Adapting to climate change is possible but it requires resources. These resources and opportunities are distributed unevenly between different genders and age groups. It’s important to know which groups need special support for their coping strategies.

The Ferlo pastoral region in north Senegal is facing climate variability. Herd owners in Ferlo have the capacity to adapt to undesired arid conditions. Their coping strategies are based on the dynamics of socio-ecosystems such as transhumance (seasonal movement of livestock between pastures).

However, resources and opportunities are distributed unevenly between men, women and young people within the family. As women have less resources, support for their coping strategies is needed. Women’s strategies include investing in small ruminants, and when possible, practicing market gardening and selling garden products in the nearby settlements.

Women’s reduced decision possibilities

gender1_1In pastoral areas, as in most rural African societies, women are actively involved in agricultural production and simultaneously they carry out household work that is vital for the family. In Ferlo, women remain at the permanent camp and are engaged in collecting water from the boreholes which can be located up to 20km from the camp. This task can take three quarters of their day and the time is unavailable for other activities. Women who move with the family during the transhumance are responsible for preparing meals and selling dairy products in the markets, taking care of weaker small ruminants and pets, searching for energy wood and taking care of other important tasks.

Livestock is the prime resource in a pastoral society and the responsibility of men. The family herd consists of animals owned by different family members (the family head, his wife or wives and children). In the pastoral Fulani society, women own animals according to their dowry, legacy of their parents and animals belonging to their children. However, animal sales, going transhumance and the use of feed supplements are decided by men who “manage everything.” The fragility of women’s property rights, the concentration of cattle (bovine) to the family head and the lack of autonomy to manage their animals and to meet their needs reduce women’s possibilities to adapt to environmental challenges.

Strategies for more autonomy and participation in family survival

Photo: Manoli
Photo: Manoli

To cope with the climatic conditions of the Ferlo, farmers rely on 1) agropastoralism to restore the lost capital, 2) diversification of animal species, especially switching from big to small ruminants, 3) engaging in multiple activities such as trade, handicrafts or transport, 4) cattle trade, and 5) mobility of animals (Santoir 1994; Bonfiglioli, 1990; Manoli, 2012; Ancey, 2009; Diao Camara, 2013). Gender affects the options to use such strategies.

Small ruminants instead of cattle help women

Small ruminants have long been seen as a way to cope with climate shocks or difficult economic situations. Small ruminants-based herds can recover more quickly because their marketing is easy. Women and young people have found small ruminants the fastest and easiest way to gain financial autonomy. This strategy seems common in all the camps where young people and women own small ruminants.

The acquisition of small ruminants is easy for persons who already have cattle – a cow can be traded for several small ruminants. In the dry season, when livestock prices are low, cereal stocks are depleted and their prices rise, farmers sell more animals than during the winter. In bush markets, the price of a small ruminant is about 15 000 f CFA (€22) and that of a cow or a bull up to 100,000 f CFA (€150). Breeders who invest in small ruminant flocks do so at this time. Besides being a herd rebuilding strategy after a crisis, it allows better market integration, and ease of marketing of these animals promotes the autonomy of social Cadets (Ancey et al., 2009).

Photo: Diao Camara
Photo: Diao Camara

Small ruminants also pose challenges in the extensive system – they leave earlier for transhumance in the southern regions and they are not robust to water stress. This increases women’s dependence on men who leave with the animals for transhumance.

Policies should further support the small ruminant strategy. Heiffer Yaajeende, for instance, is an initiative which, by building on the principle of solidarity in raising small ruminants, places some animals in vulnerable families and the sheep derived from it are placed in other families. These animals improve child nutrition and allow accumulation of capital that helps the family to survive.

Market gardening, when water is available

Women in the villages of Widou region have started market gardening. Surveys show that this is an adaptation option for women and it helps to improve food security. In Tatki, where a new pipeline system leads water to the most remote camps, the pipelines allow women to spend more time on other activities. The cultivation of vegetables and keeping animals in good shape have been found useful new activities. This collective gardening contributes to feeding the families because in this region farming is marginal. Herd owners depend on grain and vegetable markets, and the terms of trade in the dry season are unfavourable.

Women’s contribution to food security is reduced. The analyses show that linking women with economic, organizational, and political resources, can make them become actors of development. More broadly, strategies developed by the farmers, men and women, to cope with the climate challenges, show that they are able to adjust farming methods as necessary.

This article is based on observations made in the Ferlo during the FoodAfrica program, and on earlier work on the same area (Ancey, 2009; Diao Camara, 2003 and 2013; Manoli, 2012).

Text: Astou Diao Camara and Aminata Ndour Dia, Bureau d’analyses macro-économiques, ISRA, Senegal