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Paysans sereer

André Lericollais

Summary. Sereer farmers Agrarian dynamics and mobility in Senegal

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1Analysis of a rural society and the evolution of its agrarian Systems is a vast field of research. Many skills were used to carry out this ambitious project in Sereer country, especially in history, economics, geography, demography, anthropology, agronomy and zootechny.

2The interdisciplinary team was guided by several questions. The first was that of the fate of the Sereer agrarian model in the face of unprecedented demographic, ecological and economic constraints in the old Sine area. Are Sereer social organisation and ethics — and especially the solidarity links that operate under the supervision of the ancients — conserved in the Sine? What is left of the agrarian Systems of the home villages and the Sereer social identity among the colonists settled in the new lands? Finally, what is the nature and intensity of the relations maintained at a distance between the people in the old land and the emigrants to the new lands?


3The changes in Sereer agriculture and society are approached in the regional context of the groundnut belt. Demographie and economic fluctuations are described for a period of more than a century whereas the effects of economic policies, institutional reforms and drought are analysed more closely for the past 30 years (first part).

4The Sereer rural population is the densest and most deeply rooted of Senegal. This originality is related to old social structures and is in agreement with a relatively intensive agri-pastoral System and domestic economy with priority awarded to on-farm consumption of food.

5Historical analysis of the demographic series available makes it possible to review Sereer population movements since the end of the nineteenth century, with stress laid on the specific features of the Sereer in the Sine kingdom with regard to social organisation, political supervision and territorial coverage. This history of seulement shows the position of the Sereer in the population of Senegal, especially in the increased demographic density and spatial dynamics of the groundnut belt.

6In more precise terms, demographic monitoring performed for more than 30 years in the Ngayokhem zone in the heart of Sereer country provides a detailed analysis of trends and fluctuations, especially in terms of the mobility of the working population. The Sereer population of Sine has increased steadily since the beginning of the century but the demographic capitalisation in the old countries was very moderate until the mid-twentieth century. It has in fact been accompanied by a geographical redistribution of the population with the farming of the land reserves at the edges of village land areas and along the frontiers of the former kingdom. The migratory movements initiated by the administration first in 1936 and then in 1973 have resulted in the creation of islands of Sereer populations towards the pioneer front of the new lands. Emigration to towns long remained modest in the Sine but has developed considerably since the 1970s, with the main destination being Dakar. Demographic analysis of the Ngayokhem zone reveals the quickening growth of population since the 1960s and the swelling and diversification of migratory flows. Rural emigration focused on the Koumpentoum new lands after 1973, whereas migration to Dakar increased continuously in the context of the drought. The Sine Sereer area is still the most densely populated rural zone in Senegal, but the scale of the migratory flows promises new links with other rural zones and with urban areas in terms of economic complementarity and social dynamics.

7The groundnut economy has structured the rural areas in central western Senegal as a region organised around purchase points and networks for the transport of groundnuts to the ports and the capital. The Sereer areas near the coast were among the first involved in a middleman economy from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. The reluctance of Sereer farmers to produce groundnuts has often been stressed and the accent laid on the particular dynamics of their agrarian System. This originality in the groundnut belt has gone down in economic history. It shows that the Sereer country adopted groundnut growing for commercial purposes very early on. The organisation of the groundnut trade has contributed to the blending of the Sereer zone into the groundnut belt. After Independence, the development programmes run by Satec and by Sodeva followed by the liberalisation of the groundnut industry confirm the extent to which Sereer rural areas form an integral part of the groundnut belt.

8However, the economic incorporation of the Sereer region in the groundnut belt has not erased the specific features of the Sereer agro-pastoral system. The agrarian developments that partition and structure the Sereer rural area also show this originality. However, the drought has deeply modified the landscapes in the Sahel-Sudanian zones since the end of the 1960s. This ecological crisis has contributed to the degradation of Sereer agrarian landscapes but is not the only explanation. Analysis of the landscape provides other information that accuses recently adopted agricultural practices and techniques. The agrarian landscape bears disturbing signs of neglect with regard to both the management of rural areas and the integration of crop and animal farming.

