Latent’ Surplus Populations and Colonial Histories of Drought, Groundnuts, and Finance in Senegal – Geoforum – article

Latent’ Surplus Populations and Colonial Histories of Drought, Groundnuts, and Finance in Senegal

Nick Bernards | Geoforum

2019-10-22

Amidst growing concern about the displacement of rural populations exposed to climate change, new financial instruments are increasingly being presented as key tools for the management of climate risks. Index-based agricultural insurance (IBAI) is a particularly key example. Recent critical work has pointed to the deeply neoliberal character of IBAI and like interventions. However, the promotion of new financial instruments in response to crises of agrarian production has a much longer history in Africa and elsewhere. This article draws on Marx’s concept of ‘latent’ surplus populations to trace out and explain parallels between IBAI and colonial interventions in Senegal’s groundnut basin. Approaching the question in this way, the article highlights the long-run historical co-production and interdependence of the Senegalese state and a political ecology of groundnut production in which relations of indebtedness and the exposure to variable rainfall of a fragile relative surplus population has often been crucial to the mobilization of cheap labour for groundnut production. IBAI is thus positioned as part of a recurrent trajectory of emergency financial interventions aimed at smoothing out the contradictions implicit in this socio-ecological configuration.

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