Northwestern Professor Discusses Food Security

Amanda Logan, assistant professor at Northwestern’s Anthropology Department, spoke Friday as a part of the Buffett Center Faculty/Fellow Series. Her talk, entitled “An Archaeology of Food Security in West Africa,” focused on her research in Banda, Ghana.

Amanda Logan wants to disprove a commonly referenced idea surrounding food security in Africa: the idea that farmers are in a time warp, stuck in farming techniques from the past, is “of course, terribly incorrect,” she says.

In an hour-long talk to a mixed group of undergraduate students and faculty, Logan laid out her research about food security pre-colonization. As an anthropologist, she focuses on data that is different than other ways of looking at food security. The materials left behind indicate food habits, so Logan is skilled in taking clues from remains of houses, bots, crops, and animal bones.

The area of Ghana where Logan completed her research is particularly interesting, she said, because of its location in an ecological transition zone. Her conclusions rely on a variety of sources – oral histories, food remains, and archaeological records to trace and identify a location on the spectrum of food security through time.

A home she excavated in Banda showed signs of high food security in the 1484-1660 ranges. A sign of this was proof of ivory production, a financially beneficial activity. At the time, the area was economically connected in the trans-Saharan networks.

The transition in Ghana occurred with the shift of trade networks to capitalize on trading possibilities at the outer coast. Changes in internal and external slave trade occurred, and the Ashanti state fell apart, as Europeans pushed onward.

Logan spoke about the resettlement of individuals between the 1890’s-1920’s and how under the control of the British government, areas with cocoa became the focus. In the meantime, other areas were expected to pay taxes and provide manual labor but saw decreases in economic stimulation. The food security, therefore, suffered.

Talks of food security often revolve around climate patterns, but Logan hopes her research will help transition the discussion to use the traces left behind to better explain that food security in West Africa has changed due to political, economic, and social transitions in time.

The data offered to support Logan’s conclusions, painted a fascinating picture of the concept of resilience to changes in crops and farming styles. She hopes to continue research in the area in the future, expanding the research to include land data, other regions, and social structures.

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