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Rural societies in the face of climatic and environmental changes in West Africa

Benjamin Sultan
Richard Lalou
Mouftaou Amadou Sanni
et al.

Part III. Social changes in rural populations

Chapter 13. The role of seasonal and pluri-annual migration in reducing vulnerability

Hombori and Djougou districts

Alain Bonnassieux et Fabrice Gangneron

Texte intégral

Climatic and environmental crises and migration: divergent positions

1The role of climatic and environmental crises in increasing migration is a subject for debate (Gemmene, 2007). When they bring up the worsening subsistence conditions of populations and increasing migration, environmental specialists highlight the preponderant role of irregular, decreasing rainfall on the one hand and soil degradation on the other. Their work contributing to the emergence of an environmental refugee category has received much media coverage in a context of the blocking of frontiers in Europe for fear of a massive, uncontrolled flow of migrants from the most fragile parts of West Africa (Cambrezy and Lassailly Jacob, 2010). Researchers working on the long-term evolution of migration have reserves with regard to the determinant role assigned to climatic and environmental crises in displacements of populations. They accept that shortages and inter-annual variability of rainfall contribute to increasing temporary migration and its changes (Gonin and Lassailly Jacob, 2002). However, they consider that migration is related to an interlinking of environmental, economic, social and political factors whose range varies according to the territorial context and the period. Focusing on the climatic and environmental causes of migration carries the risk of hiding other factors that play a role that is just as important if not more.

2The increase in migration in the Sahelian and Sudan-Guinean regions is stimulated by constraints—poverty, shortage of work during the dry season, insufficient and irregular rainfall, the high cost of marriage, the subordination of categories in a position of inferiority—whose importance varies according to ecosystems and societies. It is also explained by attractive factors and especially the potential of emigration destinations from the financial and social points of view for personal affirmation, helping the family and gaining new skills that can be used in agricultural or non-farm activities after their return (Mounkaila, 2010). The growing opening of regions to the outside, improvement of means of communication and the generalisation of certain needs also contribute to mobility. A decision to migrate involves cash resources and personal contacts—especially with compatriots already settled in immigration zones. Long distance migration is expensive and involves risks that cannot be taken by the poorest, whose mobility is often limited by lack of money and social capital (Brown, 2008). After a bad harvest, migration to maintain food reserves and find help for the family is often combined with other strategies to achieve subsistence: sale of livestock, paid farm work, small trading, solidarity, gathering substitute foodstuffs, etc. (Yayé and Gado, 2006).

  • 1 These surveys were run within the framework of several research programmes: AMMA (Analyse multidis (...)

3To assess the effect of environmental and climatic factors on migration in comparison with other factors, we analyse the evolution of migration dynamics in a Sahelian district, Hombori in northern Mali, and a Sudan-Guinean district, Djougou in northern Benin1. A description of the two districts is followed by examination for each of the characteristics, changes and purposes of migration. We then return to specific features of the contexts of migration and the strategies used by those involved in order to establish differentiation.

Hombori, a dominantly pastoral district where migration goes back a long way

4Hombori is an administrative district halfway between the Dogon country and Gao in northern Mali where activity is mainly pastoral. Crop farming is essentially rainfed and covers only 3 to 5% of the district (Cheula, 2009). Estimated at 18,000 in 2009, the population is made up of several ethnic groups. Songhai are the most numerous. In descending order of size, the other groups are Peuls, Tamachek and Dogons. Differences between nobles and communities of servile descent are strong among the Songhai, the Peuls and the Tamachek. Population density is modest at 6.3 persons per sq. km and a third of the population of the district lives in the town of Hombori, the capital of the district. Average rainfall has decreased by a third since the end of the 1960s, falling from 466 mm between 1950 and 1970 to 324 mm since 1990.

5Inter-annual variability increased after 1990, making crop and livestock farming more precarious (Mougin et al., 2009). Migration movements to Hombori are not a new phenomena. They form an ordinary pattern for families in crop or livestock farming and make possible the economic and social preservation of agro-livestock groups. However, their features have changed.

