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Integration of the pastoral world into the market economy

It scarcely needs stressing that there are internal sociological, cultural and economic reasons for these changes and the vulnerability of Sahelian pastoral societies, enclosed as they had been for several centuries in the poverty and monotony of a particularly Spartan way of life. It is equally obvious that these changes and their recent manifestations were related to the effects of colonization and the unification of a 'world-economy', to use the terms of Wallerstein and Braudel, centred on the capitalist West.

Table 5.2
Distances travelled by region (%) and camp sizes (numbers)

Region Households present Households in permanent camps Households moving over 200 km Average camp size (numbers of persons)
Total Those moving
Eastern Hodh 54.6 0.6 27.2 27.4 25.6
Western Hodh 51.6 6.4 31.3 33.4 21.8
Assaba 33.5 15.8 6 7.1 25
Gorgol & Guidimakha 11.1 11.3 4.3 4.9 30.2
Brakna 33.7 4.5 7.4 7.8 26.5
Trarza 49.3 3.2 6.4 6.6 12.8
Adrar 32.1 0.6 14.2 14.3 14.1
Tagant 57.6 2.9 23.2 23.9 25.3
Nouadhibou & Inchiri and the two Tirises El Gharbia 12.4 1.8 70 71.3 11.9
National total 33 29.3 16.7 17.6 21.4

Note: There seems also to be some correlation between the scale of annual migration and the size of the nomad units even if the gaps shown by this latter variable in all regions remain rather small: in the north-west where the proportion of nomads annually moving over 200 km is 71.3% the camps have an average of 11.9 persons, or more or less two-tent households (average size of nomad households: 4.84), whereas in Gorgol-Guidimakha where the lowest regional proportion of large-scale nomads is recorded (4.9%) the size of camps rises to an average of 30.2 persons. Or six-to-seven-tent households.

The major consequence of colonization - and possibly its essential vocation - was the creation and development of a dominant commodity sector in the pastoral societies of the Sahel and the Sahara whose production, organization and values had been hitherto based upon pre- or non-capitalist structures even though commodity exchanges, including with European traders, frequently occupied a not insignificant place within these societies.

The various historical stages of the establishment of the hegemony of commodity and monetary economy in Mauritania will not be detailed here, but simply a brief overview to clarify the present situation to be followed by an examination of that situation.

The establishment of a market in cattle

Commercial activities have always represented a significant proportion of the economic life of the western Sahara regions which, since the Middle Ages, have been crossed by caravans taking the products of the Sudan and the Sahel (gold, slaves, ivory, even cereals) northwards in exchange for the products of the Sahara and the Maghreb (salt, metals, weapons, fabrics and so forth). The role of gum Arabic in the Moorish world's external trade from the eighteenth century onwards is also well known, as are the effects of this 'long-distance trade' on the economic, social and political structures of the groups most immediately in contact with it, the emirates of Trarza and Brakna, 'controlling' the 'trading posts' of the river Senegal in particular (Hamès 1977).

But neither trans-Saharan nor river trade (on the Senegal) or the Atlantic trade led directly to the widespread establishment of a dominant commodity and monetary sphere within Moorish pastoral society. Not until the completion of colonization (1902-34) was there substantial progress in the incorporation of the pastoral economy into the market economy. This progress can be seen particularly in the establishment and development of a market in cattle.

Here some results of Pierre Bonte's research on this topic are summarized (Bonte 1981). He writes: 'The formation of a market in cattle was the essential and almost immediate - consequence of colonization.'

Leaving aside France's political and military interest in securing control of Mauritania, that territory was, at the beginning of the twentieth century, seen as a food crop and commercial appendage to the economic development represented for the regional colonial authorities by the groundnut zone of neighbouring Senegal.

Without neglecting the development - or rather the exploitation - of Mauritania. [they] gave it as a result two main functions: 1) to supply the labour force for the rural and urban sectors of groundnut production (that involved essentially the Black Africans along the Senegal valley who migrated southwards in large numbers): 2) to supply cheap food and especially meat to the groundnut producers and to the wage-earners in Senegalese towns. (Bonte, 1981)

It was this second function that affected the evolution of pastoralism more directly since it contributed to the rapid emergence of a market in cattle that more specifically concerns us here. Two main reasons explain the rapidity with which this market was established.

