#15th Anniversary of the Institute - Mor Ndao: Eating and drinking in Senegambia over time: historical perspectives

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As part of the celebrations for the Institute's 15th anniversary, a call for papers has been issued to all former Fellows and members of the Scientific Advisory Board. One simple rule, submit a short text on one of the following themes:

  • Variation on ‘Inhabiting the world differently’.
  • Imagination: what will the Institut d'études avancées de Nantes be like in 15 years' time?

Here are their answers!

Ciel de Nantes

Eating and drinking in Senegambia over time: historical perspectives

Mor Ndao

          It is accepted that food and nutritional problems are, in fact, the result of a complex situation in which several factors interact: climatic hazards, eating habits, socio-cultural considerations, health problems and living standards.

J.P Aron gives a perfect illustration of this when he writes: ‘A fact of culture, food is also a biological fact. As a result, medical-physiological analysis in its early days took shape on the complex horizon of a common ground where the chemical phenomena of digestion rub shoulders not only with culinary recipes and gastronomic reveries, but also with moral or moralistic observations"[1]. Generally speaking, traditional diets are a function of resources and, even if they do not always meet all needs, they reflect an adaptation to the environment.

An analysis of general dietary conditions in Senegal shows the predominance of a diet dominated by cereals and fluctuating seasonal rhythms, with alternating periods of abundance followed by periods of shortages and lean periods marked by seasonal vitamin deficiencies.

       The food and nutrition situation is subject to an annual cycle and seasonal variations marked by very low energy cover during the rainy season. Moreover, food consumption is at its lowest in the middle of the rainy season (August and September). This phenomenon, which is more pronounced in rural than in urban areas, puts young children, the prime targets of malnutrition, at greater risk.

      The establishment of dependency structures under colonisation, with the introduction of cash crops, particularly groundnuts, inevitably led to dysfunctions in the local food system. From the 19th century onwards, Senegal's economic space was largely shaped, indeed defined, by the colonial system (Mbodj M., 1992, p.97). Indeed, ‘at that time, France had unified natural regions and traditional political areas which already had similarities between them and which, above all, maintained more or less regular economic relations, into a territorial unit known as Senegal’ (Mbodj M, 1992, p. 97).

        The abolition of the slave trade was followed by the introduction of a policy of agricultural ‘development’ based on cash crops (indigo-cotton and especially groundnuts). After the failure of the agricultural colonisation experiment (1817-1833) in the Senegal delta (Bathily A., 1991, p.60), the colonial regime attached capital importance to groundnut production in the upper valley. The extension and relocation of the groundnut basin from the second half of the 20th century onwards, the monetarisation of the economy and the tax system imposed by the colonial administration forced farmers to start growing groundnuts (Ndao M., 2015, p. 51).

       Based on this observation, this study attempts to answer the following questions: Through what mechanisms did the colonial system, thanks to groundnut cultivation, gradually place Senegal in the process of food dependence? What are the changes in food tastes and behaviour? What role did the outside world play in the emergence of new diets?



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