Before 1970, migration to coastal countries had composite purposes

6Migration of people from Hombori to towns in the coastal countries Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire and to a limited degree to towns in Mali such as Mopti goes back a long way. The most documented movements are those to the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in the 1920s and 1930s. The Sahelian zones played the role of supplier of labour for building towns and developing cash crops, mainly in the coastal regions and, secondarily, in the savannah zones (Dougnon, 2008). In Hombori, as in other Sahelian regions, migration mainly involved young men until the major drought of 1973-74. Most migration was during the dry season for farm work and was driven by the search for work to earn cash. Migration had important social aims. The subordination of members of groups of servile descent among the Songhai (Banney), the Peul (Rimaibé) and the Tamachek (Bellah) by their former masters and that of young people by their elders was strong. Life and work abroad in ‘prestigious’ coastal metropolises enhanced strategies aimed at independence. But migration was also the fruit of family strategies consisting of economising food by sending young people elsewhere with the hope that they would bring cash when they returned to work in the fields at the beginning of the rainy season.

7The Gold Coast was the main destination for migrants from Hombori during the colonial period. Work could be found more freely than in the areas colonised by France and where forced labour was not abolished until 1946. The Gold Coast economy was the most advanced in West Africa until 1950-1960. Much travelling was done on foot because of the lack of roads and means of transport in the Sahelian regions. Relations housed migrants when they arrived. Unskilled labour requirements were substantial in public works and buildings and in factories, shops and markets in the growing cities (Accra, Koumassi) (Verlet, 2005). Many migrants left for short periods—during the 7 to 8 months of the dry season—and returned to their villages for farm work. However, when they had stable jobs or succeeded in opening a shop or a workshop, as was the case of many Songhai in Koumassi (Dougnon, op. cit.), they might stay away for several years without going home.

8Migration to Ivory Coast grew in the 1960s and overtook that to Ghana, which was in recession. It was the time of the ‘Ivorian miracle’; Abidjan was growing strongly and attracted people from the whole of West Africa. Migrants found work easily in factories, at the port, in department stores or with Europeans as domestic staff or caretakers and changing employer was easy. Several young Songhai who left for Abidjan during this period stayed for 20 years and sometimes longer, working as warehousemen near the large shops in the Plateau district or as factory workers near the port. Some of them used their savings to buy cattle when they returned to their villages. A minority consisting of persons from Hombori who had attended school found jobs in sectors that needed qualified workers. Several remained in the country and took Ivorian nationality.

Migrations during the 1970s and 1980s crises

9Migration changed scale with the major droughts and food crises of 1973-74 and 1984-85. Food shortages caused a considerable increase in migration and concerned all categories of the population: men, women, old people and all social groups. Contacts were not necessarily maintained with those who left at that time. As has been observed in northern Mali, the drought caused the fragmentation of Hombori families (Grémont et al., 2004). Destinations were much more varied than before the periods of shortage. Under emergency conditions because they had lost everything, many people from Hombori went where they could survive, with destinations including the nearby regions of Konna and Mopti or in northern Burkina Faso. According to the testimony of a village chief, ‘those who left did everything they could find to get something to eat’. During and after the major droughts, migration to Ivory Coast and Nigeria grew exceptionally as the economies of both countries were still expanding strongly. According to a Songhai notable in Hombori, the large number of people from Hombori in Ivory Coast and the aid that they sent to their families meant that ‘from 1975 to 1985, Ivory Coast was the economic heart of Hombori district’.

10After 1990, although droughts were not as serious as they had been during the two previous decades, they marked the beginning of an era in which recurrent problems of subsistence became one of the major causes of migration.

11Agriculture is often seen as an increasingly uncertain activity because rainfall is small and displays inter-annual variability. However, the chronic difficulties as regards subsistence are also caused by manual equipment with low productivity that means that the areas cultivated per holding cannot be increased. Only a minority of farmers—generally Dogon—use draught cultivation. Decreasing, irregular rainfall in a context of weak evolution of farming systems and mediocre soil fertility have resulted in a worsening of subsistence conditions in comparison with the 1950s and 1960s. But the marked differences in food self-sufficiency are caused by disparities in equipment and the degree of mobilisation of the labour force. In a survey conducted in 2009 on a sample of 112 farmers, nearly half (46%) had food reserves for less than two months after the harvests and a third had stores for between four and eight months (Aguilhon, 2009). A minority of farmers (7%) were self-sufficient and had surpluses.