The first relates to the central role of animal ownership among the nomads' resources. They turned increasingly to livestock husbandry to meet the needs for cash that colonization helped shape and extend (role of colonial 'security', markets, improved communications, consumption patterns diffused, however modestly, by the colonial schools and those close to the 'commandant', in short what Hamid El Mauritanyi (1975) called the 'colonial boyarchy'). The second reason seems to be directly linked to the accelerated growth of urban demand, arising particularly from the large Senegalese agglomerations, which experienced continuous demographic growth. By the beginning of the 1920s, the market at Louga was channelling the hulk of Mauritanian cattle exports on the hoof far ahead of the market at Goulimine (southern Morocco) where camels were the main, if not only, item of trade, cattle being unable to go into the desert regions of northern Mauritania.

But 'economic' reasons alone are not responsible for the increase in Moorish cattle sales during the first 30 years of the twentieth century: Pierre Bonte rightly stresses the role of pressures from the colonial administration. These pressures might take the form of commandeering animals for human consumption, paid for (when they were) at the official rate. As early as 1909, the 1.000-man-strong 'Guiraud column', about to conquer the Adrar, collected a heavy levy in cattle from those regions where an economic and military lesson was seen as necessary to help staunch any spirit of resistance. Colonel Guiraud was simply extending, in very disturbed circumstances, an administrative razzia that had been institutionalized in the conquered area of southern Mauritania after 1902. Despite the heavy burdens for the nomads, especially in bad years, such requisitions, open or covert, continued virtually until independence in 1960, and even beyond - as a tax.

In 1926, in the Adrar, the requisitions were for 1.500 camels (out of 9,000). The administrator himself noted that this burden was too heavy and was contributing to the famine then raging in the Adrar. Each fraction in turn had to provide transport animals (one-fifth of animals levied), at least 55 camels per month for administrative transport; these animals had to be maintained near the posts, even if there were no grazing areas! In addition, they had to provide animals for the annual transport of supplies to the Adrar from Rosso and Podor. (Bonte 1981. 8)

As the free market developed, the requisitions, whose unpopularity is easy to imagine, tended to diminish.

The small-scale development of motorized transport saw the first regular commercial links between Atar and Rosso made by lorries belonging to the Lacombe company in 1935. On this route. Lacombe's 35 lorries had a virtual monopoly and transported 2,770 metric tons of freight and 4.782 passengers in 1950, as against 2.500 metric tons of freight and 3.990 passengers in 1947 (Brechignac. 1952).

During the Second World War, however, there was a temporary return to camel transport, both for the needs of internal Mauritanian traffic for which requisitions reached 8.000 camels per year, and for transport to Senegal which required 11,000 camels. In addition to the administration's requisitions there was the cattle tax, opportunistically named zakat (Muslim religious tithe) by the colonial authorities.

This tax was levied on a lump sum basis for each tribe or fraction of a tribe. Tribal chiefs, sometimes accompanied by guards, collected zakat and received a percentage of what they collected as payment; an arrangement that gave rise to countless abuses. For the most prosperous herders payment was relatively easy (helped by a great deal of under-declaration), but it was a heavy burden on the livestock resources of smallholders, especially in had years. Nevertheless, the combination of administrative 'incentives' and economic motivation resulted in bringing growing quantities of stock on to local and foreign markets.

The figures available, quoted below, cannot claim to be other than notional. In 1940, when the effects of the long crisis of 1933-36, which had contributed to a sharp fall in cattle prices, were beginning to diminish and as an era of lasting market disturbances associated with the War was about to begin, the archives provide the following figures for exports of Mauritanian livestock to the Senegal markets (Saint-Louis, Louga and Dakar): 9,723 camels, 9,853 cattle. 126,765 goats and sheep.

It is equally difficult to estimate the recent development of these exports. The lack of strict border control, of controllable marketing structures and administrative means of control, and the fluctuations of official policies for livestock exports, are factors that explain the inevitable imprecision marking any effort to quantify recent exports.

