Pastoralists' progress: the future for the Sahel
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CTA. 1992. Pastoralists' progress: the future for the Sahel. Spore 39. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Profound and often painful social and economic changes are affecting the lives of the pastoralists of the Sahelian countries. Drought is driving them southwards where they meet with opposition from local farmers. Because of drought the traditional...
Profound and often painful social and economic changes are affecting the lives of the pastoralists of the Sahelian countries. Drought is driving them southwards where they meet with opposition from local farmers. Because of drought the traditional practice of transhumance, which made it possible for them to get the best out of the pasture lands and the natural resources of the area, is no longer possible. To make things worse, the sale of locally-produced meat is facing fierce competition from cheap, frozen meat imported from Europe. The old style 'contemplative' pastoralism with its classical image of the herdsman tending his four-legged capital assets and living on milk and the sale of his animals is on the way out. The succession of drought years has considerably reduced the fertility of the pasture lands and nowadays herds have to travel many miles to find enough to eat. The traditional fallow-land system is being abandoned because there is not enough land to go round and farmers cannot afford to keep any fields unproductive for any length of time. But the fallow lands were often the dry season grazing pasture for cattle. When these are cultivated with crops the pastoralists are the first to feel the pinch. Furthermore, the system of land ownership in Africa does not favour pastoralism. In many areas tradition dictates that a piece of land belongs to the man who cultivates it. There is no legal redress for stock-keepers when their traditional grazing land is taken over for crops. Even though they are the keepers of invaluable age-old knowledge and skills, they are sometimes no longer able to afford to keep their animals. When this happens, the herds are bought up by wealthy farmers, businessmen or civil servants who are entirely without experience in animal husbandry. The result is that pastoralists become hired herdsmen or, far worse, they leave the land and settle in the towns where, more often than not, they swell the ranks of the unemployed. From Zebus to rice When geographical conditions are in their favour, some of these pastoralists have found different ways of ensuring their survival. In the Senegal River Valley, for example, the Peuhls, who once owned the grazing lands, have given up their nomadic existence and have started to grow rice, though they have retained a few head of cattle. They feed rice straw to their herds and their income comes from rice, dairy and meat products, making them richer than conventional peasants. They no longer move their cattle around to find pasturage and find greater financial security in this form of intensification than in their former nomadic way of life. When they sell their livestock they become part of the world of business and of cash assets, which, for them, is a fair exchange for the traditional security of their old ways. Running counter to this trend, however, is the fact that many farmers now keep stock as a source of draft power, in order to diversify their activities and to have manure to fertilize their land. Problems of land ownership So pastoralists are becoming farmers and arable farmers are keeping stock; this is a significant change which may indicate how things will be in the Sahel in the future. But this reversal of the traditional systems can bring problems in its wake. The poor climate in the north pushes the pastoralists southwards, and it is there that they settle despite the fact that, contrary to appearances, the pasture there is no richer. 'Lower rainfall produces fodder that is richer in nitrogen; nature seems to compensate for hard climatic conditions', writes the consultant Roger Pons, in a Club du Sahel report. The increasing poverty of the soil, the disappearance of perennial grasses and the removal of trees and shrubs all mean that grazing will be scarcely sufficient for the herds in that area. Pastoralists and farmers therefore now have to live and work side-by-side, sharing land that is already scarce. Each year stockmen find that their traditional cattle routes have been put under cultivation. They take no notice and enormous damage can result from the cattle trampling down or eating standing crops. In Niger the area under cultivation increased by 50% between 1968 and 1980, but this new agricultural land has diminished what was once the domain of the pastoralists and their herds. Plenty of agricultural by products make suitable cattle feed In Mali, Samba Sekou Traore, chief of Segue village, which is situated on the Niger River delta near Mopti, notes that the annual floodwaters have diminished, that rainfall is less and that the village land has shrunk recently, because the farmers have been forced to use hitherto uncultivated land for crops, thus destroying the age-old balance between pasture and agricultural land. The priority of both groups is to keep their bit of land for themselves and their own uses. 'The farmers have to watch over their rice paddies constantly, especially those recently converted to agricultural use, so that the animals don't ruin the crop. Animals need fodder, and the amount of grazing land has shrunk so much that they don't know whereabouts in the delta to find it any more.' Again, in the Serere country in Senegal, all the region has been put down to arable farming and there is no grazing left. So, for nine months of the year, the herdsmen take their cattle south. Some families nonetheless keep a few head of cattle on their own plots and these get fed agricultural byproducts which are available on the spot, such as groundnut 'hay', millet stalks, or hay. This 'mini-pastoralism' brings in ready cash for those who can practice it. Pastoralism is now big business For those cattle-owners who have settled, and can manage to feed their herds on local products, the pay-off is financial security. They sell their beasts in their prime, as soon as