Profiles of today’s migrants and the reasons for migration

12Although most migrants are still unmarried men, the number of households, older men, women and girls who migrate for a season and/or on a pluri-annual basis is distinctly higher than it used to be.

13Many young men consider that farm work is unreliable and not very fulfilling. According to a teacher in Hombori, ‘when they go two or three years with practically nothing to harvest, the young people are discouraged’. But young people’s dislike of farm work does not result only from the irregularity and paucity of harvests. It results from difficulties in meeting personal needs while working on the family farm, unpaid, under paternal authority. The young people in the villages who manage to get by are those who are able to have small jobs of their own—individual farming of a market garden plot, paid farm work or driving cattle—to generate a personal income. Young people who have been to school have often lost the habit of hard work in the fields and would like to leave to earn wages. Their resistance to working unpaid on the family farm is a source of tension and incomprehension by the elders. The latter think that young people are ‘lazy, not as tough as they had been and more materialistic’ because they have other needs that they can only meet by being different from the family: buying mobile phones, motorcycles, clothes, etc. As a result, young people are tending to stay longer elsewhere.

14Migration is also a strategy for saving food reserves. As possibilities for work are extremely limited in most villages during the dry season, many young people and an increasing number of households migrate to regions not far from Hombori in Mali or Burkina Faso, to work to ensure subsistence during the dry season. Before they leave, the grain crops harvested are set aside to feed their old parents who stay and to ensure that there is food when they return for the rainy season. Even if promises to improve daily life by cash contributions are not held, such migration saves drawing on the family granary. Mouths to feed leave in the dry season and muscle for the fields returns in the rainy season.

15In addition to the increase in these categories of migration, that of young girls is growing and, to a lesser extent, that of married women who migrate without their husbands. Most work as domestic servants in towns in northern Mali. Such female migration is fairly common among Dogons and in groups of servile extraction, especially Peul Rimaibe. In contrast, the departure of young girls is frowned on and fairly rare in Songhai circles.

16Periodic cash remittances from migrants and those made on their return are used to buy food at the two large markets in the district—in Hombori and Wami. The monetary resources provided by migrants often complement those earned by a few local activities: small livestock fattening operations, cattle trade, artisanal activities, paid farm work, the manufacture and sale of charcoal and gathering and sale of forage for feeding livestock. When a job brings in enough money to buy food—which can be the case when the cattle trade expands—the contribution of migrants to subsistence is marginal. In contrast, it plays and important role in families without the capacity for diversifying activities devoted to subsistence.

17When the crops are poor, migration is no longer a strategy for the best possible management of limited reserves but becomes a survival strategy and the number of migrants increases. According to a person of authority in the village of Dakakouko in November 2008, after poor harvest resulting from insufficient rainfall, there were some 100 migrants out of a population estimated at 515. During such crises, departures are earlier and returns are later. The cash sent by migrants is used more than usual for purchasing food.

Migrations in an area with smaller potential

18At sub-regional level, this change in migration is in an increasingly restrictive context resulting from the economic crises and political conflicts that have occurred in the ‘traditional immigration zones’. As early as 1969, several people from Hombori who had stable jobs in Accra and Koumassi had to leave Ghana when measures were taken for the large-scale expulsion of West African migrants. But at that time Sahelian labour was still needed in Nigeria and Ivory Coast. Since the 1980s, increased unemployment and poverty in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and other countries have caused numerous departures. Emigrants from Hombori were witnesses and victims of the crises in the former immigration destination areas. Some who worked in Lagos lost everything they owned when two million foreigners were expelled from Nigeria in 1983 to appease public opinion upset by precariousness and violence after the end of the economic boom in the early years of oil production.

19Several of those who were workers in Abidjan at the beginning of the 1980s lost their jobs after measures were taken to limit the use of foreign labour after companies failed and the labour market shrank. When poverty became more acute in the 1990s, young people from Hombori had to face competition from Ivorians who, in order to live, were ready to carry out work previously considered to be degrading, such as pulling carts. Several were victims of xenophobic violence aggravated by the fostering of Ivorian national identity. Because of the violence suffered, migration to Abidjan of young Bellah from Doungouri, which had been frequent before marriage, practically ceased. As their situation was one of increasing precariousness in various coastal countries, some migrants sent their wives and children back to their home villages.