As regards official policies, a belated realization of the danger to national animal resources in the continuation of massive exports of cattle on the hoof began to emerge in the late 1960s. Thus, in 1969, a Mauritanian meat marketing company (COVIMA) was set up, with the Mauritanian state taking a major stake in it. The COVIMA, thanks to the cold stores at Kaedi (3.000 metric tons of frozen meat per annum), was the first step towards replacing exports of cattle on the hoof by marketing meat, at a time when annual sales outside Mauritania were estimated (for 1968) at 52.000 cattle and 330,000 sheep and goats. Financial difficulties, partly associated with transport problems and - as this was the beginning of the drought that has been affecting the Sahel for over ten years - the poor quality of the meat it had been hoped to sell on the open markets in the Canaries and Libya, rapidly immobilized the company. In 1975 it was completely nationalized, becoming the société Nationale pour l'Industrialisation et la Commercialisation du Bétail, SONICOB, but this did little to improve its situation, and today, it works- at a loss- simply to meet the local needs of Kaedi.

Placing a quota on exports of cattle on the hoof, instituted as a counterpart to the measures aiming to gradually replace them with the export of meat, has since been abandoned, in the framework of ECOWAS agreements. Quite clearly, exporters had not waited for these measures to end before resuming and intensifying a trade encouraged by price differentials with neighbouring countries and doubtless, indirectly, by the creation, in June 1973, of an inconvertible Mauritanian national currency (the ouguiya) that further accentuated and bureaucratized the monopoly of import-export activities in the hands of a handful of Nouackchott middlemen. The Mauritanian cattle export networks that were the source of leading Moorish fortunes thus continue, on the back of a movement largely begun in the colonial period, to fuel the ever-expanding regional markets.

The creation of a meat marketing company was also designed to act as a means to regulate a domestic market rendered particularly unstable by regional geographical disparities (variations in rainfall), considerable distances between the producing areas (especially the south-east) and the importing towns along the Atlantic coast (Nouakchott, Nouadhibou, the mining region) and finally the inadequacy of means of transport. Before dealing with meat consumption and how it has evolved, it is necessary to look at commodity circulation for cattle on the hoof within the Mauritanian market.

As already stressed above, the distribution of Mauritanian livestock resources, and the circulation of these resources before colonization was carried on mainly in a non-monetary framework. The global significance of livestock and its products and circulation will be dealt with later, as part of social (family, hierarchical, clientage) relations within the Moorish pastoral community.

The role of razzias in the circulation of Mauritanian cattle in the pre-colonial period is well known. Usually, much less stress is put on the role of other forms of more 'voluntary' distribution - which indeed were more or less associated with the permanent insecurity engendered by the institutionalization of the razzia - such as the mniha. This loan on the usufruct- manaha means supplying the products of an animal lent - offered the double advantage of consolidating kinship and clientage relations while ensuring a prudent dispersal of the herds which were never safe from some unforeseeable occurrence or some enzootic disease.

Alongside these forms of circulation, plus gifts associated with matrimony (before colonization dowries were predominantly settled in cattle) or status (payment of tribute, for example), or particular ceremonial circumstances (births, deaths, festivals, marriages and so on) commodity exchanges in the internal circulation of Mauritanian livestock in the pre-colonial period were marginal.

The role of economic incentives (the rising monetary needs of herders) and administrative coercion in the establishment of a 'free' domestic market in cattle in Mauritania, has already been noted. While this market's needs, notably for meat for human consumption, remained relatively modest throughout the colonial period (urbanization did not take off until after Mauritania's independence in the early 1960s) the continuous growth of supply combined with a relative fall in the cattle prices, compared to imported products (sugar. Guinea fabrics, among others), gradually put traditional herders at the mercy of administrative or commercial middlemen, who themselves had relatively stable monetary incomes. There were sharp upsurges of this process during local climatic crises (1917,1942-43 and so on) and during economic or political crises in the dominant capitalist system, and well as when there was a catastrophic conjunction of the two es in 1940-43 or since 1970. On the basis of an index of 100 in 1940. Pierre Bonte (1981,20) calculated that the price of one kilo of millet officially reached 433 in 1942 (1,333 on the black market), on kilo of sugar from an index of 100 in 1939 increased to I,500 in 1942, the price of one metre of Guinea cloth (the Moorish people's traditional clothing) rose from 100 in 1939 to 737 in 1946, and a kilo of imported rice rose from an index of 100 in 1939 to 2.533 in 1942. Over that period livestock prices tended to stagnate and not until 1948 did these price curves begin a significant recovery.

