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Vegetation, land use, and resource development
A brief outline of the vegetation in the Sahel is important for two main reasons. First, since vegetation is a function of soils, climate, and previous land use, it serves as an important indication of productivity and potential land use. Second, some 85 per cent of the people live in the rural areas and are therefore dependent on the natural vegetation for virtually all their energy, most of the feed for livestock, and a variety of medicinal and nutritional purposes.
Consistent with the Sahel's position between the desert and the tropical forest, the vegetation is a mixture of Sudanian and Saharan elements, together with a very small number of endemic species. Nevertheless, Monod (1975) concludes that a distinctive Sahel zone can be floristically identified. Within this zone three main vegetation zones are typically distinguished. From north to south these are the Sahelo Saharan zone, the Sahelian zone, and the Sahelo-Sudanian zone (Bernus undated; Bradley 1977). To a large degree these ecological zones are consonant with land-use zones, briefly described below.
The Sahelo-Saharan zone has a mean annual rainfall of approximately 100-200 mm. It is an area of widely scattered shrubs and sparse perennial tussock grasses. Vegetation cover is usually less than 30 per cent, with shrubs and trees found mostly along the wadis (seasonal watercourses) or other edaphically favourable sites. The herbaceous biomass is no more than 400-500 kg per hectare (Adefolalu 1983). Soils are largely undifferentiated, low in organic matter, and generally poorly developed. The dominant woody species are low trees or shrubs of Acacia tortilis, A. ehrenbergiana, and Maerua crassifolia, while the key grass species are Aristida pungens and Panicum turgidum.
As in the Sahara itself, nomadic grazing is the dominant form of land use. In a good year, large herds of cattle, sheep, and goats will range northwards throughout this zone, making use of the diffuse and ephemeral vegetation. Once the seasonal water starts to dry up, the herds will slowly shift back to the south.
The Sahelian zone can be roughly defined as that area with an average annual rainfall of 200-400 mm. It has a basically prairie vegetation of annual grasses but with larger and more numerous trees and shrubs than the areas further to the north. In addition to the three woody species already mentioned, one commonly finds Acacia raddiana, A. senegal, A. seyal, Balanites aegyptiaca, Zizyphus mauritiana, and Boscia senegalensis. Dominant grasses include several species of Aristida, Cenchrus bifloris, and Schoenefeldia gracilis. Soils are often gravelly, low in organic matter, and deficient in nitrogen and phosphorous. Most soils have a high sand content and are classified as aridisols. As in the Sahelo-Saharan zone, the poor chemical and physical properties result in a high susceptibility to wind and water erosion (Stoop 1981). In small depressions or low-lying areas the finer sediments tend to accumulate and form vertisols, clay loams, or alluvium (Berry 1975). This increases the water-holding capacity and allows better plant establishment and growth. Other reports note that all soils are more or less eroded (SSO 1973).
Dryland agriculture has often been attempted in this zone, but crop yields are highly variable and fail altogether in dry years. Once the land has been cleared, aeolian erosion can become a serious problem. Except for a few localities with better soil and water reserves, this zone should be devoted to animal husbandry.
In the Sahelo-Sudanian zone, annual rainfall averages 400600 mm. The vegetation can be classified as an open savannah. Soils in the sandy areas are generally ferruginous, and these are interspersed with vertisol clays, clay loams, or alluvium (Berry 1975). The natural tree cover is perhaps 10-12 per cent on sandy soils, and as much as 60 per cent on the clay or silt soils. Less xerophytic species are found, such as Combretum glutinosum, Guiera senegalensis, Grewia spp., Adansonia digitata, Anogeissus leiocarpa, Pterocarpus spp., and Terminalia spp. There is a dense cover of perennial grasses, including Andropogon, Eragrostis, Pennisetum, and Zornia glochidiata. In this zone rain-fed agriculture is possible, but in the drier years yields will be considerably reduced.
Figure 4 is a generalized schematic drawing of the major tree and grass species in the three zones defined above. This pattern is of course modified by topography, geology, and micro-climate, as well as annual variation in precipitation. If there is a series of more humid years, such as the period 1960-1967, these zones will shift northwards and the less xerophytic vegetation will colonize drier sites. When conditions then return to "normal" or there is a drought, there will be some mortality, and care must be taken to ascertain whether this is in fact a normal process or a sign of increasing desertification.