20In the face of these crises and the difficulties encountered on the migration routes—racketing in particular—movements shifted to countries that were geographically and culturally closer. Several migrants were housed and helped by Songhai relatives in Niamey, where they worked as masons or marabouts in particular. In Niamey, several young people in the Bellah village in Doungouri have worked in Niamey as water sellers in Niamey, a common trade among Malians in the Gao region. The gold mines at Essakane near Djibo and Gorom-Gorom in the north of Burkina Faso attracted a growing number of young people and families from Hombori, even though gold panning is considered to be dangerous and uncertain. According to a young Songhai, ‘It’s more by luck than work that you make money in the gold deposits’.

21A few people from Hombori tried their luck in towns in southern Algeria and in Libya, but discrimination with regard to immigrants from black Africa in these countries, the bad treatment endured and the frequent expulsions of sub-Saharan migrants have limited the numbers involved in this migration.

22As a result of the decrease in paid jobs and the difficulty of gaining a lasting position in the economies in immigration areas, routes have changed and migrants travel according to opportunities for work in areas that are essentially Sahelian, and even Malian. The migrants who do best are those who have a skill (masonry, mechanics, well-sinking) that mean they can find work more easily, even in small places. People from Hombori are most numerous in Bamako, where they work in shops and caretaking. The increase in trade in cattle and in fattening means that young Peuls and sometimes Songhai are readily employed by town-dwellers—especially traders—to look after their cattle. Seasonal migration to closer regions is now more common, with destinations like Mopti-Sévaré and medium-sized towns such as Douentza and Konna. This short-distance migration gives more opportunities than before in small, jobs requiring little qualification: carters, guards, cattle minders, gold panners and shepherds. Earnings are small and irregular—less than those in the former immigration zones. Many migrants, and especially those living in urban areas and who live with their wives and children cannot help their parents in their home village because they have trouble enough ensuring their own subsistence.

Migration systems based on contacts

23Being part of socio-professional networks guides routes for migrants and helps them to do what they want to do. In Hombori, as in other Sahel regions, movements are often within village and/or ethnic communities whose members are scattered geographically, often across frontiers (Dougnon, op. cit.). Destitution and lack of contacts drastically limit travel possibilities. Those who have nobody to help them to pay for the trip often travel on foot to the nearest places to find work and earn money to travel further. When young people who want to go to large cities do not manage to get together the money needed for the trip they use the ‘paid arrival’ system. This consists of travelling on credit with, on arrival, the price of the journey being paid by a family member who will subsequently be repaid by the migrant. The existence of small communities of people from Hombori in the coastal cities—Abidjan in particular—and also in Mali in Bamako and other cities plays an important role in the search for housing and work. Thus people from the village of Kelmi who have settled in Abidjan contribute to renting a house in the Treichville district for housing young people from the village who come to work in the large Ivorian city. The strong presence of people from Hombori in numerous sectors—carrying goods, looking after and selling cattle, caretaking, small retailing and domestic jobs for young women—makes it easier for new arrivals to settle in. Young unmarried migrants often share the same housing to keep expenditure on rent and food to a minimum, to be able to help their families and to save for personal projects.

Processes of individual affirmation and the diversification of work

24Migration is not merely the result of adaptation or survival strategies in the face of acute problems of subsistence. It makes it possible to accumulate resources—at least migrants have this hope—to improve their financial and social positions. Implementing these proactive strategies is enhanced by the opening up of the district to the outside, with a surfaced road since 1986 and the spread of mobile telephones.

25A large proportion of migration income is devoted to strategies aimed at gaining autonomy. The stay in another place for young unmarried people means that they escape from the supervision of the elders and earn personal incomes. The migration of young bachelors is an important stage for gaining experience and new skills, especially before marriage. Migration periods have enhanced the learning of new trades: tailor, radio repair, well-sinking and cattle dealer. Experience gained while away and small savings from migration are resources that are useful for increasing herds or starting other activities. For example, when they returned to the village, several former migrants in Kelmi have used the skills they had gained in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast in the herding, trade and maintenance of cattle to start a cattle trade operation between Hombori, Bamako and Burkina Faso. In spite of the uncertainty of agricultural production, a few migrants seek to strengthen farm production capacity. In Dogon farms, the funds contributed by migrants have enhanced the spread of draught cultivation and the diversification of production.

