Maize and Grace: Africa's Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000 [NOOK Book]

Overview

Sometime around 1500 A.D., an African farmer planted a maize seed imported from the New World. That act set in motion the remarkable saga of one of the world's most influential crops—one that would transform the future of Africa and of the Atlantic world. Africa's experience with maize is distinctive but also instructive from a global perspective: experts predict that by 2020 maize will become the world's most cultivated crop.

James McCann moves easily from the village level to ...

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Maize and Grace: Africa's Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000

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Overview

Sometime around 1500 A.D., an African farmer planted a maize seed imported from the New World. That act set in motion the remarkable saga of one of the world's most influential crops—one that would transform the future of Africa and of the Atlantic world. Africa's experience with maize is distinctive but also instructive from a global perspective: experts predict that by 2020 maize will become the world's most cultivated crop.

James McCann moves easily from the village level to the continental scale, from the medieval to the modern, as he explains the science of maize production and explores how the crop has imprinted itself on Africa's agrarian and urban landscapes. Today, maize accounts for more than half the calories people consume in many African countries. During the twentieth century, a tidal wave of maize engulfed the continent, and supplanted Africa's own historical grain crops—sorghum, millet, and rice. In the metamorphosis of maize from an exotic visitor into a quintessentially African crop, in its transformation from vegetable to grain, and from curiosity to staple, lies a revealing story of cultural adaptation. As it unfolds, we see how this sixteenth-century stranger has become indispensable to Africa's fields, storehouses, and diets, and has embedded itself in Africa's political, economic, and social relations.

The recent spread of maize has been alarmingly fast, with implications largely overlooked by the media and policymakers. McCann's compelling history offers insight into the profound influence of a single crop on African culture, health, technological innovation, and the future of the world's food supply.

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Editorial Reviews

African History

In this concise yet comprehensive monograph, James McCann deploys his considerable skills as a synthesizer to explain how maize, despite its nutritional and environmental constraints, has come to be the dominant food crop in Africa...In the end, what makes this book impressive is the way that it combines original fieldwork with a deep understanding of a by now formidable interdisciplinary literature...His approach allows this important book to make a significant contribution to the new literature on the history of African crop cultivation...It will become a must-read for students of agricultural and environmental history, geography and African history more generally.
Jamie Monson

African Studies Review

With a captivating title, Maize and Grace, James McCann considers the ambiguities of African development through a handful of creatively researched maize stories that demonstrate his well-honed investigatory and interpretative skills as a distinguished Africanist environmental historian...From an informed use of oral tradition, little-used agronomic research records, statistical analysis, and artistic and photographic evidence--shared through almost forty illustrations--McCann reveals how an environmental history of maize in Africa illustrates both the triumphs and tripwires of development science and politics.

James Bingen

American Journal of Agricultural Economics

As a field crop produced primarily to feed livestock and chicken, maize may appear to be a far cry from being considered a "grace" to humanity as the title of the book, Maize and Grace might suggest. However, considering the distinctive character it plays in human diets, it is not difficult to perceive maize as a blessing or grace. James McCann has chosen an ambitious task and has done it well. He set out to tell the remarkable saga of maize's ascension as a major dramatis persona in Africa's food supply over the past half millennium. As a historian, McCann has brought a different perspective to the importance of maize in the evolution of African agricultural systems...Maize and Grace is a fascinating book, and a joy to read. The book, based on painstaking research and historical data, provides a comprehensive account of how maize and humans have interacted since it was first introduced in Africa over half a millennium ago. It is eloquently written and loaded with a wealth of historical, social, cultural, botanical, ecological, and agricultural information and knowledge, as well as fresh, ingenious, and original insights. Professor McCann is to be commended and congratulated for his valuable scholarly contribution to agricultural literature. Can maize be Africa's "saving grace?" It is a question left for the reader to decide.
Chung L. Huang

