Ebola emerged out of a phase change in West Africa’s agroecology brought about neoliberal development
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Sid Shniad
2014-10-21 21:36:55 UTC
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Farming Pathogens

*Disease in a world of our own making*
*« Talking Ebola
The Palm Oil Sector?

*[image: Palm oil 5]
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*And he told them about this new God, the Creator of all the world and all
the men and women. He told them that they worshipped false gods, gods of
wood and stone. A deep murmur went through the crowd when he said this. He
told them that the true God lived on high and that all men when they died
went before Him for judgment. Evil men and all the heathen who in their
blindness bowed to wood and stone were thrown into a fire that burned like
palm-oil.* –Chinua Achebe (1958)

There’s something fishy about the bushmeat narrative of Ebola.

In August we explored
<http://farmingpathogens.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/west-west-africa/>the way
the story internalizes the outbreak to local West Africans. It’s part of
the ooga booga epidemiology
that detracts from the circuits of capital,
originating in New York, London and elsewhere, that fund the development
and deforestation driving the emergence of new diseases in the global South.

But in addition, and not unconnected, there’s something missing from the
model’s purported etiology. Indeed, Ebola may have almost nothing, or only
something tangentially, to do with the bushmeat trade.

In this <http://www.envplan.com/openaccess/a4712com.pdf>new commentary just
published in *Environment and Planning A,* a team of ecohealth scientists
of which I’m a part proposes Ebola emerged out of a phase change in West
Africa’s agroecology brought about neoliberal development.

We hypothesize more specifically that the pathogen arose as oil palm, to
which Ebola-bearing bats are attracted, underwent a classic case of
creeping consolidation, enclosure, commoditization, and proletarianization
that at one and the same time curtailed artisanal production and expanded
the human-bat interface over which Ebola traffic likely increased.

Explorations of such structural causes, the heart of the matter, have
largely been shelved before they’ve begun. The emergency response, or lack
thereof, has moved front and center. Both eminently understandable and
opportunistically convenient. The failure to address upstream causes
produces the crisis that becomes another way of avoiding such a discussion.

The tension manifests in some striking ways, with many veiled allusions
structural sources of the outbreak but few open declarations. It’s as if
scientists and first responders are expected to talk about the outbreak’s
origins without using anything more than generalities, careful euphemisms
and pointed ellipses, avoiding
funding sources whose capital accumulation helped drive the outbreak in the
first place.

Like a parlor game of Charades or, perhaps more appropriately, Exquisite
Corpse. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exquisite_corpse>

On the other hand, we may merely be flipping sides of the same coin. Such
epidemiologies routinely ruin the neat dichotomy between emergency
responses and structural intervention. The commentary proposes a mechanism
by which the two are a composite object in West Africa. Structural shifts
may have lowered the ecosystemic threshold to such a point that no
emergency intervention can presently drive the Ebola population low enough
to burn out on its own.

The shock of Ebola may clear many a head of the illusions that we can
continue to mystically externalize the costs of separating
and economy. What if, after all, *we* turn out to be that ‘next generation’
<http://farmingpathogens.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/its-official/> to which
many a scold has long been regretfully alluding?


Wallace R G, Gilbert M, Wallace R, Pittiglio C, Mattioli R, Kock R (2014) Did
Ebola emerge in West Africa by a policy-driven phase change in agroecology?
<http://www.envplan.com/openaccess/a4712com.pdf> *Environment and Planning
A* advance online publication, doi:10.1068/a4712com
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