26A large proportion and sometimes all the money earned by young migrants is used for paying a dowry, which must be done before marriage. Marrying means gaining the status of a man on becoming adult. The rest is used for purchasing consumer goods (clothes, mobile telephone, etc.) that are the mark of modernity, of joining transnational culture and urbanity that enable them to stand out in the community.

Djougou: diversified farm production but precarious groups in a position of inferiority

27Djougou is an administrative district with a Sudan-Guinean climate in the centre-north of Benin, peopled principally by Yom farmers and numerous minorities. Fairly varied food crops (yam, maize, sorghum, cassava, etc.) make it possible to feed a greater proportion of the population of 180,000. Nevertheless 10% of households are faced with food insecurity and disparities are marked. Malnutrition of 30% of the children in the district causes retarded growth (Droy et al., 2014). Although rainfall is decreasing, it is still high at an average of 1,200 to 1,300 mm per year. But the availability of crop farming and pastoral resources is decreasing as a result of the continued increase in rural density. This climbed from 34 to 68 persons per km2 from 1992 to 2013 and some areas are close to saturation. The increase in density is the result of natural population growth and the arrival of Bétaramibé (or Ditamari) and Lokpa farmers from the north and the west and Peul graziers from northern Nigeria, Niger and the province of Borgou attracted by relative availability of crop and pastoral resources in some zones. Within the district, landholding modes in rural areas strongly feature dominant lineages of Yom farmers and reduce access to crop and livestock farming resources for groups in inferior positions: immigrant farmers and the various groups of breeders. Seasonal and temporary migration of young men and women to countries near Benin (Nigeria, Niger) or to cities in Benin is very frequent in households with limited means. Those involved often see it as a way of escaping poverty, earning a personal income and obtaining resources that improve their situation in their home setting.

Semi-captive labour on farms in Nigeria

28Many young Yom, Bariba and Peuls leave to work on farms in Nigeria at the frontier with Benin. This is not new migration but its organisation is changing (Imorou et al., 2011). Previously, heads of families handled the organisation of the migration of their children in order to have the labour needed for farm work and to hope for a little money when they came back. An increasing number of young men now leave without the knowledge of their parents, depriving the latter of labour that they do not have to pay. In addition, parents consider that their children run great risks because of the dangerous life and hard working conditions in Nigeria.

  • 2 The spelling of the name of these intermediaries varies according to the source: in Djougou, it is(...)

29Most of the young men are recruited by intermediaries called oga or waga2 (big brother and/or boss in Yoruba), who handle transport and accommodation on arrival in Nigeria and agree with the employers (without consulting the young men) with regard to the amount and procedure of payment. These middlemen are often former migrants who have gone into the fairly lucrative business of transporting and placing young men. From 2009 to 2013 in Gaounga, a Bariba village, a former migrant who set up as a mason after his third stay as a labourer in Nigeria, placed 48 young men from his village at farms in Nigeria. The oga have acquired social capital, and then profit from this to find work for young men who do not know anybody in the migration zone. When the latter have already spent a stay in Nigeria they do not necessarily call on a middleman. They prefer to come to an agreement about their pay directly with the farmers. But many of those who leave for the first time with lack of experience and contacts run greater risks than if they had used a middleman. This is why many of them use the services of the latter.

30Many of the young men are employed by Yom and Bariba farmers who have lived in Nigeria for several years and are often sharecroppers (Imorou et al., 2011). Work is intense and labourers are obliged to complete the work given within the time allotted and must work six days a week. They start work in the fields at 7 am and, if the field is remote, must leave at 5.30 am. Depending on the case, work in the afternoon continues until 7 pm. The work to be done is all manual (earthing up, clearing and hoeing) and requires a great deal of physical effort. The employer houses and feeds the workers along with others who may come from other parts of Benin or from other countries (Togo and Burkina Faso). During their only day off in the week many work for other employers in order to earn a little pocket money for everyday expenses. If this extra work is well paid, some labourers leave the operations that hired them and work for the other employers.