9The dynamics and performances of Sereer agriculture are observed with reference made to the different levels of organisation and decision-making. These are essentially those of the village, family groups and individual workers. For analysis of agricultural activity and animal farming practices, information is assembled simultaneously on nested scales from the small experimental plot in a field to the village area; each scientific discipline has used its angles and scales of approach (second part).

10The time pitch and the reference area were narrowed for the detailed studies of the dynamics of farming Systems. The surveys covered the two periods 1965-1969 and 1986-1987. The two sequences were set in their contexts and linked to chronological series starting at the beginning of the 1960s.

11During this period, the Senegalese government continued to promote change, in particular in land management and agricultural policies. The implementation of legislation and successive directives concerning agriculture came up against the diversity of local situations. Study of Sereer farming Systems and their complexity and dynamics shows the originality of the adaptations and responses of Sereer farmers to these institutional changes.

12The increase in the population and the number of workers and the increase in the area of commercial groundnut led to saturation and landholding tension. Land has become scarce in the Sine villages because of the high density of the farming population. Landholding pressure has continued to increase first as a result of the increased area used for groundnut and more recently because of the generalisation of the use of animal draught in farming.

13However, landholding tensions and the production of groundnut as a cash crop have not led to land becoming a ‘merchant good’. The distribution of fields among production units and the workers that form them is governed with reference to social ethics that have been conserved in spite of the new landholding legislation. Land management procedures remain under the control of the elders of lineages. The new legal facilities established to settle disputes only operate in exceptional cases and must come to terms with the traditional practices. Production units are awarded a minimum amount of fields while loans of land give the landholding System a degree of flexibility. Modes of access to land thus remain comparatively fair. The mobility of the labour force, and in particular movement to the new lands, also helps to avoid blockages. Land management in the old Sine land is combined with the formation of holdings in the new lands by recently emigrated relations.

14The rapid increase in population affects the structure of production units and the questions of food equilibrium, monetary income and pressure on natural resources. However, the increase in population has not resulted in the swelling of production units; the numbers of persons on the holdings have remained the same in recent decades in spite of changes in cropping and livestock Systems and the seasonal or final emigration of part of the working population. The greatest changes have been in the modes of co-operation in field work because of the adoption of animal draught in cultivation. The heterogeneity of the size and structure of the production units has nevertheless increased, making it difficult to compare their strategies and output. Agricultural performance is gauged more with reference to the categories of workers subjected to the same constraints and benefiting from greater or lesser autonomy within the production unit.

15The farming Systems have been marked by the decrease in rainfall. At the beginning of the observation period, farming benefited from a comparatively abundant annual 700 to 800 mm of rainfall. The shortages of rainfall from the end of the 1960s to the 1973 drought were considered as accidental and a recovery was expected. Farming and livestock Systems were only adapted to the more arid conditions at the end of the 1970s when the fall in rainfall proved to be lasting and when the shortfalls were substantial in terms of averages for periods. The figure fell from over 700 mm before 1968 to less than 500 mm in the subsequent decades. This distinctly Sahelian rainfall regime necessitated new constraints in agriculture in terms of uncertainties and productivity. The potential decreased when one refers to the ecological criterion alone. Farmers adapted their practices to these new conditions, especially by reducing the diversity of the species cultivated.

16However, agriculture does not depend on ecological constraints alone. The main technical change during this period was the general use of animal draught in cultivation and for traction. This made jobs faster and less arduous, improved tillage operations and also resulted in a certain reorganisation of operations. Cropped areas spread still more at the expense of fallows and rangeland.

