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Les charrues de la Bagoué

Jacqueline Peltre-Wurtz
Benjamin Steck

Summary. The plows of Bagoué

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1In the Ivory Coast, as in other West-African countries, agricultural development is indispensable for controlling the population explosion and urban growth, which began in the fifties, and for adapting to the decreased annual rainfall recorded since the sixties.

2In 1973, the “Compagnie ivorienne pour le Développement des Textiles (CIDT), which succeeded the “Compagnie française pour le Développement des Textiles (CFDT), initiated a rural development program in four northwestern departments of the country where cotton farming had been developed since 1962. The objective was to introduce ox-drawn plows, intensif) food crops, and create permanent fields. The program was first tested in a smaller area, the Bagoué region north of Boundiali. The CFDT had successfully developed cotton farming here, and the more limited tree coverage made it easier to clear the land for plowing. The organizations financing the program requested a concomitant analysis, which was assigned to two geographers, Jacqueline Peltre-Wurtz and Benjamin Steck. The analysis (submitted in report form in 1979) concentrated on the farmers’management of land Systems in the Bagoué region from 1974 to 1978, which was strongly influenced by the CIDT.

3The analysis was carried out on four leveis. The only subject examined on the highest levei, i.e. the four northwestern departments of the Ivory Coast, was the policy of the CFCT and then the CIDT frorn 1962 to 1978, which is described briefly in Part One. Documents provided by the CFDT and CIDT allowed J. Peltre-Wurtz to assess the overall activity of the two companies until 1973, and to compare results obtained in the test region of Bagoué with the less advanced results throughout the Northwest, thereby gaining a better perception of the nationale of the current program.

4Documents related to landscapes, population, cotton crops, and breeding formed the basis of a more diversified approach in the Bagoué region, specifically concerning population distribution, land use, and recent changes in agriculture and breeding. Complementary investigations carried out in Kasséré, one of the subprefectures of the region, provided information concerning population migrations, village land history, and transfers of work and cattle from densely populated centers to their outskirts. These two leveis are analyzed by B. Steck in Part Two.

5On the lowest level, the locality of Syonfan near Kasséré, farmers’management of land Systems could be observed more precisely by retrospective investigations of population and farming and by monitoring village social, farming, and economic organization for four years, and field use for at least two farming years. J. Peltre-Wurtz chose this village for study because its inhabitants were among the first to buy plows from the CIDT and the relatively high field density was likely to provide an incentive for farmers to take an interest in stabilization. This analysis is presented in Part Three.

Part One

CFDT and CIDT policy in Northwestern Ivory Coast

6The CFDT introduced cotton farming to create a textile industry in the Ivory Coast and supply domestic needs. Cotton farming began between 1962 and 1965 in the four northwestern departments and achieved rapid success. Production in this area reached 50,000 t in 1977 and involved two out of three farm families (except for the dense area of Korhogo). This double success was due to the introduction of good farming methods and methodical involvement of farmers, as well as to the characteristics of the crop, which required no initial financial investment but only work and enough land, and provided guaranteed income since the whole harvest was purchased by the CFDT and then the CIDT.

7Starting in 1973, the CIDT began to modernize the farms, but the results were still partial in 1978. A better integration of cotton with rainfed food crops began when the CIDT recommended that the two types of crop be combined in the same place on eachfarm, but intégration was far from complete. Competition between cotton and rainfed staple food crops (maize and rice) for priority in crop succession was still active, with the CIDT encouraging farmers to favor cotton. The recommended use of fertilizer on separately grown maize and rainfed rice crops made Utile progress insofar as the yields obtained with these crops were comparable to those obtained without fertilizer on fields combining maize and rainfed rice. The development of food crops also would have required the creation of a marketing System, which was inadequate except in regions near Korhogo.

8Among all the new methods proposed by the CIDT, the most successful was ox-drawn plo wing, particularly in the less wooded areas of Northwestern Ivory Coast, where annual stump removal could be carried out most quickly. Under these conditions, the development of plowing without immediate field stabilization was an attractive objective and farmers adapted the long fallow farming System to their new tool. Nevertheless, wherever the CIDT was unable to fix crops, its policy of clearing lands with a bulldozer appeared ill-fated, considering the high cost per hectare for short cultivation times and especially the cutting, filling, and soit compaction, which depleted the agricultural potential of the country.

