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Title:The politics of palm oil in a Mende village
Author:Leach, M.ISNI
Periodical:Africana Research Bulletin
Geographic term:Sierra Leone
Subjects:rural households
palm oil
Abstract:Based on fieldwork carried out in 1988 in Madina, a Mende village in eastern Sierra Leone, the author presents a microanalysis of the palm oil system as it functions at village and household level, arguing that the straightforward economic picture presented by development project reports is partial and oversimplified. In order to obtain the palm oil needed for daily cooking, Madina's villagers have a range of options. They can cut wild palms ('tckpci') in order to process red palm oil ('ngulcgbolc'), which is strongly preferred to plantation palm oil ('mosanke'). They can buy palm fruit from villages with plantations and make 'mosanke', or they can buy palm oil ready-made. Most households combine several options at different points in a 'palm oil year'. Beneath the set of rules defining palm oil activity, people's actual strategies for obtaining palm oil depend on a chain of negotiated relationships between landholders and palm-head cutters, cutters and processors, husbands and wives. The author's analysis of the social and political processes operating at village and household level to influence the procurement, processing and use of palm oil stresses the importance of gender politics in the 'politics of palm oil', for although it is women who must provide oil on a daily basis, they depend on male labour or cash for vital stages of the process.