Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Mobility, Market Exchange and Livelihood Transition: Fulbe Flexibility in Tanout, Niger

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Mobility, Market Exchange and Livelihood Transition: Fulbe Flexibility in Tanout, Niger

Article excerpt


The Wo[??]aa[??]e and Katsinen-ko'en Fulbe of Tanout, Niger, in the northern Sahel practise slightly different strategies of (agro)pastoral production, with consequently differing patterns of mobility. They engage in similar market exchanges (livestock, grain, fodder) and forms of livelihood transitions in both directions along a pastoralism--agropastoralism axis. Case studies of seven households (three Wo??]aa[??]e and four Katsinenko'en) illustrate the complexity of these practices over a year and a half. If researchers and policy makers are to gain an operational understanding of the risks, opportunities and strategies that characterize the actual agropastoral continuum and the different cultures that engage it, they should extend their analyses beyond the rigidity of agro/pastoral models to the complex relationships these groups of producers have within their ecological and socio-economic environments.

Key words: Fulbe, mobility, Sahel, livelihood strategies, pastoralism, agropastoralism


When I began my dissertation research in April 2006, despite many years living in the departement (district) of Tanout, Niger, I was still working with the assumption of a clear divide between 'settled agropastoralists', living in villages, versus 'nomadic pastoralists', dispersed throughout the rangeland for part of the year and often among harvested fields for the rest. Two months into the fieldwork, I realized that the cultivating Katsinen-ko'en Ful[??] (1) in my research area did not live in villages and most households were mobile. On the other hand, several households among the Wo[??]aa[??]e Fulbe were taking up cultivation, as they had done in earlier times of crisis.

Many men and women of these Katsinen-ko'en communities, living at the northern limit of cultivation, told me how they or their relatives had transitioned between forms of agropastoralism and exclusive ('pure') pastoralism. Households had settled or become mobile, abandoned cultivation or taken it up. One household, mobile at the time of my research, had spent about ten years settled at Mai-Kalafo. When I asked the husband how they became mobile, he simply said, 'when you get more livestock you have to go and look for grass and you move out'. With his large household, he would not give up cultivation, but others might decide to abandon cultivation for a season or longer so that they can concentrate on raising their cattle, sheep and goats.

Whereas the Katsinen-ko'en specialize in balancing cultivation with pastoralism, the Wo[??]aa[??]e specialize in breeding and raising cattle, though the proportion of smallstock (sheep and goats) in their herds has increased over the last half-century. They generally consider cultivation an extreme measure, undertaken only when a household has too few livestock for subsistence, as for example after major crises such as the drought and pandemics at the turn of the twentieth century (Bonfiglioli 1988).

Using a framework of household ecology (Wilk 1997) infused with political ecology, this article examines some strategies that Sahelian (agro) pastoralists employ to manage the risk characteristic of their unstable environment (Bollig and Gobel 1997; Fratkin and Meatos 2003; Hesse and MacGregor 2006). Household ecology examines individual relations within and between households, understanding that those relations, as in political ecology, mediate and are mediated by (even based on) access to and allocation of resources and assets. In the communities studied here, households are relatively independent, consisting of a man and wife or wives (if polygynous, usually two) and dependent children, with possibly a parent or grandchildren. In (agro)pastoral societies resources are generally land-, labour- and livestock-based, but social and cultural resources also play crucial roles in turning these material resources into assets (Bebbington 1999). Combining household ecology and political ecology enables us to view the access to and allotment of resources and assets as dependent upon the varying ecological, economic and political conditions surrounding a household's members and their community. …

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