Unfortunately, there have been very few long-term research projects that have been able to distinguish between climatic and anthropogenic factors. One such study was carried out in an area of northern Senegal that receives an average annual rainfall of 400 mm. Fortuitously, detailed work began in 1969, just before the dry years of 1970, 1971, and 1972, when total annual rainfall was 209, 202, and 33 mm respectively. Between 1969 and 1970, rainfall was effectively reduced by 45 per cent, but herbaceous production dropped only 20 per cent. In 1972 above-ground production was practically nil, yet the major proportion of grass seed remained on the ground and viable. For the woody species, mortality was highly variable according to the species and the site (dune summits, slopes, or depressions). Maximum mortality was sustained by Guiera senegalensis on dune summits - 63 per cent - but more than sufficient numbers of this species survived to ensure continued seed production and dominance. The adaptability of the woody overstorey is indicated by the reduced time actually in leaf (40-45 per cent reduction in 19721973), reduced leaf biomass production (35-76 per cent reduction in dry-weight production in 1972-1973, depending on the species), and greatly reduced flowering and fruiting. In summary, the response of both the herbaceous and the woody layers suggest that the initial effects of any drought are dampened, and in cases of continued drought the growth and reproductive processes simply slow until more water becomes available. Mortality does occur and can be significant, but the potential for rapid regeneration remains. To retain this resilience and integrity of the natural vegetation, the harvest of products must be reduced during successive dry years.
As implied above, most of the woody species in these zones are dry-season deciduous, with the timing of leaf flush and leaf drop dependent on precipitation. In the drier areas only Balanites aegyptiaca and Maerua crassifolia are evergreen. The growing season may be reduced to as little as one month in the northern Sahel and roughly three months in the Sahelo-Sudanian zone.
FIG.4. Ranges of some principal plant species in the Sahel in relation to average annual precipitation (From Bradley 1977)
TABLE 5. Variations in plant biomass (kilograms per hectare) in the northern Sahel by time of year and topographic location
Source: Boudet 1975b
In addition to these three zones, there are other types of vegetation, which are found only in very specific conditions. One of the most important of these is the flood-plain vegetation along the Senegal, Niger, Chari, and other main rivers. The abundant water supply makes these areas highly productive, but they are also easily exploited. The riverine forests of Acacia nilotica have been heavily cut, and this has significantly increased erosion and sedimentation rates (NAS 1983). The flood plains are also the source of valuable pastures. Dominated by Echinochlua spp., these areas are important in providing high-quality grazing and thereby shortening the time that animals are dependent on browse and low-quality dry fodder (Office of International Studies 1978).
South of the Sahelo-Sudanian zone is the Sudanian zone. Here rainfall ranges from about 600 to 950 mm, and this supports a much denser woody vegetation. For the most part the trees are still dry-season deciduous. The herbaceous cover is generally taller, and Andropogon spp. could be considered the characteristic grass (Ruthenberg 1974). The denser vegetation combined with the long dry season means that fire is relatively common and may burn much of the area (Cockrum 1976).
Still further south is the Guinea zone, and this may be subdivided into the Doka woodland zone (950-1,400mm average annual rainfall) and the Guinea woodland zone (1,4001,800 mm average annual rainfall). The former can be considered a mixture of savannah and forest, with fire a key element in maintaining the grassy open areas (Cockrum 1976). The Guinea woodland zone tends to be mostly forested. Only Senegal, the Gambia, and Burkina Faso have more than 10 per cent of their land area in the Doka woodland zone, and for obvious reasons these areas are relatively densely populated. These wooded zones are the source of much of the charcoal for the urban centres, and they are also much less subject to drought. Hence these areas, as well as the countries further to the south, historically have absorbed much of the influx of people and animals when there is drought further north.
As noted above, land use is closely correlated with vegetation. In the northernmost parts - with less than 300 mm annual rainfall - grazing is virtually the only practical form of land use. Only on flood plains or in exceptionally favoured locations can crops be grown without some form of irrigation. Further south rain-fed agriculture is the dominant occupation of the rural population, with livestock often an important component. Only when one gets into the Guinea zone do the problems of animal diseases force a more complete reliance on crops. Following is a brief description of grazing and agriculture, and then a discussion of the other major components of the Sahelian economies.