17Nevertheless, the much-feared collapse of performance was not observed. The production levels of groundnut and food cereals seem to have been conserved in terms of both yields and production per inhabitant. In fact, the improvement of cultural operations thanks to the generalisation of cultivation using animal draught, especially at the beginning of the cycle, masks the impoverishment of the soil and increases the pressure on natural resources.

18The evolution of the different forms of animal farming performed by Sereer farmers in the Sine is analysed with reference to the use of cultivated land, given the links with agricultural activities. However, cattle farming, which remains the dominant, prestigious form of Sereer animal farming, has never been confined to the precisely delimited village area because of traditional transhumance movements. Numbers have been maintained recently but the decrease in grazing land has resulted in more use being made of transhumance and of forage resources located at a great distance, as far as the Ferio. This results in a decrease in milk production that can be consumed by villagers and a decrease in the area that can be fertilised by paddocking. New practices are used in other forms of livestock farming. Small ruminants are now found on all farms, as are draught animals — horses or donkeys — that are kept at dwellings all the year round. The fattening of cattle and sheep is increasing. These practices are resulting in the emergence of semi-intensive animal farming drawing on all the forage resources in the farming area. Haulm and straw are harvested. The manure produced in the stables is spread in the fields before millet is sown. Finally, the economic use of animal farming is no longer limited to saving.

19Technical innovation and production performance are thus seen in both crop and animal farming. This farming Systems dynamics is one of the explanations for the strong concentration of the rural population. However, the question for these actors is not posed solely in terms of the performance of the local agricultural production System. Increasingly large labour flows lead to analysing the roles played by the land farmed in the new lands by people from Sine villages, and also by the non-agricultural sectors and by seasonal or final migration in the maintaining of a dense rural population in the Sine.

20Sereer emigration to the new lands is part of a vast movement of expansion of the groundnut belt towards the eastern part of the country that started at the end of the nineteenth century. This was essentially formed by Wolof farmers stimulated by Muslim brotherhood movements and especially Mouridism. The Sereer reluctantly followed at a late stage, encouraged by the authorities (third part).

21The scattered settlement of Sereer on the new lands pioneer front unavoidably led to the ‘Wolofisation’ and islamisation of the migrants (Pélissier, 1966). This acculturation process only slowed with some larger migratory movements. Sereer enclaves grouping several villages were established in the migration organised by the colonial administration 50 years ago at Boulel in the Kafrine department and within the framework of the Koumpentoum new land projects supported by the World Bank in the 1970s. The Sereer personality will probably be maintained in these settlement areas. The 1988 census showed only 18,500 rural Sereer in the Kafrine department and 9,100 in the Tambacounda department (the site of Koumpentoum district), that is to say respectively 2.56% and 1.26% of the total rural Sereer population (723,000 persons). Movement to the new lands is thus far from having provided a solution to the problem of the increasing population in the Sine rural areas. However, it has the merit of enlarging the Sereer agricultural area and opening the way to the continuing of spontaneous movements.

22The situation in the ‘old new lands’ in the Kafrine department is first mentioned with a rapid study in a village ‘revisited’ nearly 20 years after a previous survey. Analysis is then focused on the evolution of the project for the colonisation of the ‘Koumpentoum new lands’ in eastern Senegal. This was initiated in 1972 and the first three years of the project were the subject of an accompanying study by Orstom.

23The farming Systems used by the Sereer of Boulel and Koumpentoum are not exactly the same as those of the Sine. Groundnut plays a comparatively larger role. Cereal and legume yields are higher, without the systematic use of fertilisers seen in the Sine. The Sereer colonists in the new lands also freed themselves very rapidly of the extension directives and abandoned certain recommended crops and techniques. Large herds of cattle were subsequently formed on some farms as soon as saving became possible.