9The development of plowing also changed the economic and social relationships between farmers, but it is still too soon to analyze the subject. Hopefully the economic and social alteration of the rural population organized by the CIDT was reflected in the structures introduced by the CENAPEC and ONPR in 1975 to involve farmers more fully in their own development.

Part Two

The Bagoué region, cotton expansion and alteration of the rural land

10CIDT policy was fïrst applied in the area north of Boundiali. We have called this area the Bagoué region (the name of a tributary of the Niger, which crosses the area from south to north) to revive the term used in 1974 by an association of natives who had since become urban executives and wished to develop their native land. Thus, Bagoué was in fact a developing region.

11To the west is an area of gradual transition between Senufo and Malinké populations. Running across the south is a climatic boundary beyond which the rainy season continues for more than seven months. The eastern limit of the Bagoué region is marked by the western edge of the dense Korhogo zone. Beyond this, the higher population density (more than 40 inhabitants per km2 in 1975) has obliged villagers to make practically constant use of the land, which is entirely devoted to food crops. Lastly, the national border with Mali to the north represents a boundary neither for farmers nor for ethnie groups, but delimits major economic decisions, inevitably creating discontinuity in current development.

12The so-defined Bagoué region comprises 15,000 km2 of vast monotonous plains punctuated by several inselbergs. In eastern Bagoué, a table appearance predominates on mainly schistose bedrock. The west has a granite substratum and the landscape is more mountainous. Altitudes locally reach 800 m and the landscape is more uneven. In 1975, open woodland and wooded savanna still covered vast areas, notably in the Southwest. This vegetation protects the soit, maintaining a certain humidity, and supplies village wood requirements. However, an extension of deforested areas was observed. The inhabitants numbered 180,000, mostly members of the Senufo tribe, but Malinkés, settled in the northwest, and Dioulas, originating in the Kong region to the east, were scattered almost everywhere, especially along the main Boundiali-Tingréla route.

13Was it possible to change agriculture that did not lack space? With a mean density of 12 inhabitants per km2 in 1975 and about 6.5% land occupancy, the Bagoué region appeared to be an area where people were still free of any quantitative land restrictions, and the agronomic potential was mostly good, i.e. 60% of the land was suitable for agricultural activity, and rainfall, despite a recent somewhat disturbing decrease, remained quite satisfactory, with 1,300 to 1,400 mm of rain for at least 6 months of the year. Nevertheless, two observations are partly in opposition with these facts:

  • Land occupancy in the region had considerably increased in twenty years. With a population growth of 40%, the cultivated area had increased by 160%. These rates reveal large changes and raise the possibility that land restriction could appear more quickly than assumed. This restriction becomes more plausible if the tillable area (60%) and length of land use (4 years of cultivation and 15 years fallow) are taken into account. Under these conditions, the proportion of tillable land used rose from 19% in 1955 to 53% in 1975, and land reserves were considerably reduced.

  • The region was characterized by a very uneven distribution of people and fields. Although vast areas had remained completely or almost completely uninhabited, some areas reached a population density of 30 inhabitants per km2 with more than 15% land occupancy, a levei that is no longer suitable for a farming System based on long fallows. These small areas covering 16% of the regional land, contained 33% of the population and 42% of the cultivated land.

14Population growth, the development of rice farming, and particularly the introduction of cotton farming (50% of the land) account for the expansion of cultivated area. In parallel, the farm workload had increased considerably, since a typicalfarmer spent 40% of his agricultural work time in cotton farming (Syonfan in 1975). Even more decisive was the impact of the ox-drawn plow, which reduced the hard work of tilling and weeding, and the use of the cart, which made it easier to transport crops and wood. However, plowing raised new problems since it required large investments that only the more populated farms could afford, and since it entailed technical problems related partly to the combination of breeding and agriculture and partly to soil protection, maintenance of fertility, and weed control, with the prospect of deforestation and field stabilization.

