Institut für Sozialanthropologie

Prof. Dr. Haller, Tobias

Foodways in West Africa: An integrated approach on pots, animals and plants

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By Anne Mayor (University of Geneva, Switzerland, Tobias Haller (University of Bern, Switzertland, Martine Regert (University of Côte d’Azur, France)

Financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation, Switzerland (Singergia project funding for 4 years (2020-2024)

Food as social, economic and cultural marker has emerged as a topic of great scholar interest that needs to be addressed with an interdisciplinary perspective. Our project will foster innovative results on two levels. First, it will develop a new interdisciplinary method for identifying foodways by combining different types of analyses based on pottery, plants and animals. Then, based on this multi and interdisciplinary approach and on comparisons between ethnographic and archaeological evidence, it targets the reconstruction of the history of agricultural practices and foodways over two millennia in mostly dryland areas in West Africa, with a special focus on Senegal, a favourable country to undertake this kind of study. Our approach consists in building present-day reference databases in the fields of ethno-archaeology of ceramics, botany, zoology and biomolecular investigations. The acquisition of new data in various communities of Senegal will allow for the construction of interpretative keys to address food resources and consumption in the past. The study of archaeological ceramics as well as plant and animal remains from different sites will draw a first sketch of the variability of food practices during pre-colonial times and allow evaluating the impact of post-depositional factors.  In addition, historical and socio-anthropological studies based on manuscript archives, oral history and participant observation will show the changes in foodways under the influence of the Atlantic trade since the 15th century, and from colonial times to current globalization. This project is highly interdisciplinary and depends on the combined expertise of researchers from disciplines specific to Humanities and Social Sciences (social anthropology, archaeology, history) and to Natural Sciences (chemistry, botany, zoology). All fields will contribute to the dialogue between the present and the past. The strength of the project lies in the close collaboration between members from complementary scientific fields such as archeology and chemical analysis as well as history and social anthropology. 

Tobias Haller (Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern) is collaborating with PD Sonja Merten (Swiss Tropical and Public Health, Basel, Switzerland) based on a mixed methods approach. This team is specialized in social anthropology and food system approaches focusing on land tenure change in these dryland areas since colonial times and the way how local common property systems giving institutionalized access to food for pastoral and sedentary groups have been restricted by modern agricultural policies and grabbing mechanisms (commons grabbing by agro-industrial investments, mega infrastructure, mining and green grabbing processes). In co-research with Swiss TPH group this team will highlight the impact of these changes on local food systems and nutrition, gender relations and the resilience of food systems based on a food and nutrition survey.