Recently, in the areas most affected as a consequence of the cycle of drought that began in the late 1960s, livestock prices have fallen sharply: in some localities of Trarza, in 1968, impoverished nomads who had been forced to settle were selling milch cows for 1.500 Francs CFA; two years earlier the selling price would have been 20.000.

But conditions in periods of crisis cannot form a basis for deriving conclusions about some unilinear or continual deterioration of the trade terms between the Mauritanian pastoral economy and the commodity system of world capitalism. A comparison of prices of local products (notably of livestock) and imported goods, from the beginning of colonization to the present day, shows a succession of movements that are far from uniformly unfavourable to herders. But the weakening of the herders' position as they became integrated into the commodity economy cannot be measured solely by the relative market prices between their products and imported ones. This is only one element in an overall situation marked by a global erosion that affects both the system of production and exchange and the cultural models and social relations that govern reproduction in nomad society.

The move of more and more livestock from traditional herders to bureaucrats and traders in the towns in the wake of crises - especially that which has continued since 1969 - is not due simply to a difference in incomes between the two groups but also to a whole range of different attitudes towards livestock and its upkeep.

An essential condition of this transfer lies in the 'Liberation' of the labour force (servile or tributary) from traditional leaders. This is a vital prerequisite to the extension of wage-earning that has become the dominant relation of production in the sector we have called elsewhere (Bonte and Ould Cheikh. 1981)'second herds'. After the damage to Mauritanian livestock caused by the drought' and given the apparent recovery of rainfall over the last three years, it is clear that the increase in stock maintained in this ('second herd') way, sold at the right time, can bring in considerable profits. Unfortunately, there are no statistics to facilitate an appreciation of the scale of this livestock transfer into the hands of the new (and not so new) rich in the towns which, in our opinion, is destined to play a key role in the future of Mauritanian pastoralism.

Another aspect of internal commodity circulation is linked to the local market's need for meat. Here, too, precise data are lacking, largely because most slaughtering is done privately, even in the large towns where wealthy families prefer to buy a whole sheep to be consumed as required, rather than to buy meat from butchers. It is also well known that traditional herders rarely eat animals they themselves have reared.

Compared to other Sahel countries. Mauritania's high level of meat consumption (according to some estimates) is probably a recent phenomenon. Estimates for annual per capita meat consumption according to the FAO's Annual Report on Production and Trade for 19776 are: Mauritania, 26.8 kg; Mali, 13.8 kg: Senegal. 14 kg. The reason for this increased meat consumption since the early 1960s is, above all, the development of urban areas, for example, in 1961 the inhabitants of Nouakchott consumed 70 kg of meat per head (Lacrouts et al.. 1962).

At this time the building of Nouakchott and other mining towns in the north, such as Zouérate and its port of Nouadhibou, were underway, and together (with Akjoujt after 1967) accounted for virtually all the modern sector jobs in the Mauritanian economy. Consequently they experienced extremely rapid population growth, sometimes to the detriment of older rural centres.

The big (in the Mauritanian context) towns in the west and north attract large quantities of cattle from the livestock regions of south-east Mauritania. Facilitated by the tarred road, which will soon link Néma and Nouakchott, this movement, especially for sheep and goats, will doubtless grow in size. Already, on the Nouakchott-Kiffa stretch, articulated lorries regularly carry cargoes of livestock to the capital for slaughter; some of them are then carried northward.

It is not possible to provide figures on the full extent of this trade or to accurately quantify Mauritanian domestic meat consumption, but, as an example, Table 5.3 shows the number of controlled slaughterings in Nouakchott in 1980.

