Peopling the Landscape: Colonial Irrigation, Technology, and Demographic Crisis in the French Soudan, ca. 1926–1944,

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Women were responsible for daily food production in the French Soudan. Scholarship on rural women’s labor in the region for the first half of the century emphasizes an increasing female labor burden in the household and fields. This was accompanied by the devaluation of women’s labor by the colonial government. Locally, women’s work was highly valued and vernacular demographic practice encouraged high numbers of women in the household specifically to grow and prepare food (though this did not mean women always controlled their labor power). This paper examines a moment of demographic crisis provoked by a colonial agricultural project that led to insufficient numbers of women and acute food shortages. This outcome unfolded in drastic contrast to the fantastic French colonial vision of controlling water, land, and people through technology.