The agrobiodiversity of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) in Siwa, an oasis of the Libyan Desert: what is said, written and forgotten
Lecture given at the workshop “Ecological and Anthropological Approaches to Agrobiodiversity and Food systems” from December 6th to 7th 2012 at the Maison française d’Oxford/ Oxford University in Oxford (UK).
Research with the support of Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, NYU (New York University).
The purpose of this paper is to present results of research in progress about Siwa, the unique Berber Egyptian oasis, in the Libyan Desert, and especially the agrodiversity of one of its cultivated plants: the date palm (Phœnix dactylifera L.).
I first attempted to clarify the local categorization of this plant and its cultivars. There is broad consensus on the local Berber names for each part of the plant. In contrast, establishing a list of the different landraces of date palm in Siwa was far more difficult, even although only about fifteen or so landraces exist (in one of my former field sites,, the oases of Jerid in Tunisia, the number of named landraces was about 260!). I will attempt to explain the difficulty of this research from my standpoint as a social anthropologist, and how I had to dig through all the literature written about Siwa (since the end of the 17th century) evoking the local agrobiodiversity of the date palm. Combining ethnography with historical analysis of the literature on Siwa suggests the hypothesis that this agrobiodiversity has been quite stable over this period. This work also suggests that the local community made some early choices to move the (agricultural) economy of the oasis not towards self-sufficiency, but to focus on the export of a few elite cultivars. Siwa, with its multi-species cropping system, was perhaps not a lost oasis in the sands of the Libyan Desert.
In an interdisciplinary research project, a team from the Botanical Institute in Montpellier (Bio-archeology and Ecology), is examining samples of these palm trees. The first results on the morphometry of seeds and the genetic structure of landrace populations allow us to deepen the analysis of agrobiodiversity of the date palm in Siwa.
- Occurrence de toutes les mentions de cultivars de palmier dattier à Siwa dans la littérature (nuage de mots)
Slide show of the lecture:
Be careful, here are the slides only, without the speech...…