Whatever the precise volume of meat consumption, the estimates, rough though they are, suggest that, given the rate of population growth in Mauritania and the limits on the load-bearing capacity of the grazing areas, it cannot be maintained at its present level over the next 20 years. A recent study Ministère de l'Economie et des Finances. RAMS Project) suggests that the Mauritanian authorities should immediately reduce the population's consumption of red meat in order to preserve the number of livestock still recovering from the depletion caused by the drought in the early 1970s. Moreover, the author of this advice assumed that the traditional system of livestock organization and management, extensive nomadic herding, would be maintained, it being considered that this was the form of land-use best adapted to the scarcity and fragility of natural resources in the Sahelian-Saharan environment.

Table 5.3
Livestock slaughtered in Nouakchott, by month (1980)

Month Cattle Sheep Goats Camels Total
January 1,286 457 493 171 2,407
February 1,226 489 480 212 2,407
March 1,252 376 383 308 2,319
April 1,184 286 298 326 2,094
May 1,128 216 207 418 1,969
June 604 199 236 599 1.638
July 486 253 145 894 1,778
August 540 385 393 983 2,301
September 1.140 869 577 527 3.113
October 1,219 990 597 242 3,048
November 1,558 1,186 624 293 3,661
December 1.650 1,532 387 244 3.813
Total 13 273 7,238 4 820 5,217 30,548
Average 1,106 603 402 434 2,545

But this system, as has been stressed several times, was centred on spatial mobility and dispersion, and involved a set of technical, economic and ideological behaviour patterns: in short, it derived from a culture which, since the advent of colonial occupation and particularly since the upheavals engendered by the latest cycle of drought, has shown signs of ever-more widespread erosion. The transformations suffered by the Mauritanian nomadic way of life in relation to the advances of the dominant commodity sector can be seen particularly in an examination of the incomes and expenditure of nomad households.

Recent changes of nomads' incomes and expenditure

Surveys in which we took part were carried out in 1979 and 1980 in the framework of a project aimed at providing basic data and defining possible scenarios for the principal projects of the Fourth Mauritanian Economic and Social Development Plan, especially in the rural sector. Part of these surveys concerned the structures of the income and expenditure of rural people, including the nomads with whom we are particularly concerned here. For many reasons, both material and methodological considerations (for example, the small sample surveyed, shortness of time, lack of training of those involved) and the obstacles inherent in any survey among nomads (dispersion and mobility of the target populations, mistrust of the 'administration', fear of the 'evil eye', among others), the figures emerging from these surveys cannot be regarded as a faithful reflection of the socio-economic reality of nomad life. Even if they were shown to be absolutely accurate, they would still be a partial image of a nomad milieu heavily marked by community and hierarchical values that further limit the scope of the key concept -'family budget' or 'budgetary unit'- of the survey a few results of which follow.

For the sedentary rural population, monetary income was derived from: wages 26%: gifts 17%; trade 17%; herding 14%; agriculture 6%; pensions and family allowances 5%; fishing 2%; loans 4%; handicrafts 1%; other 8% Nomads' monetary income was derived from: herding 60%: handicrafts 7%; agriculture 2%; trade 7%; wages 4%; gifts 16%: loans 4%.

This research revealed how small is the annual monetary income of nomads compared to that of sedentary rural dwellers: rising to 9.280 MU (US$ 206) per capita for nomads, and to 13,494 MU (US$ 300) for sedentary rural dwellers. A nomad's annual monetary income thus represents only 65% of that of a settled rural dweller.

Herding continues to be the essential means of meeting nomads' domestic needs and the principal source (60%) of monetary income. Wage-earning (4% of monetary income), as indicated here, is less than had been previously supposed given the development of wage-earning in herding, nevertheless, it reflects a significant change in the traditional relations of production. While the stress given here to the transfer of livestock into the hands of pseudo-managers from the bureaucratic and commercial sector has some foundation, if this transfer is accompanied by an extension of wage-earning, the fact that the percentage of wage-earnings in herders' monetary income is so small might be due to a low monetary portion of the wage paid by owners to shepherds; the shepherds themselves are often small herders, preferring payment in kind in the framework of traditional-type contracts such as: usufruct of herd, right to a new-born calf when an animal gives birth to twins, right to one animal of a given age and sex each year fixed on the basis of the number of animals herded, for example.