Forms of capitalisation for returning home: a motorcycle and knowledge

31Workers pay is fixed with no written contract by the oga and the employer. The amount is set according to the duration of recruitment and may vary according to the amount of work done by the labourer. The employees are not paid until the end of the recruitment period that varies from six months to often a year, two years and sometimes three. This system of payment at the end of the work is not new. It existed in francophone countries during the colonial period and was used to make an unstable or even ‘irresponsible’ work force in place until the end of works (Viti, 2013). Seasonal workers employed for six months in coffee and cacao plantations in Ivory Coast were often paid in this way. The system made it possible to keep young workers under control, to avoid the use of money earned on things considered as futile (being in fashion, entertainment and seducing girls) and also allowed certain employers to cheat their employees. Many young men in Djougou leave for Nigeria for the first time when they are 15 to 17 years old. They prefer to be paid at the end of the contract so as not to spend their earnings as they go along and for this forced saving to contribute their plans for when they return home. Indeed, after two or three contracts in Nigeria most of them return to their home region and set up an independent activity and found a family.

32The sum is not generally handed over in cash but in the form of a motorcycle. In this case, a small sum is also given to the worker to cover his expenses during his return to Benin (petrol, clothes). A former migrant from the hamlet of Angara returned with a motorcycle and CFAF100,000 after working for the same employer for two years. In the village of Gaounga, a former Bariba migrant who has been an oga for several years got a motorcycle after a ten-month employment. The value of the motorcycle depends on what was agreed between the employer and the middleman when the worker is taken on. A new Chinese motorcycle costs about CFAF550,000 and the price of second-hand models varies from CFAF150,000 to 350,000. The middleman generally handles the purchase of the motorcycle.

33The fact that most remuneration is based on obtaining a motorcycle at the end of the contract or that the young men sometimes take home other goods rather than money is explained by the low value of Nigerian currency, the naira, against the West African CFA franc. Bringing back goods is more profitable than changing nairas into CFA francs.

34Failure to respect oral contracts is frequent, especially with regard to undertakings concerning payment of the worker. This failure can be by employers or ogas. Ogas are often blamed because they pay the young men; when the latter go back home without a motorcycle or with a motorcycle worth less than agreed, they tell their parents. It is often the latter that take action against the ogas and, if necessary, summon them before the local authorities (custom chief, gendarmerie, court) to force them to pay what they owe.

35In most cases, on return the migrants sell the motorcycles they brought with them. The sums paid are used in several ways: helping the family (equipment for the house, help for the schooling of younger brothers and sisters), building and equipping their own dwelling and marriage expenses. The three types of expenditure show that there is a compromise between family approaches and individuality and matrimonial strategies.

36The results of experience gained elsewhere are less visible but sometimes fundamental and contribute to spreading innovations and equipment, both agricultural (new methods for growing yams, growing watermelons, mills) and non-agricultural (video apparatus, television, generators, etc.).

37Young men often have three or four stays lasting nearly a year in Nigeria, returning home for several months between each one. They then settle in their home village or elsewhere in the district of Djougou, raise a family and do their own work there. Most of the young people who leave want to return home. There are more opportunities for sustainable activity than in Nigeria where working conditions are hard. They maintain very strong links with their families and the aid that they provide on their return contributes to strengthening their position.

38Nevertheless, a few migrants remain in Nigeria, especially when they had conflicts or problems—especially with the law—in their home community and may face difficulties if they return.

Female migrations for domestic service or work in informal micro-enterprises

39Female migration to towns in other regions of Benin and in neighbouring countries, especially in Nigeria and more rarely in Niger, is also substantial in the district of Djougou. It involves girls who are sometimes very young—13 to 20-year-olds—and also married women who have children. This migration is substantial in poor households and in those where the head of the household does not perform his obligations because he is polygamous or often absent (Droy et al., op. cit.).

40The reasons for this temporary migration are linked to several factors. For the youngest girls from poor households it takes the form of temporary “confiages” of better-off families in order to reduce family expenses and receive a little money in return. Some are placed with apprentice mistresses (hairdressing, sewing, etc.). The others leave to save a little money and are recruited by micro-enterprises run by women (processing foodstuffs, street food), in family shops or in households as domestic servants. Their departure may also result from strategies to avoid the husband who is planned for them.

41They leave with the hope of assembling a small capital for a wedding trousseau (cooking utensils, pagnes, etc.) and also to start a business activity on their return and not depend on their husband, or to maintain their rank in the household by making their contribution. Married women also leave, sometimes without their husband’s knowledge, to assemble a little money and start a business. The procedures for the organisation of female migration depend on several factors: age, the reasons for departure and contacts in immigration zones. As for young men, former female migrants act as intermediaries and handle the transport and recruitment of young girls or women by employers in Nigeria. Less frequently, people known by the parents of a girl who have contacts elsewhere offer help in finding a job.