they can, and these transactions, with their speculative trading have all the characteristics of a real livestock market. The principal aim of the cattle-owner was once to supply his own needs first and then those of the local market. Now he has become a meat-producer and has entered the world of both international trade and agriculture. The potential of all this has not escaped some local government officials and management personnel in the Dakar region of Senegal, who have set up fattening units where they rear cattle for three or four months with the aim of creating quality meat which can compete with the best on the market and thus get a better price. These days millions of head of cattle cross international frontiers, and the value of these herds can sometimes amount to more than the national budgets of the countries themselves. Production on this scale provides a living not just for the breeders and owners, but for the whole chain, from transporters, dealers and slaughterers to butchers. Fierce competition from European frozen meat This budding industry which could have such wide-ranging benefits for Africa is threatened by competition from the surplus meat products of other countries, notably those of the EEC and eastern Europe. Frozen meat, 95% of which comes from the European Community, is now making a significant appearance on African markets. Being the surplus of other countries' overproduction, it is of less than prime quality (sides of beef, pork, boned beef ready for fast food, oxtails and hooves). In 1989,140,000 tonnes of this meat flooded West African markets and in 1991 the sale of French beef to sub-Saharan Africa doubled. The trade is one-way only, despite the Lome agreement that allows five ACP African states to export 50,000t of beef to the Community each year. African sales never reach this point because of the mediocre quality of the meat. The selling price of imported meat is so low that it is quickly snapped up. Between 1980 and 1987 prices fell steadily and reached a world average low of 263CFA/kg. 'Cape' (low-qualityboned fatty beef), which makes up 95% of beef imports to sub-Saharan Africa, is sometime sold for less than 200CFA/kg. In Dakar, Senegal, pieces of often inedible frozen meat will sell at 300CFA/kg compared to a price of 1,000CFA for locally-produced meat. But when times are hard and people have to make ends meet, nobody cares too much where the meat comes from or what it tastes like. The sale of imported meat mainly affects the larger towns (Abidjan, Yaounde, Cotonou) rather than the villages. Distribution is largely limited to the coastal areas because of the lack of refrigerated transport. Eating previously frozen meat which has not been kept at the correct temperature can be dangerous. A public health service employee from Brazzaville, Congo, is quoted as saying: 'the women who sell meat on the market don't usually own freezers; they get the meat out of a compartment in a rented cold chamber and put it on their stall. At the end of the day what hasn't been sold goes back in the freezer, even it if has thawed.' Doctors are now observing an increase in stomach upsets. Checks are rarely made on the sellers, nor are the risks publicized. All that seems to matter to the urban consumer in Africa is getting food at the lowest possible price; health takes a back seat compared to reducing living costs and ensuring that families are fed. Beef cattle rearing has been considerably affected by competition from Europe. Subsidies for European producers mean that the price of their meat bears little relation to actual production costs. The position of the industrialized countries is ambivalent: on the one hand they support the development of African stockrearing, while on the other they offer unfair competition. To combat this trend, most African countries have taken the decision to reduce meat imports. Swingeing taxation in Senegal means that far less European meat now arrives on its markets. For Senegal this has not happened a moment too soon. Between 1984 and 1987 meat imports increased sixfold from 824t to 5,550t. The large-scale stock-breeders and slaughterhouses put pressure on the authorities to intervene. Fiscal measures were imposed and caused the tonnage of imported meat to drop in 1988. Now only a small amount of top quality meat comes into the country. For more than one year the government of Cote d'Ivoire has kept the price of imported frozen meat in line with that of African produced meat. The export of Capa had trebled between 1980 and 1988, and it was sold at 450CFA / kg as opposed to 900CFA / kg for meat from the Sahel. This protectionism, however, has not wholly worked: black market distribution networks have sprung up in order to avoid customs duties. Agricultural intensification is the way forward Despite the gravity of this situation for the Sahelian states, livestock numbers are still very high in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad, and an increasing number of people are involved in pastoralism since farmers have taken to keeping stock. For this reason, the new link between agriculture and pastoralism may be seen as the way forward for the Sahel. 'Agriculture will increasingly embrace pastoralism and its associated activities because that is the natural progression of farming civilizations. The production of sufficient quality fodder is vital, which will demand more advanced farming techniques and a more structured approach. Intensification of agricultural practice is the only solution for the future, because this is the only possible means of adequately feeding the cattle, which is a prerequisite for high productivity,' concludes Roger Pons in his report. Parallel to the move towards intensification, some of the features of traditional nomadic pastoralism must be encouraged: seasonal migration, where possible; a minimum area of grazing land for the dry seasons; restoration of grazing rights in traditionally pastoral regions, and maintenance of the old cattle routes. These seem to be the most important factors. They are all the more urgent because agriculture is constantly taking over more land and, if it is not stopped, there will be little place for the migrant herdsman in the years to come..
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