Gifts in kind from relatives or clients resident in or working in towns (16% of herders' income in kind) testify to nomads' growing dependence on temporarily migrant or permanently settled kin. But it only partly reflects the scale of the rural-urban drift and of sedentarization, which over the years 1964-76 was responsible for a decrease in the proportion of nomads in the population from 64% to 36%.

The insignificant monetary profit accruing to herders from agriculture (2%) does not fully reflect the nomads' role in agricultural labour; a relatively high proportion (29.8% overall) of nomads engage in some agricultural activity.

This figure is the outcome of a change that became apparent from especially the late 1940s. The vertiginous rise in cereal prices (30 times higher in 1949 than in 1940!), the support of the colonial administration, which saw the development of agriculture as a means to make good the food deficit and facilitate the settlement of tax payments, and the gradual emancipation of the former slaves of Moorish herders, large numbers of whom settled in independent villages (àdwàba) and devoted themselves to agriculture, are all factors that explain the development of nomads' agricultural activities. The repercussions of these events on herders' mobility has already been underlined. Combined with other factors transforming the economic and social environment of nomadism they led to large-scale and disorderly sedentarization of nomads.

It is, however, hardly surprising that the current monetary contribution from this agricultural activity appears marginal in the herders' annual accounts. The best lands (courses of oueds, in particular) are still sometimes the object of violent disputes, associated with the demands of newly sedentarized groups, but they have long since been divided up. Nomads anxious to diversify their food resources are left with only the very unreliable product of rain-fed cropping, yielding barely 300 kg of millet per annum, thus to secure a marketable surplus requires exceptional circumstances. Harvests can, therefore, for the most part provide no more than a little extra food for subsistence. This is why the bulk of the expenditure of nomad budgetary units is devoted to food.

The 1980 RAMS survey puts the annual individual consumption level of nomads at 13,778 MU, distributed in the following proportions: cereals 115%; fruit and vegetables 6%; meat 11%: milk products 57%; tea and sugar 9%; other 2%.

The movement towards monetarization of nomad consumption continues to be very uneven (only 49% passes through the monetary circuit), in so far as regional disparities reflect the uneven penetration of commodity relations. This is itself a function of how close an area is to the centres from which these relations are diffused (the strip along the river Senegal and the Atlantic coast since the 18th century, the capital and the mining towns since 1960) or of the particular role of a regional community: in the Eastern Hodh, the most useful inland region of the country, and where pastoralism has remained most vigorous, only 17% of the nomad consumption involves monetary exchanges: while in Tagant, the homeland of the most active trading tribe in Mauritania (the Idawa'li) 78% involves money.

Among the non-food expenditure of nomads, clothes come first for the modest sum of 245 MU (barely 25 French Francs) per capita per annum. In this area, old habits- since the eighteenth century, the so-called 'Guinea' cloth and percale have remained the undisputed leading choice for Moorish veils and boubous - limit the needs of nomad households to one or two purchases a year.

Some expenditure on leisure or toiletries, which is sometimes an extension of old practices - the purchase of glassware and other 'trade' goods in the slave trade period - completes this picture of the consumption of nomad households whose energy needs (estimated at 445 kg of wood per capita per annum) are met in the framework of traditional gathering methods.

According to the most recent data, these are some essential features of consumption and incomes of nomad households in Mauritania. We have no illusions about the real significance of the figures provided by the survey on highly mobile populations, traditionally suspicious of anything that they see as deriving from central government, and living in a system still heavily marked by communal values that are hardly compatible with the individualization of budgetary units practicing rigorously autonomous accounting. But despite these reservations, the estimates obtained do throw a significant light on the socio-economic evolution of the Mauritanian nomad milieu. The major feature of this evolution is identified as a growing monetarization associated with colonization and the postcolonial heritage. The gradual emergence of a market in cattle, sustained by the growth of nomads' monetary needs, administrative requisitions and, more recently, the development of urban centres and the beginnings of a modern transport infrastructure, has been the driving force in a profound change in Mauritanian pastoral society which climatic and/or political and economic crises have helped to speed up. The social and political implications of this change demonstrate the contradictory character of a transformation which has all the appearances of a crisis.

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