42In African towns, demand for female labour is strong for domestic work and in small shops and micro-enterprises handling services and processing. The working day is often long, starting at 5 or 6 am and lasting until late in the evening, but the rhythm depends on the personality and choice of the employer.

43Pay is often fairly modest. For example, two Sew Sewga village women employed as cooks by female restaurant owners, one in Niamey and the other in Kandi, were paid CFAF7,000 and CFAF5,000 per month respectively. They were fed and housed by the women that they worked for, as is common for this type of job. Those who go to Nigeria seem to be able to earn a little more, especially when they receive daily payment that can range from CFAF 1,000 to 2,000, according to the reports collected. Like those for young men, agreements concerning remuneration are not always respected by employers and middlemen.

44When young women have set aside savings and gained a certain know-how that enables them to go into business and buy a few goods (clothes and kitchen utensils), they marry and cease migration. Having children limits scope for working elsewhere. But mediocre household conditions (a husband who has abdicated his responsibilities or has no resources, polygamy, poor harvests, not enough land, etc.) may oblige them to migrate again. Some of those who go to Nigeria stay on and marry compatriots who have settled there.

45The goods brought back (clothes and kitchen utensils), their appearance shown off on by their clothes and possibly a stoutness indicate success elsewhere, increasing the status of those who marry and encouraging other girls to leave.

46The businesses that the young women start on return frees them from male supervision but keeps them close to the other work of the family (neighbourhood shops, manufacture of shea butter, etc.). These non-agricultural or peri-agricultural activities are more profitable than the work they did on the farm (in very small fields). Their earnings contribute to the family incomes and cover outlay on health, clothes and schooling for the children. The economic autonomy of women is sometimes fairly strong as some lend money to their husbands.

Differences and similarities between temporary migration in Hombori and Djougou

47In Hombori, as in a large proportion of the Sahel, because of the ecological and climatic conditions, movement and mobility within a large area have long contributed to the maintaining of family farms (Mounkaila, op. cit.). Their long history and scale are explained by the fact that there is little work during the long dry season and by insufficient rainfall and the damage caused by various pests (caterpillars, crickets and seed-eating birds). While before 1970 the great majority of migrants consisted of young men, the profiles of migrants have changed since the droughts and food crises of the 1970s and 1980s. Droughts and migration have caused the emergence of new economic patterns that have remained.

48Temporary migration usually just lasts for the dry season. However, since the 1970s, climate disturbances and the frequency of attacks by pests have obliged many migrants to leave earlier and return later. The fact that migration goes far back and is large in Hombori is also explained by the rigidity of the social structures in the region, as in western Niger and northern Mali. In societies whose hierarchy is based on the status inherited at birth, migration since the colonial period has given an opportunity to low-status groups—Banney, Rimaibé and Bellah—to escape the domination of their former Songhai, Peul and Tuareg masters and improve their conditions of life.

49As a result of the agricultural potential in the district of Djougou, migration to elsewhere is not as longstanding as that from Hombori and its scale remained modest for a long time. It has increased since the 1980s mainly as a result of increasing population density against a background of landholding inequality. In the old, densely populated areas, young people and women were the first to be affected by the increase in disparities and tension in access to land. But until the early 1990s, settling remained easy in the parts of the commune where density was lowest. The rapid population growth everywhere in Djougou reduced opportunities for young farmers who wished to establish their own farms (Bidou and Droy, 2012). The most vulnerable households are those of immigrant farmers with no land rights, poor native farmers and Peuls with no cattle—and especially families with numerous children in which expenses for the workers are high. These groups make the largest contribution to migration flows.

50Many young men in Djougou, more so than in Hombori, are tempted to leave and work elsewhere as the tasks that they perform on family farms are not paid, they benefit little for the income from the sale of production and the farm chiefs are reluctant to give them a piece of land that they can operate for themselves.

51The features of migration from Djougou are different to those of Hombori. The calendar is not linked to the seasonal features of farm work. The young men who go to Nigeria leave to work on farms for comparatively long continuous periods of one to two years. Unlike most of the young men from Hombori, they do not return to the village to participate in agricultural work.

