Saturday, 26 May 2012

Diversification Strategies of the WoDaaBe Pastoralism

Recent perspectives on pastoral nomadism emphasise boundaries between agriculture and pastoralism as fluid and constantly changing, making it common for groups to shift from one occupation to another as a response to environ mental fluctuations or a changing social-political environment. An exchange relationship with
agricultural communities has not only been important to WoDaaBe pastoralism but WoDaaBe have historically retreated temporarily to agriculture to reconstruct their herds during difficult times.

However, while heavy fluctuations in the avail ability of natural resources often characterise the daily lives of inhabitants of arid environments, policymaking has often been biased toward emphasising stability and normal situations. It can thus be stated that production in arid lands takes forms that seek to adapt to situations where ‘drought is, to a degree, a normal condition rather than an aberration’, in addition to responding to various political factors and instabilities. The sedentary sector is capable in absorbing excess labour from the pastoral society, providing various diversified occupations and thus minimising risk in pastoral societies. Sedentarisation can thus be seen as a constant feature of pastoral societies as demonstrated in classic ethnography of the Basseri; nomadic populations both temporarily retreating to occupations associated with sedentary life but in some cases becoming integrated with sedentary populations.

WoDaaBe have historically used mobility extensively as a way of responding to changing conditions, then for seasonal, personal and political variability. WoDaaBe move camp on average every three days, thus making use as with other pastoral nomads of the scattered resources, fitting their mode of production into the pulsating environment of their arid habitat. The WoDaaBe home (wuro) is highly adapted to this extensive mobility, being composed of relatively few items that can rather easily be trans ported, in addition to being composed of several smaller units, which are flexible to cattle ownership and the need for labour, which is important to respond to changing ecological and social environments.

WoDaaBe economic activities have also, as previously mentioned, fluctuated across a spectrum of various engagements in farming and pastoralism. Other diversification strategies have existed as well as a response to marginal situations. WoDaaBe women have during difficult times gone to the market towns and received payment for repairing calabashes, pounding millet, and braiding other women’s hair. WoDaaBe also became hired herders (jokkere), taking care of other people’s animals.

Even though people have to some extent always retreated to cities and towns, extensive migrant labour among WoDaaBe started only in the aftermath of the drought of 1968-74. This drought period and the consequent WoDaaBe livestock loss have to be seen as due to various political and historical reasons which will not be discussed in any detail here, even though several inter acting factors will be mentioned that led to this change from agriculture to migrant labour as a way of herd reconstruction. Global policies during the colonial and post-colonial period emphasised agricultural production at the expense of herding populations, thus reducing the general area of land for pastoral livelihoods, making their herding economy less able to respond to environ mental fluctuations. The availability of good agricultural land also reduced considerably due to Niger’s growing population. This increase in population cannot be seen as taking place independently from various polities of the colonial and post-colonial state. In any case, the population pressures in the south led many people to cultivate in the pastoral area and some herders to take up agricultural activities. Out-migration and the hired-herder-work increased thus considerably as fallback activities among WoDaaBe in the 1970s, when access to good agricultural land was more limited.

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