15The expansion of rice farming and transformation of cattle breeding were other forms of “subversion” in the farming System. Breeding problems were not only related to plowing, but also to supplying the country’s meat demands. The “Société pour le Développement de la Production animale” (SODEPRA) proposed two solutions, one designed to improve management of local cattle herds, and the other involving the introduction of zebu herds from elsewhere.

16Nevertheless, the main environmental challenge remained crop stabilization. This was potentially of immediate interest to the following two categories of people: 1° the third of the farmers who lived on 16% of the regional land where population density and land occupancy were high, and plow owners distributed among all villages, who were obliged to remove stumps on natural fallow in order to use their tool. Until then, the first category had moved away from villages as soon as land occupancy imposed a reduction of natural fallow, and the second category had often received help from the CIDT in doing the extra stump removal work. However, there was a danger that excessive reduction of natural fallow (to avoid long-distance emigration or simply to make stump removal easier) would impoverish the soil and eventually cause a new wave of emigration away from the region. Although this solution seemed less expensive to farmers than crop stabilization and its associated investments and extra work, it was not acceptable in the long term on the government levei. Consequently, the CIDT had a difficult but essential role to play here.

Part Three

The reference village of Syonfan, transformations in the organization of society, time, and land

17The selection of the reference village tuas based on the following self-imposed criteria: 1° the village had to show rather inflexible land use, which might be an incentive for farmers to put more effort into fïeld stabilization, to integrate breeding and agriculture, and to purchase plows, it had to combine the two main ethnic groups of the region, the Senufos and Mandings (Malinké or Dioula), whose behavior might differ with regard to agriculture, 3° it had to be of medium size (from 250 to 500 inhabitants), so that the study would not be abnormally long, and 4° it had to have several plow-owningfamilies, which was rare in 1974.

18Syonfan best fulfilled these criteria. The population density had reached 20 inhabitants per km2 in 1975 (in the other twenty localities of the region with higher densities, the villages were too large to allow exhaustive study). Although Syonfan did not show excessive land restriction, the occupancy was less flexible than that of two-thirds of the population of the region and it perfectly represented all the small villages located on the outskirts of the densest centers, which welcomed the fields and cattle of their cramped neighbors. The inhabitants of Syonfan were of two lineages, both of Senufo origin (Pongabélé farmers and Logon craftsmen), although the lutter lineage showed strong kinship with the Dioula tribe. Syonfan was of medium size, i.e. 344 inhabitants, 243 of whom lived in the village and 101, originally from Kasséré, distributed in six hamlets scattered in the vicinity. Cotton was cultivated on almost all the farms, which took up a third of the cultivated area in 1974-1975. Lastly, three plows had been bought from the CIDT in 1973, and then 9 more in 1975, so that a third of the farmers used ox-drawn plows at the time of the study.

19Population changes and land use in Syonfan from 1955 to 1978 reflected that of the small and medium-sized villages in the region, characterized by large increases in population and land use, related to three factors: the natural positive population growth, a positive migratory balance due to large population movements from the densest centers (in this case Kasséré), and lastly the development of rice and cotton farming.

20Since the creation of Syonfan, the two lineages in the village had divided up into family farms and had incorporated Pongabélés from Kasséré and several other families of different ethnic origin. From 1974 to 1978, family size remained stable, averaging 10 people, including slightly less than 5 workers. The farms consisted of fields of rainfed staple food crops (yam, maize, rainfed rice), secondary rainfed food crops (sorghum, millet, groundnut), cotton fields, and lowland rice fields. In 1974-1978, the average farm occupied 6 ha, comprising 3 ha of rainfed food crops, 2 ha of cotton, and 1 ha of rice fields. Each man worked an average of 188 days a year in the fields and each woman 169 days. Priority was given to the fields of the heads of families who, at their discrétion, granted authority to adults under their control to cultivate individual fields. In general, the heads of families held nine-tenths of the fields growing rainfed staple food crops (maize, rainfed rice, yam), four-fifths of the cotton fields, twothirds of the fields growing secondary rainfed food crops (sorghum, groundnut, millet) and slightly less than half of the rice fields.