In the absence of wells, pumps, and other technological inputs, grazing is the only effective way to utilize the very dispersed, ephemeral resources north of the 300-mm isohyet. Different ethnic groups have developed a variety of strategies to cope with this harsh, high-risk environment. On one extreme there are the true nomads, who usually do not follow any set routes in exploiting the vegetation; their numbers are estimated at 2.5 million in the seven countries considered here (Caldwell 1975). At the other extreme are the farmers who raise crops on the flood plains and wetter areas and maintain only a few animals as a supplement to their diet and insurance in case the crops fail. In between is transhumance, involving regular seasonal migrations. In this system it is common for part of the tribe, clan, or family to tend the animals while the remainder stay in one place to grow crops during the rainy season.
Given the short-term availability of high - quality pastures, such systems of movement are eminently reasonable and ecologically sound. Dry-weight primary production in the northern Sahel can reach as much as 2,000 kg per hectare, enough to support one to two tropical livestock units* per hectare (UNCOD 1977a). However, after the rainy season the quantity of forage declines rapidly, as shown in table 5, and the lack of woody vegetation means that little forage is available in the dry season, especially in the Sahelo-Saharan zone.
There is also a marked seasonal change in the quality of forage. For example, the crude nitrogen content of Cenchrus biflorus, a characteristic Sahelian grass, drops from 16 per cent in growing plants in the rainy season to 4 per cent in straw in November and only 2.6 per cent in straw in April (Boudet 1975b). For cattle, a nitrogen content of at least 5 per cent is required to prevent weight loss. Without supplemental feed, cattle under these conditions will clearly tend to lose weight and may not survive if they must be driven long distances to market. In Senegal the weight changes of two-year-old Zebu cattle were recorded during rotational grazing on a pasture that had a peak above ground herbaceous biomass of 1,300 kg per hectare in an area with an average annual rainfall of 430 mm. The seasonal summary was as follows:
- August and September: daily gain in weight of 900 g/day with a stocking rate of 50 kg/ha.
- October to December: daily gain in weight of 400 g/day with ingestion of 60% of herbaceous production (straw) at a stocking rate of 300 kg/in a.
- January to June inclusive: daily loss in weight of 170 g/day with ingestion reduced to 30% of the forage stocks, at a stocking rate of 90 kg/ha.
- January to late April (before the very hot period): maintenance of weight with consumption of 35% of the forage stocks, at a stocking rate of 80 kg/ha. [Boudet 1975b, p. 33]
Of the four animals commonly grazed - camels, goats, sheep, and cattle - camels are the most hardy, able to survive 10 days without water even in the dry season, and able to eat almost anything. On the other hand, cattle usually stay below the 200-mm isohyet and, as indicated by animal deaths in the last drought (see chap. 3), they are the most susceptible. Sheep and goats range everywhere, with the latter being noted for their ability to reach and consume all types of vegetation. Gillet (1975) blames the goat's preferences for buds as a major factor in the degradation of the vegetation cover. Sheep, on the other hand, are castigated more for their gregariousness than their feeding habits.
The traditional grazing pattern is that at the end of the dry season the animals are either near the permanent villages feeding on dry matter and browse or far enough south to find range and water but not so far as to encounter the tsetse fly. The migration north begins and continues as long as the grass ahead is as green as the pastures at hand. When the northernmost grass and water are consumed (usually in November or December), there is a slow movement southwards to the home range, where there should be crop stubble and a full growth of grass to carry the animals through the dry season (Clyburn 1974). Traditionally, the different clans or ethnic groups usually have their respective grazing areas, and, depending on their environment, they also tend to specialize in certain animals. For example, the Fulani in northern Nigeria and southern Niger are known for their cattle, while the Tuareg, who live north of the Fulani, rely more on camels. In times of drought all the herders tend to shift further south than usual. In 19711973, for example, Mauritanian herdsmen were reported in Liberia and Nigerians in Zaire (Clyburn 1974).
