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

  • Martha A. Starr

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.

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