Worlds of Wheat: Food Security in Rural Egypt

Authors: Jessica Barnes*, University of South Carolina
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Wheat, Egypt, food security
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 2:40 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Bacchus, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


What does it add to theorizations of household food security to think in multispecies terms? Drawing on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in rural Egypt, this paper looks at the plant that lies at the heart of Egyptian households’ food security – wheat. Wheat is intimately tied to the lives of Egyptian farmers and their families as a crop they grow, grain they harvest, bread they bake and consume, and excess they sell. In this paper, I examine a key moment in this plant-human relationship and in household food security calculations – the decision to plant wheat. The decision to plant wheat is a valuation of wheat over other winter crops, most commonly berseem (Egyptian clover), which also plays an important role in household food security as a source of fodder for livestock. I look at how farmers’ choice to cultivate wheat is tied to national and international dynamics, including the government’s national food security agenda and the prices it sets for procuring domestic wheat. Moving beyond an anthropocentric view, I look also at how this decision is tied to the crop’s material characteristics, namely the ways in which it responds to fertilizer, the yields it produces, and diseases it is susceptible to. These material characteristics are ingrained in the grain, yet also shaped by a national breeding and seed distribution program. Through this analysis, I shed light on how efforts to make a household food secure are both embedded in and constitutive of worlds created between humans and plants.

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