24In comparison with the changes observed in the Sine, it would seem that the Sereer migrants became adapted to their new environment. The extensive cultural practices made possible by the availability of land ensure better remuneration for labour. They contribute to accentuating the economic disparities between farms. At first sight, social cohesion is not as obvious as in the Sine villages where nobody can escape the authority of the elders and duties associated with solidarity in a context of great poverty. A review of the farms in the new lands in terms of structure, size and performance reveals spectacular successes with real room for manoeuvre but also failures leading to bankruptcy.

25Analysis of the economic situation is set mainly at the level of domestic economies. It is based on the farm balances and on a sample of family budgets, completed by the monitoring of the rural markets on which a large proportion of transactions takes place. The trade observed between Sine farmers and the new lands colonists demonstrates the intensity of status and lineage relations maintained at a distance (fourth part).

26Observation for the analysis of domestic economies is not limited to production units, whose ranking is neither clear nor stable. It also takes worker categories into account and covers all participants and all levels of organisation to measure the differences in resources, costs and allocations. One of the originalities of Sine family economies is the important role played by women in the management of resources. In addition to performing domestic tasks, they are involved in farming jobs more than is the case in the other rural societies in Senegal. They migrate when very young and finally handle the management of kitchens and bear an often considerable part of the expenses themselves.

27The question of food equilibrium is crucial. Food resources are managed differently in a crisis situation, such as that during and following the droughts of 1983 and 1984. Food stocks are kept for the rainy season jobs. Herds of cattle and draught animals are kept come what may, whereas small ruminants form a safety reserve. The dispersal of workers during the dry season to reduce the number of mouths to feed and the use of migrants established in towns or in the new lands form part of the strategies used. The organisation of funeral ceremonies, baptisms and marriages involves substantial expenditure and is postponed. The same applies to the payment of dowries and the repayment of debts. Behaviour changes to ensure ‘survival’ Solidarity is expressed within resident groups and increasing use is made of migrants.

28Trade has undergone true restructuring following the changes in agricultural policy. After the independence years, State agencies took over the middleman trade in groundnuts. The groundnut industry was deregulated at the beginning of the 1980s and the weekly rural markets displayed spectacular growth. Transactions bear the mark of fluctuations in production. Trade in agricultural produce and cattle thus displays strong seasonal and inter-annual variations. However, whatever the intensity of trade, these markets are always very well-attended.

29The contrasts between production levels on Sine land and on new land farms are shown. However, the two agricultural areas should not be considered separately as this would indicate poor knowledge of the permanence of the social and trade relations maintained at a distance. The resulting flows seem to be very unbalanced to the benefit of the Sine families. They are analysed with reference to the specific features of Sereer society. The Sine supplies seasonal workers who return after the rainy season with considerable cash. The new land farmers find wives in their home villages and pay matrimonial compensation at a high price. They contribute according to their means to ritual occasions and especially funerals. They must help needy family members. All these transfers are deciphered in terms of status and lineage. Paradoxically, the large farmers in the new lands display no outward signs of wealth in their clothes, dwellings or domestic life. The only real indicator of their wealth and prosperity is the size of their recently acquired herds of cattle. This is an entirely Sereer feature.


30Finally, the changes shown appear to be substantial and contrasted.

31The population of the Sine has continued to grow in spite of the drought and landholding saturation. Cropping Systems have benefited from the generalisation of draught cultivation which facilitated adaptation to worsened climatic constraints. Breeding draught animals and small ruminants has continued in the farming areas whereas it has only been possible to conserve the herds of cattle through the use of transhumance to increasingly remote grazing areas. The pressure exerted locally on natural resources is a serious threat. The viability of farming modes is no longer assured.

32The Sereer farming areas in the Koumpentoum new lands operate in liaison with those in the Sine. There is no lack of land, yields are higher, large herds have been built up and a spontaneous migration flow has succeeded organised migration.

33The very strong relations maintained and activated with home areas are the expression of multi-site family strategies. However, the projects of the Sereer in the Sine and those of their relations in the new lands are increasingly turned towards other activities and other places — mainly trade and jobs in town.

© IRD Éditions, 1999

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