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Photo 38: Ardo Sheefu

What, in conclusion, can development experts learn from this case study? To start with, pastoralists possess a knowledge that allows them not only to survive on the African drylands but also to make a significant contribution to the economic production of these regions. This knowledge is not something that can be appropriated from external sources like textbooks, schools or expert recommendations. It is so much a part of the whole pastoral culture that, in fact, the cultural diversity of a region rather than the knowledge itself, should be seen as the real resource for development. The Wodaabe pastoralists represent a double paradox: first, they have a strong sense of pastoral tradition, with cattle playing a vital role in the social arrangements (e.g. marriage, parent-child-relation), and although like all African herders they try to refrain from selling animals, they are, nonetheless, because of their extreme specialization, very market-oriented. Furthermore, as their pastoral tradition is animated by the persistent aim to find better ways of doing things, there is a built-in tendency towards refinement. Second, among the sedentary population the Wodaabe have a reputation for being wild and dangerous, they are compared to hyenas or ghosts, and, in fact, they keep away from villages, do not send their children to schools and prefer the free and uninhabited bushland. All the same, they do not lead an entirely self-sufficient life: they barter the riches they produce from the grass growing on the periphery of the agricultural zones. These riches form a crucial element in the economic life of the whole region; in fact, without herders, business in the local markets is very subdued.

The question therefore is what can be done for development. The key to the answer is that the Wodaabe are not to be seen as a cultural or professional group to be developed but as a vital part of a culturally diverse region that is to be developed. Helping the “Wodaabe pastoral system” to be more efficient will contribute to the region’s as well as to the group’s economic wellbeing. How can this be achieved? By interpreting the concepts of sustainability and participation liberally and by taking the Wodaabe knowledge system seriously. There is no need to develop this knowledge system from within; we should concentrate, rather, on its central theme which is: raising the reproduction rate of the herd through pastoral specialization - specialization even among several pastoral activities. Therefore any programme that aims at adding some not purely pastoral element to the Wodaabe pastoral system (e.g. schooling, management of wells, grain banks) is way off the mark. Moreover, there is no need to put the Wodaabe in a position to deal themselves with eventual problems. They are experts at producing cattle and they are used to paying other experts to deal with the problems they cannot solve. Thus, pastoral development should focus on three related spheres of action:

1. helping to stabilize the external conditions within which the Wodaabe pastoral system can function optimally;

2. elaborating the regional system of economic integration of specialized and culturally diverse producers and service providers, instead of contributing to the self-sufficiency of each of the system’s parts;

3. providing for large-scale, knock-on financing when the pastoral system does not function properly because of past mismanagement of infrastructure or capital loss through natural disaster.

The first point means creating security in all sorts of domains through national and international measures:

It must be stressed in this context that the Wodaabe do not fear ecological crises as such; they fear that ecological crises become unsolvable because social and political tensions prevent them from taking the necessary steps to overcome them.

With regard to the second point, the Wodaabe spend money on all sorts of investments. Their pastoral productivity is high enough to sustain a sector of pastoral service providers that are already found in the region: brokers in the cattle market; raftsmen who get them across the Komadougou Yobe River; craftsmen who in some regions build wooden wells for them; villagers who sell stored hay or chaff as emergency food; pastoral service agents who provide for vaccines; Islamic scholars who offer their blessing and spiritual protection for the herd. Thus, as the Wodaabe are ready to invest money in services that support their strategy of specialization in pastoral mobility there might be room for further developing this pastoral service sector.

The third point leads to the problem of capital investment. If one takes the disequilibrium theory (Ellis and Swift 1988; Behnke and Scoones 1993) as a starting point, the task shifts from letting surfaces recover to making grass productive wherever it sprouts. The pastoral zone of Kawlaa provides for the grassland, the herds of cattle and the cultural knowledge to make these productive. But it cannot provide for the major capital investment, i.e. construction and repair of wells, needed to optimally exploit the available resources. It is unlikely that these can be realized under the exigencies of participation. But to forego with these knock-on investments means foregoing a rise in economic growth that could provide incentives and room for participatory and sustainable development in the region. With these investments economic growth could be attained through the rise of productivity of the herds.

Photo 39: Taking up a profession

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