Network in Canadian History and Environment Prize for Best Article or Book Chapter
Shannon Stunden Bower, “Irrigation Infrastructure, Technocratic Faith, and Irregularities of Vision: Canada’s Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration in Ghana, 1965– 1970,” Agricultural History 93: 2 (2019), 311-340.
Shannon Stunden Bower’s brilliant analysis of the myriad shortcomings of Canadian development projects in postcolonial Ghana is a reminder that environmental history transcends national borders. This transnational case study focuses on damming and irrigation projects pursued by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA)—first established in 1935 in response to drought and economic depression in the Canadian Prairie provinces—in Ghana’s northern hinterland region during the politically turbulent late 1960s. By showing how the legacy of PFRA officials acting as agents of settler colonialism in the Canadian West during the early twentieth century deeply shaped the institution’s myopic approach to water conservation and agricultural development work in West Africa, Stunden Bower points to contrasting but linked forms of colonialism between the global north and the global south.
Tensions quickly arose between PFRA workers and locals due to a range of factors—from Cold War-era pressures to outpace the Soviet Union in modernizing newly independent states to the fact that Canadian engineers who relocated their entire families to northern Ghana were more concerned with recreating the comforts of home than in learning about the specificities of the region’s land-use practices, ecology, or hydrology. As a result, PFRA recommendations tended to revert to lessons learned decades earlier in arid North American prairielands without sufficient adaptation to local circumstances or input from local experts. After a few frustrating years, the PRFA withdrew from northern Ghana, leaving its work unfinished. Not only did these incomplete projects represent the failure of the PRFA, but they also contributed to an increased prevalence of contagious diseases in the region. In crafting her argument, Stunden Bower incorporates the history of climate, disease, engineering, Cold War diplomacy, and decolonization while engaging critically with the intersections of race, environment, and international development studies. While there are many studies of natural flows across the Canadian border (migratory birds, water, pollution), Stunden Bower’s article should serve as an important wake up call to Canadian environmental historians, imploring them to consider the environmental changes that Canadian government, military, and corporations have wreaked abroad.