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An intergenerational transmission of sustainability?: ancestral habitus and food production in a traditional agro-ecosystem of the Upper Guinea Forest, West Africa

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>03/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Global Environmental Change
Number of pages13
Pages (from-to)226-238
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date3/03/15
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The need for sustainable alternatives to industrial farming has led to a revival of interest in traditional agro-ecosystems. Whilst it is well recognised that traditional agro-ecosystems are both social and physical–technical – few case studies have examined interactions between both these dimensions in a single system. For a system to be considered sustainable it needs to be shown to have retained key characteristics over several generations. Case studies therefore demand a location where intergenerational transmission of agro-ecological knowledge and practice is ongoing. This paper examines the intergenerational transmission of social and physical–technical dimensions of a traditional agro-ecosystem of the Loma people in NW Liberia. We engage an innovative interdisciplinary combination of methodologies in analyzing interactions between: (i) energy efficiencies (yield to labour) in 3 different Loma food production systems, using longitudinal quantitative surveys, and, (ii) the social institutions that mediate food production practice, using qualitative methods. Our energy efficiency calculations show that AfDE cultivation is more than twice as efficient at producing calories as either shifting cultivation or forest and river extractivism, yet GPS mapping demonstrates that AfDE cultivation is highly spatially restricted despite clear opportunities for expansion and optimisation. This raises an important question: why have the Loma not expanded AfDE cultivation? We propose that despite being fully aware of the opportunities AfDEs present, a Loma ‘ancestral habitus’ and substantive economic rationality restrict areal expansion and optimisation of AfDE cultivation, curtailing growth and structuring a social-ecological system in dynamic equilibrium. Our findings underline that sustainability is not simply a physio-technical issue; social and belief issues appear to be far more important in framing behaviour in traditional agro-ecosystems.

Bibliographic note

2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).