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French Beans and Food ScaresCulture and Commerce in an Anxious Age$
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Susanne Freidberg

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195169607

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195169607.001.0001

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Burkina Faso: Rural Development and Patronage

Burkina Faso: Rural Development and Patronage

(p.61) 3 Burkina Faso: Rural Development and Patronage
French Beans and Food Scares

Susanne Freidberg

Oxford University Press

From the air, the international airport in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, does not appear to be in the middle of anything except the desert. But every winter it becomes a center of intense activity and often high tension, as green beans from throughout the country pour into the airport packhouses. If all goes well, the beans are flown out the same day they are trucked in, and end up on dinner tables in France. In fact, things often do not go well, and so many green beans end up in soup pots closer to home. Indeed, the abundance of delicate green beans found in Burkina Faso’s marketplaces during January and February testifies to the frequent failures of the country’s export ambitions. Green beans and other garden vegetables were brought to colonial Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta) in the early 20th century by French missionaries and colonial administrators who, apart from their personal interest in having these familiar foods available, saw the introduction of French vegetable gardening as part of their civilizing mission in Africa. They did not care much whether Africans ate à la francais, but they did hope that market gardening (or maraichage) would help feed growing colonial towns and, in the process, create a modern, industrious, prosperous and thus stable African peasantry. Decades later in independent Upper Volta, remarkably similar goals fueled government and foreign development agency efforts to promote irrigated vegetable production for overseas markets. Especially when repeated droughts in the 1960s and 1970s raised concerns about long-term climate change, it appeared that peasants needed the income that irrigated, high-value export crops could provide in order to make up for possible shortfalls in rainy season staple grain production. So with generous foreign technical and financial assistance, the country’s state-run peasant cooperatives became in the late 1960s some of sub-Saharan Africa’s earliest exporters of airfreight fresh green beans. For many years, its export volume was second only to Kenya’s. By the late 1990s, Burkina Faso’s green bean farmers missed the days when their crops were known as “green gold.”

Keywords:   Bobo-Dioulasso, Civilizing mission, Famine, Intermediaries, Mali, Patronage relations, Stereotypes, World Bank

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