21In 1974-75, almost all the staple food resources were obtained by farm work since, with an annual monetary income of 24,000 F CFA per inhabitant, farmers only spent 2,000 F CFA per person on purchasing food that could have been produced in the locality. During the following years, these purchases increased to compensate for shortages arising from poor food harvests and competition from cotton. Again in 1974-75, agriculture provided two-thirds of the monetary income, of which 52% came from cotton. This crop brought a certain prosperity to all villagers, since the income was proportionally distributed among families according to their manpower. It also reinforced the power of the heads of families, who controlled four-fifths of these fields. A third of them, whose families included many workers (at least 6) assuring them a high cotton income, possessed three types of capital with a total value of at least 400,000 F CFA, i.e. a motorbike, a herd of ten cattle, and plowing equipment (plow, cart, and oxen). This new economic power had not yet produced a new social class in Syonfan, since it depended too much on family manpower, which inevitably fluctuated.

22The Pongabélés earned three-fourths of their income from agriculture. Nevertheless, those in the most dynamic hamlets could be distinguished from those in the village because of the larger area cultivated per worker, the increases in cotton income between 1974 and 1978, which raised them above other social groups, and the strict authority of family heads, who left little autonomy to other adults with regard to land access or possible emigration. These characteristics are probably related to the pioneer mentality of these isolated families, who had settled there in the last 10 or 20 years. The Pongabélé family heads in Syonfan had a more liberal attitude, meaning that adults had easier access to land, and emigration was already appreciable in this group.

23Among the Logons, who were craftsmen and merchants almost as much as farmers, the family heads readily granted land to the adults they controlled. This group appeared to be the most open to change in 1974 (at that time only three Logons owned plows). It also had a high emigration rate among the young men, and over the years it lost part of its vitality for farm work and was surpassed by the Pongabélé group, particularly with regard to cotton farming.

24The families of other ethnic groups that had immigrated to Syonfan were not numerous but they had precise functions. In 1966 a family of blacksmiths arrived, trained by the CIDT, who repaired plows, and in 1967, 1975, and 1976, three Peul families were recruited to take care of village herds.

25From 1955 to 1975, land occupancy rose from 2 to 10.6%. The last levei is not far from the limit of 13%, beyond which the traditional farming System can no longer be maintained. Nevertheless, before the space problem could occur, farmers were already having a problem finding enough time to do all their farm work, particularly in September when yam had to be ridged and rice planted out, and during harvests of lowland rice and cotton in December. All efforts of Syonfan farmers were thus directed toward finding solutions to reduce farm work.

26The plow was the most effective solution adopted during this period. This technique became widespread in long fallow farming and on wooded savannas. All interfluve fields had to be cleared laboriously by axe, since the CIDT, with its hoists, could not carry out all the annual clearing requested by farmers. Plowing also developed because of the permanent rice crops established in many lowlands of the locality. It allowed the transfer of about one month of work from the rainy season (reduced tilling and weeding time) to the dry season (time of heavy clearing), with a probable reduction of one work week in the rainy season. Men were more affected by the transfer because they were more involved in tilling and stump removal.

27In 1978, the future of Syonfan could be summarized by four types of query:

  • How would the population curve of the community proceed, considering that it had declined since 1976? Emigration of young men to the cotton region of Dianra (in the south) and to the cities mainly affected the Logon group. Would the trend affect the Pongabélés? Would it increase, remain steady, or decrease?

  • How could the competition between cotton and food crops be regulated so that farmers would not be obliged, as in 1977-78, to use cotton income to buy rice and maize that they could have produced themselves?

  • How could the farming system on the interfluves be adapted to the stump removal necessitated by plowing, which had shown its utility elsewhere? Decreased fallow time would facilitate stump removal, and prolonged cultivation would assure a profit from the initial work, but the whole operation would probably resuit in reduced fertility and more weeds.

  • What would be the long-term significance of the economic emergence of the heads of the largest families of Syonfan, representing a third of the family heads? As long as their power depended on the number of family members active in cotton farming, the emergence would be temporary, because of its dependence on population fluctuations and the inevitable departure of young couples. However, the introduction of tractors into the region by the CIDT in 1978 would perhaps be a sufflciently lucrative investment to allow owners to hire employees and be less dependent on fluctuations in family manpower.