Cattle productivity is notoriously low, with a calving rate of 0.5, a kilograms-feed-per-kilogram-weight-gain ratio of 20 to 1, and four to five years needed for the animals to reach sexual maturity. Often the Sahelian herders have been castigated for being backwards, for overgrazing, and for a general lack of efficiency; but it is now recognized that they are acting rationally, given their environmental milieu and social paradigm. Swift (1976) explains:
The fact that pastoralists are more concerned with protecting themselves from these risks than with making an immediate profit determines a number of salient features of nomad economic strategies. Three are relevant here: (a) flexibility in managing animals so as best to exploit a varied vegetation; this is accomplished by herding several species of domestic animals, each with its own economic and ecological characteristics. Pastoralists commonly spread risk by herding sheep and cattle, which sell well but need lots of grass, water and labour, and camels and goats, which sell less well but which can survive very bad conditions. Goats in particular are hardy, able to survive a drought and can breed again rapidly, thus producing milk five months after the first good rain, Various combinations of these species give Sahelian pastoralists a flexible range of economic strategies to follow according to the needs and conditions of the moment. (b) A second important feature of traditional herd management strategies was the accumulation of large herds above those needed for immediate subsistence in good years. This habit has given rise to misunderstanding and talk of cattle worship. It is nothing of the sort. As several researchers have pointed out, large herds are the adaptive response of a subsistence economy to the demands of a difficult and variable environment; among other virtues, large herds enable food to be stored "on the hoof" and make it possible for a network of reciprocal gifts and loans of animals to be set up between families, which serves as insurance against individual disaster. Pastoralists use animals [that are] surplus to immediate subsistence needs to build social relationships which can be turned back into food in time of need. (c) A third characteristic of Sahelian pastoral economies is their relative lack of success in regulating grazing pressure. The variability of rain and pasture, and the need for flexibility in management, make any precise attribution of land to a particular group of pastoralists difficult....
Grazing land is generally considered the property of the clan, other clans not being permitted to graze without permission.... In fact, even if a clan has complete jurisdiction over the pasture of one particular area, members of that clan may still overgraze. The problem of limiting use of common property resources to an ecologically correct rate of exploitation is at variance with group interest and a solution can be found within the framework of a strong political power . . . able to impose limitations on the individual in the interest of the collectivity.
Cattle can be considered the dominant livestock species, and an analysis of the problems and trends in cattle production can serve as a useful indicator of animal husbandry in general. The basic paradox of livestock in arid lands is that pastures vary considerably on an annual basis but it takes several years for a given herd to respond. In theory it should be possible to reduce the animal population quickly in dry years, but this is generally unacceptable to the herder for both social and economic reasons. In the past, they would respond to changed conditions by shifting their animals to the north or the south depending on whether it was a good or a bad year. For a variety of social and political reasons this is ceasing to be an option.
Estimates place the current cattle population of the Sahel at approximately 23 million animals (USAID 1980a). This is slightly less than the peak of 24 million in 1968 but significantly more than the estimated 20 million at the end of the 1968-1973 drought. It has been suggested that stocking rates should be kept at 80 per cent of the average carrying capacity in order to protect the land in times of drought, but even in 1973, when the cattle population was at its nadir, the animal population was estimated to be within 10 per cent of the range capacity (USAID 1980a).
An increase in productivity has been attempted as a means of improving the standard of living of the herders without increasing the cattle population. So far the results have not been sufficient to compensate for population growth, and per capita meat and milk production have each declined 26 per cent over the last 15 years (USAID 1980a). Increased domestic consumption - primarily in urban areas - has significantly reduced export earnings. Milk imports have rapidly increased, and, if present trends continue, the Sahel will become a net meat importer by 1 990.
In 1977 the livestock industry accounted for 16 per cent of the GNP of the Sahel countries. An estimated 21 per cent of the population are dependent on livestock production as their major means of support. Nearly half of these are sedentary, leaving about 3 million people engaged in nomadism or transhumance (USAID 1980a) These latter groups are the most difficult to reach with services and progressive change, and, for a variety of reasons, governments are encouraging them to adopt a more settled life-style.
While grazing is the dominant land use in most of the Sahelian countries, rain-fed agriculture is the dominant means of livelihood in all the Sahelian countries except Mauritania. In the seven countries discussed in this report, it is estimated that 80 per cent of the population were engaged in sedentary agriculture in 1975, farming 13 million hectares (Club du Sahel 1980). Sorghum and millet are the main food crops, and yields of the latter are 78 per cent of the average yield in Africa and only 44 per cent of the average yield in the developed countries (Lateef 1980). Legumes are often grown in combination with other grains and are important more for their nutritional value than for their absolute production.