52Djougou is one of the regions in Benin where child trafficking is substantial and where many children are entrusted to or placed in households against a modest amount of money. Migration often concerns younger children than in Hombori. The dividing line between migration and ‘placement’ is difficult to define; young people are taken over by networks that exploit child labour, but they do not leave against their will. Because of the precariousness of family situations and parents’ failure to take them in hand, mobility is seen by many boys and girls as the main opportunity to overcome poverty, find resources for projects and for affirmation in their home environment. In families with limited resources, work at an early age (often 6 or 7 for both sexes) prepares young people to affront exhausting work conditions elsewhere.

53As women have greater financial independence in Djougou, female migration is greater than in Hombori. The migration of young girls and women is much better accepted than in Hombori. In the latter district, although an increasing number of Dogon girls and those of servile extraction leave to work as domestic staff elsewhere, female migration mainly concerns women who accompany their husbands or go to join them.

54Likewise, migration shifts and the movements of migrants do not display the same features. In Djougou, the role of the ogas in the organisation of juvenile migration is determinant and particularly ambiguous. Most are former migrants who profit from their contact capabilities in the departure and arrival zones to make money by handling the transport of young people to immigration zones, making them work for them and placing them with employers, establishing agreements with the latter covering the type and amount of payment and handling the awarding of this. In Hombori, the migration of young people is less strongly supervised and they have more freedom of choice as regards activities, working conditions, payment and destination. Nevertheless, their migration is facilitated by people from Hombori settled in the immigration destinations and who help to cover transport, provide accommodation and help migrants to find work.

55As a result of the crises that affected the former migration destinations, and especially the coastal towns where people form Hombori used to find work, migration is becoming focused on Mali and in nearby regions in Burkina Faso and Niger. However, opportunities for work and pay are often limited, tending to reduce the resources acquired. The migrants who succeed are those whose skills allow them to move about in mainly Sahelian areas.

56Djougou is close to Nigeria and this provides many opportunities. The demand for labour in commercial farming is high thanks to strong urbanisation and an increase in demand for foodstuffs, stimulating the development of agricultural production. Women and girls find work easily in small service activities in towns. The urban fabric is denser in Benin than in Mali and there are more possibilities for work for girls from Djougou. The town of Djougou with a population of 80,000 and the secondary urban centres form a district with a fairly dynamic economy providing more scope for employing young migrants when they return. In Hombori, the already modest potential decreased markedly after the crisis and the conflicts that affected northern Mali.

57The working conditions of most migrants from both Hombori and Djougou are very difficult because of the features of work in the informal sector and in farming. But the strong supervision of workers is a greater constraint for young people from Djougou.

58The purposes of migration differ in some respects. In Hombori, resources gained through migration are used mainly to reduce food insecurity. In most cases the investments made by migrants are not devoted to strengthening farms, as agriculture is an uncertain activity. In contrast, they are aimed at diversifying activities to improve family resources. This diversification often involves the development of small-scale livestock farming and trade in cattle, enhanced by increasing demand for animal products in towns in Mali and the neighbouring countries.

59In Djougou, in contrast with Hombori, rainfall does not seem to have had much impact on migration. In Hombori in 1970-1980 and even more recently in years with poor rainfall, the more numerous departures took the form of survival migration. The link between migration and reducing food insecurity is very limited in Djougou. The money earned by migrants is used partially for schooling brothers and sisters, to cover health expenditure, clothing, family ceremonies, etc. Earnings of migrants are also used in both places to set up non-agricultural activities. In Djougou, the migration resources of young women are used to a considerable degree to strengthen their non-farm activities. The increase in demand for services in villages—which are modernising rapidly in Djougou—and the modernisation of housing favour the development of new trades.



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1 These surveys were run within the framework of several research programmes: AMMA (Analyse multidisciplinaire de la mousson africaine) and ECLIS (Élevage, climat et sociétés) in Hombori in 2008 and 2009; ECLIS and ESCAPE in Djougou in 2010, 2012 and 2013. It has not been possible to perform further research in Hombori since 2010 because of insecurity in northern Mali.

2 The spelling of the name of these intermediaries varies according to the source: in Djougou, it is waga and oga is used in a report on juvenile migration (Imorou et al., 2011).

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