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Pastoralism in the Sahel

FAO Data base on Western and Central Africa (in French)


 "Pastoral nomadism is an effective way to use land that is marginal for agriculture: too steep, too dry, or at too high an aItitude for crops to be raised successfully.

Animals could be moved with the weather cycle to take advantage of available water and pasture. The herders moved according to the locations of food and water for their animals at a given time of year . . .

A diverse herd was one way to hedge against disaster, and several types of animals were maintained.

Tuaregs raised camels in addition to cattle, donkeys, goats, and in some instances sheep."
(Franke pp.41-42)

"Pastoral groups maintained several types of animals; the exact number and composition was a combination of ecological considerations, i.e., what food and water was available, the owner's social status, and the necessity to take precautions against possible disasters. . .

Camels, cattle, sheep, and goats all have different biological needs. Conditions fatal to one species may be quite appropriate for the well-being of another. . .

Should food resources for one species become drastically reduced, it is possible that the other species in the nomad's herd would still be able to survive and produce food." (Franke p.42)

 Animal  Food  Water   Reproduction   Resources



Graze and browse, eating the branches and leaves of trees and shrubs.

best adapted to arid zones, able to go for a week without food or water during the hottest times of year and able to travel relatively long distances in a day deliver their young once a year, in the rainy season, a time when food and water are readily available means of transport, milk, meat, hide.

can live entirely on browsing, requiring no grasses at all in the cool season can do without water for up to two weeks the hardiest and quickest breeding of all the domesticated species in West Africa meat, hide, and provide milk for most of the year unless conditions are exceptionally bad

require grass can go for only two days without sustenance breed more than once a year. wool, meat.

require grass can go for only two days without sustenance deliver their young once a year, in the rainy season, a time when food and water are readily available. milk, meat, hide.

Pastoral/Agriculturalist Symbiosis

"During the 12th and 13th centuries, the pastoral Fulani migrated eastward. Traveling either as individual family units or in very small groups, they posed no threat to existing social groups. They were not competing with them for land, since, like their ancestors, they were able to make use of areas that were of no value to the farmers. Coexisting in a symbiotic relationship with the farmers, they remained a distinct ethnic minority with their own language and culture.

It was especially during the dry season that the exchanges of food and services would take place between herders and farmers. The farmer's harvested fields would become the Zebu cattle's temporary pasturing grounds.

Important as the farmer's grain might be to the Fulani and the Fulani's milk a supplement to the farmer's diet, the cattle themselves provided a most valuable service to the land. The animals, grazing on the harvested stalks, would manure the land, an essential part of the process of keeping the agricultural lands fertile. Modern studies have found that the organic carbon content; a rule-of-thumb indicator of fertility, was two- to three-times higher in fields where cattle had been present than where they were not" (Franke pp.41-44).

Saharan History

Franke, Richard, and Barbara Chasin, 1980 Seeds of Famine: Ecological Destruction and the Development Dilemma in the West African Sahel New York: Universe Books

Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS)

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