Inputs are generally very low, with animal traction used rarely, pesticides and herbicides virtually unknown, and fertilizers used only in very limited quantities. FAO (1977) estimated that fertilizer use averaged 1 kg or less per hectare of cropland in Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), 10 kg per hectare in the Gambia, and 16 kg per hectare in Senegal. Fertility has traditionally been maintained by the use of fallow periods, supplemented by kitchen residue in the near fields and manure from animals grazing on crop stubble or fallowed fields. Population growth and the increased area under cash crops have greatly reduced the use of following, and this has had a number of negative environmental effects (see chap.5).
The modernization of agriculture is also hampered by the spatial pattern of cultivation. Farmers, in order to reduce risk, often plant a number of different plots in a variety of soil and topographic conditions, thereby ensuring some yield in all years (Faulkingham 1977). In a study in south-eastern Upper Volta, Delgado (1978) found that the average farm had 17 different fields, averaging less than 0.25 hectares each, although not all of these would necessarily be in production in any given year.
In addition to sorghum, millet, and the other subsistence crops, cash crops - primarily groundnuts and cotton - are widely grown. While they contribute only 10-15 per cent of the gross value added in agriculture, they are very important in terms of exports and hence earnings of foreign exchange. In the case of Chad, cotton provides 85 per cent of export earnings. Groundnuts and cotton - together with cowpeas in Niger - account for 50 per cent of the export earnings of Senegal, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. This reliance for export earnings on cash crops has meant that the vast majority of research and development efforts, as well as economic incentives, have been directed towards cotton and groundnuts rather than millet and sorghum.
Rice, sugar, and wheat are also generally grown as cash crops, but these are rarely exported. Population growth, urbanization, and changing food habits have caused rice consumption to increase at an average rate of 8 per cent per year. The bulk of the rice is grown domestically, but imports are increasing. Wheat consumption has risen a phenomenal 11 per cent per year, with virtually all of this imported. In contrast, sugar production has nearly doubled in the last decade and now meets approximately one-third of the domestic demand (Club du Sahel 1980).
Irrigated agriculture offers the twin benefits of higher production and relative independence from the uncertainties of climate, but at present less than 2 per cent of the farmland in the Sahel is under some form of irrigation. According to recent estimates, 71,200 hectares can be considered to have complete water control, while another 154,000 hectares have partial water control (Club du Sahel 1980). Nearly 90 per cent of the irrigated farmland is found in Mali or Senegal. The area under irrigation has nearly doubled since 1960, but during the past few years the development of new areas has barely surpassed the rate at which older areas are being abandoned. Rice is the main crop in irrigated areas (Club du Sahel 1980).
Another 200,000 hectares are under traditional forms of irrigation, including flood-recession farming (Club du Sahel 1980), and these are generally the areas targeted for the development of irrigated agriculture in the next few years. The importance of an adequate water supply is illustrated by the fact that 10 per cent of the population lives on the 3 per cent of the land with relatively abundant water resources.
Despite the popular conception of the arid Sahel, the major river systems, Lake Chad, and the rich coastal waters all combine to make fishing an important industry. Fish is a major source of protein for much of the population, with an annual per capita consumption of 15 kg of fish versus 17 kg of meat. The fishing industry also contributes just 4 per cent of the regional gross product but generates 16 per cent of the region's exports. The resource is distributed unevenly, with Mali and Chad having 90 per cent of the inland waters between them, and Senegal and Mauritania having almost all the coastal waters. The inland catch is 220,000 tons (the estimated potential is 390,000 tons), and the catch in coastal waters is 1.7 million tons (with an estimated potential of 2.1 million tons) (Lateef 1980). The coastal fishing industry is still dominated by foreign vessels, but efforts are being made to build up the fishing industry in Senegal and especially in Mauritania (see chap. 31). This concentration on Mauritania is due to the fact that the fishery resources off the north-western corner of Africa are one of the world's last major underexploited stocks, and, under the Law of the Sea accord, much of this stock is under Mauritania's control. Mauritania is actually one of the very few developing countries which has significantly benefited from the recent Law of the Sea accords.
Overall industry is still at an early stage of development in the Sahel. While real growth has been taking place and the industrial sector now accounts for 23 per cent of the total gross domestic product for the seven countries, most of the industrial activity is related to either the exploitation of minerals or the processing of various agricultural products. In countries that have no mining, such as Chad and Mali, the contribution of the industrial sector to the gross domestic product drops to 11 per cent (table 6).