Foreign Affairs

McCann has written a fascinating social history of the propagation of maize throughout sub-Saharan Africa since it was first brought there from the New World, probably in the cargo of a slave ship, around 1500. He chronicles the ways in which maize has adapted itself to African conditions, slowly becoming a major African food staple. Since World War II, in fact, the emergence of hybrid maize has resulted in a sharp rise in maize cultivation in Africa, displacing traditional indigenous crops. McCann celebrates the ingenuity of African farmers as they adapted the crop to local customs and climactic conditions, but he argues that the policy world has largely ignored the socioeconomic and environmental implications of the emergence of maize as a staple. In the book's most fascinating chapter, he convincingly links a major malaria epidemic in the highlands of Ethiopia in 1998 to the widespread adoption of maize in the area over the preceding decade.
Nicholas Van De Walle

Nature

Maize and Grace shows how a New World crop contributed to the emergence of modern-day Africa. Some parts of Africa now have higher maize consumption per capita than Mexico and Guatemala, where the crop originated...Rather than describing sweeping historical currents, the book offers the reader a series of vignettes that provide opportunities to appreciate the paradoxes of maize development policy and to contemplate some enduring themes in agricultural history.
Robert Tripp

Technology and Culture

The author's botanical descriptions and explanations...help us comprehend the long history of maize in Africa. It arrived during the sixteenth century from all directions-north and south, east and west, Christian and Muslim--to become a major food source during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. McCann provides thoughtful histories of its early decades in northern Italy and Ethiopia, demonstrating how politics affects agriculture profoundly--and vice versa as well.
Alfred W. Crosby

Foreign Affairs
McCann has written a fascinating social history of the propagation of maize throughout sub-Saharan Africa since it was first brought there from the New World, probably in the cargo of a slave ship, around 1500. He chronicles the ways in which maize has adapted itself to African conditions, slowly becoming a major African food staple. Since World War II, in fact, the emergence of hybrid maize has resulted in a sharp rise in maize cultivation in Africa, displacing traditional indigenous crops. McCann celebrates the ingenuity of African farmers as they adapted the crop to local customs and climactic conditions, but he argues that the policy world has largely ignored the socioeconomic and environmental implications of the emergence of maize as a staple. In the book's most fascinating chapter, he convincingly links a major malaria epidemic in the highlands of Ethiopia in 1998 to the widespread adoption of maize in the area over the preceding decade.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674040748
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/30/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 638,357
  • File size: 842 KB

Meet the Author

James C. McCann is Professor of History and Associate Director of the African Studies Center at Boston University.

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Table of Contents

Preface

1. Africa and the World Ecology of Maize

2. Naming the Stranger: Maize's Journey to Africa

3. Maize's Invention in West Africa

4. Seeds of Subversion in Two Peasant Empires

5. How Africa's Maize Turned White

6. African Maize, American Rust

7. Breeding SR-52: The Politics of Science and Race in Southern Africa

8. Maize and Malaria

9. Maize as Metonym in Africa's New Millennium

Appendix: Tables

Notes

Select Bibliography

Acknowledgments

Illustration Credits

Index

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2008

    A reviewer

    McCann is the right man at the right time to notice a correlation between corn and the blanket of malaria covering sub-Saharan Africa. Statistics tell us that 3,000 people in Africa die of malaria every day, one million every year. Sports Illustrated, American Idol and less glitzy sources have brought attention to the inexpensive mosquito bed nets with which to fight malaria. The statistics about malaria are worse than those about AIDS but do not get the same amount of glamourous publicity. The cause of AIDS has been broadcast and taught. The CAUSE of malaria's continental menace has been unknown, almost unnoticed. McCann and a few others did notice, fortunately. He has compiled scientific work since 1998 into a chronological, readable format. Would that this book were brought forward by the media. The malaria, as widespread as it is, can be dealt with by fundraisers for bed nets. Its apparent correlation to the hybrid of corn most favored by developed countries for livestock feed could be managed only by policy makers who make wise decisions. African countries would like to have an export for a better trade balance, but national and international leaders will have to give incentives for individual farmers so that they plant food for themselves, not for export. 95% of the African diet is based on corn. Leaders and policy makers should be educated so that farmers produce an abundance of food within Africa for their own consumption rather than their having to import corn for subsistence. Wonderful insight by McCann. Bravo.

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