Volume 69 (2017) Issue 1 Pages 27-42
In recent years, hunger and poverty have become increasingly serious problems for crop farmers and livestock herders in the Sahel region of West Africa. Hausa villages in central southern Niger reveal a high degree of economic differentiation between households. While most households suffer from food shortages, a small number of wealthy households maintain large surpluses of farm produce. This paper examines the local contexts of economic differentiation and the role of a common traditional custom in West Africa, namely, encampment contracts among crop farmers and herders. All of the farmers in the villages seek encampment contracts with herders, but many are unable to raise the cash and crop payments required to enter into such contracts. The supply of nutrients to the soil via manure from the herders’ livestock means that these contracts act as a kind of advance investment for farmers. The encampment contracts allow Fulbe and Tuareg herders to move their livestock around freely to graze on vegetation anywhere, regardless of who owns the farmland where they are grazing, but at night they always return to camp on the contracted farmer’s plot. The majority of villagers are robbed of nutrients for their soil, which are transferred to soil on the land of wealthy farmers via manure from the herders’ livestock. Economic differentiation within the village is exacerbated and food shortages are rendered long-term by the encampment contracts that wealthy villagers are able to use cash reserves earned in urban areas.