The future of the Bagoué région

28In 1978, three conflicting situations called for consideration.

Cattle raising and the cohabitation of Peuls and farmers

29Peul herds disturbed farmers but also doubled the capacities for cattle raising in the region, at a time when ox-drawn plowing was developing and the Ivory Coast needed meat, The conflicts were real, but the management of farmers’herds organized by SODEPRA appeared likely to improve relations between Peuls and farmers, by making the latter aware of the economic advantages of cattle raising. To be profitable, cattle raising required an investment of time and money and had to be integrated with agriculture, not only by raising animais for traction, but also by pasturing herds on artificial fallow or at least on harvested fields, by organizing pasturage, and by setting up watenng places, all of which were also of interest to the Peuls. If common economic interests could be defined and the improvement of cattle raising continued, it could become a focal point for regional development favored by the large demand of Ivory

Competition between food crops and cotton. The rural exodus

30In the competition between food crops and cotton, farmers scarcely had the means to resist the development of cotton, even to the detriment of food crops. To overcome the risks of local shortages and assure that the region participated in supplying the cities, two conditions had to be met: there had to be a System of food crop marketing as effective as the cotton marketing System, and a price policy making food cropping profitable for farmers and reasonable for urban purchasers, with or without subsidies.

31A well-regulated price policy would favor farmers, who would be better protected from shortages and assured extra income in case of surpluses, and it would benefit urban consumers and the whole country, which would be less inclined to spend its currency on importing staple food products. It could also counter the exodus of rural youth.

32A whole set of improvements in the infrastructure of northern Ivory Coast has been carried out by the government since 1974, such as well-drilling and the construction of roads, schools, dispensaries, and public buildings. The development of cotton and ox-drawn plowing in the northwest of the country, of irrigated rice around Korhogo, and improved management of cattle breeding all arose from the same desire to create a pole of economic attraction. Marketing Systems remained to be developed in certain areas, and the prices of cotton, rice, and maize needed to be better adjusted.

The mechanization of farm equipment

33Cotton was absent in 1961, but it was everywhere fifteen years later. It covered a third of the tillable land in the Bagoué region and provided more than half the income of Syonfan inhabitants, representing 40% of the farm work in 1975. In addition, the occurrence of a drier period prompted farmers to turn the lowlands, which naturally lacked trees, into rice fields (in Syonfan, 40% of the farm work was devoted to rice farming in 1975). The increased work load made the ox-drawn plow more attractive. It was introduced in 1973 and had rapid success in the rice fields (in 1978, 90% of the Syonfan rice fields were tilled by plow), but was adopted more slowly on the interfluves because of the difficulties of stump removal, and in the wooded savannas where there were predominantly temporary crops followed by long fallows. Fallows were shortened so that stump removal could be carried out more quickly, and cultivation times were increased to assure profit from the clearing work. Thus, mechanization favored the development of more permanent agriculture, even where low field density would have allowed a continuation of long wooded fallows. However, on these farms, as on those occupying more densely cultivated land, additional work was needed to regenerate the soit. Long-term management of regional resources was concerned and the CIDT had to give priority to this aspect of its development program.

34Although difficult stump removal on the interfluves hindered the expansion of plowed land, the purchase of a tractor and the substantial income obtained by using it to cultivate large areas, made it easier to overcome the obstacle. The development in 1978 of the first 23 motorized farms brought changes that were even more decisive than those obtained with ox-drawn plowing. It tended to favor the economic emergence of a rural elite, making the region more attractive. It became indispensable to enact new land legislation to prevent these new rich farmers from amassing land that was already insufficient in the most populated centers and to guarantee regional ecological and socioeconomic equilibrium.

35It should be recalled that the CIDT provided farmers with technical means that had not been directly available. The farmers adapted them to their needs, which shows the success of the program. It also indicates that autonomous development is no longer viable and that farmers need the government to make powerful technical means available, to protect them from possible risks in applying them, and to adjust regional development to the needs of the nation.

© IRD Éditions, 1991

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