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Farmers' own methods of rehabilitation


Speed of farm rehabilitation
Ways in which farmers can achieve crop recovery


14. Policy makers should assess the capacity of crop and livestock production systems to rehabilitate themselves in the absence of outside intervention for two reasons.

15. First, one must have some measure of expected rates of rehabilitation against which to evaluate the impact and cost of various forms of intervention aimed at boosting recovery. Second, indigenous strategies in the post-drought period provide policy-makers with guidelines as to processes of local adaptation which may be given support. Communities often display considerable resilience in the face of drought, enabling them to survive severe crises and to regain their capacity to produce in the subsequent period. The policies of government and development agencies can either re-inforce the effectiveness of these strategies or render them less viable. For example, temporary migration of labour from rural areas is pursued on a regular basis in many countries and provides households with an off-farm cash income. In times of drought, this migration flow becomes especially important, as it both reduces the number of people to be fed from village granaries and provides a supplementary income for buying food. Government policy can either aid or hamper this now of labour from poor to better-off regions, by minimising the bureaucratic obstacles to and cost of movement or, conversely, it can make it difficult for people to travel across regional and national frontiers and obtain temporary employment.

Speed of farm rehabilitation

16. The main concern of this paper has been to investigate the effects of drought-induced livestock losses on the farm sector. The significance of a given level of draft animal losses on farm production will depend on the nature of the farming system and the effectiveness of different strategies pursued by farmers in order to maintain crop output. To assess the likely fall in crop output due to draft animal losses, questions such as the following must be answered:

(i) what proportion of land is normally prepared and weeded by the plough?

(ii) how much time is available for land preparation before sowing?

(iii) what is the effect on yields from late sowing, from sowing on unploughed land or from weeding by hand rather than by plough?

(iv) can land be prepared by hand and, if so, what is the area that can be dealt with?

(v) what proportion of households have the necessary animals and equipment for their own plough team and what are the possibilities for sharing of oxen between households?

17. This paper focusses attention on three countries: Ethiopia, Botswana and Mali, where draft animal power plays an important role in farm production. The significance of work oxen losses will vary between these countries because of differences in soils and in the volume and timing of rainfall within the cultivation season. For example, the heavy soils found in highland Ethiopia must be worked 4 to 6 times in order to obtain a fine enough seedbed for the traditional teff crop. This is in marked contrast to the very rapid ridging of light sandy soils done by many farmers in Mali prior to sowing millet and groundnuts. For highland areas of Ethiopia, the short rains of February to April usually provide the opportunity for much land preparation to take place before fields are sown in June when the main rains begin. In arable areas of Botswana and the Sahel, time available for land preparation before sowing is much more limited and part of the Sahelian millet crop is consequently sown on unploughed land, despite the severe weeding problems associated with this technique.

Ways in which farmers can achieve crop recovery

18. There are a number of options that farmers can pursue in order to restore levels of crop production and their holdings of draft animals. These include the sharing of animals between households, use of other stock for pulling the plough, hand cultivation of soils, hire of tractor services, changes in crop composition, purchase of fertiliser, supplementation of remaining stock, turning to income earned elsewhere or waiting for livestock holdings to re-grow. Each of these is discussed below.

19. Sharing of animals between households may be possible where overall losses have been slight. Such animal loans are common in many farming systems in normal years, the loan of a ploughteam often being repaid with so many days of weeding labour. Alternatively, two households with a single ox each can arrange to take turns in using the oxen pair, as described by Gryseels and Anderson (1983) for Ethiopia. However, where oxen losses have been heavy, loans will be less easy to arrange for those who have lost their draft animals and the cost of such loans are likely to increase.

20. The use of other animals for draft may be possible where, for example, losses among horses and donkeys have been less severe than work oxen. The former will have a lower productivity but their availability will partially compensate for the loss of trained oxen. In extreme cases, even human labour has been used for pulling the plough, as in the period following the great rinderpest epidemic in Ethiopia in the 1890s when an estimated 90% of the country's draft oxen were lost (Wolde Mariam, 1984). However, if work oxen holdings have been badly affected by drought it is likely that other stock will also have suffered high mortality or will have been sold to purchase food grains.

