israel's Fast Track to High-Tech Success

Gil Baram and Isaac Ben-Israel

Why is Israel world-renowned as the ‘start-up nation’ and a leading source of technological innovation? While existing scholarship focuses on the importance of skill development during Israel Defense Forces (IDF) service, we argue that the key role of the Academic Reserve has been overlooked. Established in the 1950s as part of David Ben-Gurion’s vision for a scientifically and technologically advanced defense force, the Academic Reserve is a special program in which the IDF sends selected high school graduates to earn academic degrees before they complete an extended term of military service. After finishing their service, most participants go on to contribute to Israel’s successful high-tech industry. By focusing on the role of the Academic Reserve, we provide a broader understanding of Israel’s ongoing technological success.

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Moisés Orfali

This discussion of the processes of Spanish acculturation among Moroccan Jews deals with influences that Spanish Jews brought to Morocco both before and after 1492, especially their regulations establishing a considerable improvement in the status of Jewish women and restrictions on expenditure on the occasion of family celebrations. In accordance with the Valladolid Takkanot (1432), they forbade the wearing of certain jewellery and the display of valuable finery. These social and ethical-religious measures also expressed a concern not to expose property and people to the envy of non-Jews. The megorashim (newcomers from Spain) spread the Castilian custom of ritual slaughter of animals for consumption. The re-Hispanisation of the Judeo-Spanish language (Ḥaketía) was consciously considered among the descendants of the megorashim as part of their Spanish identity and collective memory.