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‘Pure water’ in Niamey, Niger: the backstory of sachet water in a landscape of waste

  • Sara Beth Keough and Scott M. Youngstedt

This article examines the commodity chain and value chain of half-litre water bags (referred to as ‘pure water’ or ‘sachet water’) in Niamey, Niger. We begin with a focus on the discarded bag and work backwards through the commodity chain to consumers, vendors and finally producers of ‘pure water’ to reveal the underlying power structures, cultural perceptions and assumptions that ultimately resulted in the discarded bag and landscapes of waste. We assert that the economic value of the plastic bag, largely assigned during the stages of its production, is based on four characteristics: the label, the temperature of the water, the time of year it is sold, and the apparent ‘purity’ of the water. We further demonstrate how characteristics of economic value are steeped in cultural perceptions and social relationships in Niamey. Using interviews with agents and actors at all levels of the commodity chain, we reveal how this local, hybrid system is connected to and affected by larger, global economic and political forces.

Cet article examine la chaîne de produits de base et la chaîne de valeur des sacs d'eau (appelée « eau pure » ou « eau en sachet ») de 50cl à Niamey (Niger). Les auteurs commencent par s'intéresser au sac usagé avant de remonter la chaîne des produits de base jusqu'aux consommateurs, puis aux fournisseurs et enfin aux fabricants d’« eau pure » pour révéler les structures de pouvoir, les perceptions culturelles et les prémisses sous-jacents qui aboutissent au sac usagé et aux paysages de déchets. Les auteurs arguent que la valeur économique du sac plastique, essentiellement attribuée au cours des étapes de sa fabrication, repose sur quatre caractéristiques : l’étiquette, la température de l'eau, la période de l'année où l'eau est vendue et la « pureté » apparente de l'eau. Ils démontrent par ailleurs comment ces caractéristiques de valeur économique sont enracinées dans les perceptions culturelles et les rapports sociaux à Niamey. À partir d'entretiens avec des agents et des acteurs à tous les niveaux de la chaîne des produits de base, les auteurs révèlent comment ce système hybride local est lié à, et affecté par, des forces politiques et économiques globales plus importantes.

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