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Risk, environmental variability and drought-induced impoverishment: the pastoral economy of central Niger

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 December 2011

Extract

Since the early 1970s the heavy impact of recurrent drought has given rise to the sense that Sahelian pastoralism is in decline. This is usually attributed to increasing aridity, environmental degradation and the destructive effects of colonial policies on traditional mechanisms to spread risk and promote recovery from drought. These factors clearly contribute to the pastoral sector's apparently increasing difficulties in contending with environmental hardship and variability. However, analysts' strong emphasis on forces exogenous to the sector has created a seriously distorted view of a system in uniform decline. In fact, when changes within the pastoral sector are examined, it becomes clear that the movement of people away from full-time transhumant livestock raising since the 1970s reflects not the decline of pastoralism per se but rather the slipping-out by a stratum of producers for whom the risks associated with this activity were simply too great relative to possible returns. Understanding that drought-induced impoverishment has its roots in differential ability to bear risks linked to environmental variability is especially important in formulating sound policies to ensure present and former pastoralists' continued access to income-generating activities, whether in full-time livestock raising or in other areas.

Résumé

Risques, variabilité évolutive et Appauvrissement par la sécheresse: l'economie pastorale du Niger Central

Cet article examine la nature de l'appauvrissement associé à la sécheresse de 1968–73 parmi les populations pastorales Touareg du Niger. Depuis la fin des années 60, le secteur pastoral nigérien est considéré comme étant sur le ‘déclin’ du fait d'une aridité acrrue, de la dégradation des pâturages et des effets destructifs des politiques coloniales sur les mécanismes traditionnels mis en oeuvre palier aux risques et à la sécheresse. Cependant, après avoir examiné la manière - et le degré d'efficacité - dont les différents types de producteurs pastoraux tentent de faire face aux risques liés à l'environnement, il apparaît évident que l'appauvrissement causé par la sécheresse est un phénomème extrêmement inégal et les petits exploitants sont plus susceptibles de faire faillite au cours d'une sécheresse. C'est ainsi que le mouvement à l'encontre de l'élevage du bétail transhumant qui se manifeste depuis les années 70, reflète non pas le déclin du pastoralisme en lui-même mais plutôt la disparition d'une classe d'exploitants pour qui les risques associés à cette activité étaient devenus trop grands par rapport aux bénéfices possibles.

Du milieu des années coloniales aux années 60 les conditions écologiques et économiques favorables du Niger central encouragèrent une catégorie d'exploitants dont la plupart appartenait auparavant aux classes supérieures Touareg à se lancer dans le pastorilisme à plein temps avec des troupeaux de petite importance. Ces exploitants de petite envergure possédaient des méthodes d'investissement, de marketing et d'assurance du bétail qui étaient beacoup moins aptes à affronter les risques que ceux de leurs homologues de grande importance; en fait, les grands exploitants possédaient en partie la capacité de faire face aux risques de par la nature de leurs relations avec les petits exploitants. Ainsi, lorsque la sécheresse de 1968–73 se déclencha, les petits exploitants abandonnèrent le pastoralisme à plein temps pour adopter des méthodes plus agricoles, combinant souvent la main d'oeuvre itinérante et/ou l'elevage du bétail agro-pastoral. Ceci était à la fois dû au fait qu'il leur était impossible de maîtriser l'impact de la sécheresse sur la viabilité de leurs troupeaux et que les bénéfices provenant d'autres sources de revenu étaient devenus comparativement plus intéressants, car le type de pastoralisme qu'ils pouvaient espérer pratiquer comportait desormais des risques inacceptables.

En résumé, ce qui est arrivé au pastoralisme nigérien au cours des quinze dernières annés n'est pas du tout un phénomène uniforme d'appauvrissement et de déclin. Il s'agit plutôt d'une restructuration notoire de secteur pastoral, influencée par la relation entre la sécheresse et les différentes aptitudes des exploitants à faire face aux risques.

Type
Research Article
Information
Africa , Volume 57 , Issue 1 , January 1987 , pp. 29 - 50
Copyright
Copyright © International African Institute 1987

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