21. Hand cultivation of part of the farmer's land may be possible in the absence of draft animals. However, this will be at the cost of lower crop output due both to the smaller area cultivated and the lower effectiveness of hand cultivation as opposed to plough techniques. Estimates of the land area which can be cultivated by hand vary from 10% to 50% of that which can be managed by a plough team, depending on the nature of soils and the time available for land preparation. Although uncommon where weeding is also done by plough, resort to hand techniques will lead to lower yields from the less optimal timing of this operation.

22. The hire of tractor services is only open to a limited number of farmers with access to this service at reasonable cost. Hire of a tractor is usually more expensive than hire of a plough team for the same work and, in the case of Botswana, will normally require a cash outlay rather than repayment in labour or other services (Vierich and Sheppard, 1979). For this reason, farmers who find themselves without work oxen will often also be without the funds to hire a tractor.

23. A change in the composition of crops grown can reduce the farmer's tillage requirements. For example, in the case of Ethiopia, while teff needs a finely prepared seed bed, pulses can be sown on land that has received a more rudimentary tillage. Similarly, in Mali, millets can be sown on unploughed land whereas groundnuts require a prepared seedbed. The possibility of farmers moderating the impact of draft animal losses by switching to less tillage-intensive crops depends on their access to seed, their family's consumption needs and the prospects for marketing different crops, be made in the intervening years either to obtain food or to borrow draft power from elsewhere.

24. Fertiliser purchases can moderate the fall in crop output arising from a decline in area cultivated by raising yields on the area actually farmed. The effectiveness of this option depends on crop response to fertiliser use and the relative costs of purchase, transport and application of fertiliser. Lack of cash at the farm level in the post-drought period prevents this option being widely pursued, in the absence of extensive government subsidies for the purchase and distribution of this input. Even then, farmers may still consider the use of fertiliser in poor seasons as involving too high a risk.

25. Surviving draft animal may be given supplementary feed in order to increase their working capacity. This fodder could come from crop by-products or natural pasture and browse, both of which are likely to be in short supply following drought. Additional feed may be available from agro-industrial by-products, such as cotton seed, molasses and bran. Supplies of these products will be limited and their prices high where these are normally exported, (as in the case of many Sahelian countries) unless the government gives special priority to their local use.

26. Incomes earned elsewhere can be used to buy replacement oxen. For example, migration earnings are a major source of cash incomes for many farming areas in southern Africa and the Sahel. Migration may be seasonal or involve the absence of a male household member for a number of years, during which time cash remittances are sent back to the farm sector for the purchase both of food and farm inputs. The ease with which these earnings can be used to finance the purchase of new work animals depends on the relative value of the remittance, the price of work oxen and the urgency of other calls upon cash income. In times of drought, urban labour markets are usually flooded with job-seekers leading to low real wage levels. For this reason, the size of migration earnings is likely to be low in the post-drought period and possibilities for acquiring the funds to purchase work oxen more limited than in normal times. It will also be harder for farmers to rebuild work oxen holdings where both the arable and the farm sector have been hit by drought. In this case there will be heavy demand in the post-drought period from both the farming sector and the meat market for the limited supply of young male animals and prices will rise accordingly.

27. Waiting for the herd to re-grow is an option for those farm households with sufficient breeding animals. The speed of recovery in work oxen numbers will depend in this case on the number of oxen required for ploughing, the size of the breeding herd and its rate of increase. However, some arrangement must be made in the intervening years either to obtain food or to borrow draft power from elsewhere.

28. The speed with which harvests recover and holdings of draft animals are reconstituted depends on the factors discussed above. This process of reconstitution will be more rapid where:

- sharing of animals provides a temporary means by which those without draft animals can continue to cultivate all of their land,

- the agricultural sector is sufficiently productive for farmers to have access to a regular surplus for investment and where the relative price of crops to oxen is in favour of the former, so that a good harvest can enable the farmer to replace lost animals in a single year,

- there are external sources of income which can be used to buy new animals and equipment and to provide for the household's food needs in the intervening period.

29. Conversely, rehabilitation will be slower the heavier are oxen losses, the greater the area affected by crop and livestock losses and the higher the price of oxen relative to crop output and migrants' earnings.


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