Playing Politics with Yams: Food Security in the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea

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Abstract

Food insecurity is a significant socioeconomic problem, particularly in developing countries where most households operate at the subsistence level. In the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea, where the fame that comes with being a skilled gardener who annually produces an enviable pile of yams, and where the series of exchanges that ensue are of the utmost social importance, current trends of reduced soil fertility and crop yields threaten not only to compromise food security but also to rend the very fabric of Trobriand social order and identity. While the magnitude of the problem may well be inflated as a tool for political playmaking, the results of a (real or perceived) “food security crisis” in the Trobriand Islands has significant implications for local leadership, exchange obligations, and sense of self.

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