TABLE 6. Distribution of labour force (1980) and gross domestic product (1981) by sector (%)
|Labour force||GDP||Labour force||GDP||Labour force||GDP|
Source: World Bank 1983a
a 1979 data
There is some production of goods to sell locally and thereby save foreign exchange, but even in Senegal the industrial sector contributes only one-quarter of the GDP, and the processing of agricultural goods is nearly half of this ( Lateef 1980).
One of the major problems in industrial development is the relative isolation of many of the Sahelian countries. Chad is some 1,500 km from the nearest seaport and lacks any railroad. Goods generally come by railroad and then are transferred to lorries, but this is a time-consuming and expensive process. Burkina Faso is also land-locked, although it does have a rail link to Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire and the internal road system is relatively good. Similarly, Mali is connected by a railway through Senegal to the port of Dakar, and the Senegal River can be used for transportation during the flood season of July to October. Within Mali there is also 1,600 km of the Niger River, and much of this is navigable from July to January. The Gambia, Senegal, and Mauritania all have deep-water ports, but the transportation system to the interior is much less developed in Mauritania (with the exception of the links between the mines and the coast). In summary, transport to countries such as Niger and Chad is difficult and may double the cost of imported goods. During the rainy season internal transport within all the countries tends to get bogged down except along the main arteries. Tens of millions of dollars have been contributed from outside to improve this situation (chap. 3), but the extent to which this will lead to improved incomes and standards of living remains to be seen.
Tourism is another component of the industrial sector. In all likelihood this will remain insignificant except for Senegal, which can offer beautiful beaches and the pleasant climate of Dakar, and the Gambia, which attracts a limited number of English-speaking tourists. The problem with tourism is that it is extremely sensitive to fluctuations in the world economy and hence unreliable in terms of employment and foreign-exchange earnings.
In recent years mining has become increasingly important as a source of export earnings and hence funds for development. As with the fishing industry, there is considerable variation between the seven countries covered in this study. Mauritania has developed its iron and copper deposits, and mining now accounts for 27 per cent of its gross domestic product and 70 per cent of its export earnings. Niger has been supplying some 20 per cent of France's uranium requirements, and Senegal's phosphate exports are becoming increasingly important. Burkina Faso was expected to begin exploiting manganese and minor gold deposits, but recent unfavourable prices may delay these plans. Other phosphate deposits have been found in Mali and Niger, and while they may not be rich enough to justify export, they could be exploited locally for use as fertilizer.
As indicated in the introduction to this chapter, the total gross national product declined between 1970 and 1981 in Chad, and the per capita GNP declined over the same period in Niger and Senegal. In large part this decline can be traced to the agricultural sector, as growth in the service and industrial sectors generally exceeded the population growth rate. The development of uranium deposits in Niger has spurred rapid industrial growth, while Mauritania has suffered a significant decline in industry from 1970 to 1981. On the other hand, Mali has averaged 4.6 per cent growth in the GDP per year since 1970, with strong growth in both agriculture - especially cash crops - and services. Burkina Faso has also made significant progress in the last decade, with agriculture and services again leading the way (World Bank 1983a).
TABLE 7. Selected economic indicators and trends in the Sahelian countries, 1970-1981
|Balance of payments (million $)||Imports, 1981 (million $)||Debt service||Average annual GDP growth rate (1970-1981)|
|1970||1981||% of GNPa||% of exports|
|Upper Volta||9||- 263||338||1.1||3,8c||3.6|
Sources: World Bank 1981,1983a
a Data from 1981
b Data from 1978
c Data from 1979
With the exception of Chad and Mauritania, all the Sahelian countries have experienced a significant decline in the balance of trade between 1970 and 1981 (table 7). Oil imports have been a major factor in this decline, accounting for 20-25 per cent of all imports. Machinery and manufactured goods are the most important imports in financial terms.
Both growth rate and per capita income seem to be related to indebtedness. Mali and Burkina Faso, the two countries that have experienced the highest growth rates, are the least indebted. On the other hand, Mauritania and Senegal, the two richest countries in terms of per capita gross domestic product, have the highest indebtedness. For the most part the high debt-service ratios - which are higher than those of Brazil, Mexico, or Argentina - have not caused concern because the absolute amounts are relatively small compared to those of Latin America. The Sahelian countries have also benefited from the tendency of the industrialized countries to simply cancel or refinance their debts. Inflation has not run rampant as in so many other countries, largely because of the economic links between most of the Sahelian currencies and the French franc. These links are largely due to the history of the region, the topic of the next chapter.
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