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close this bookFamine, Needs-assessment and Survival Strategies in Africa (Oxfam, 1993, 40 p.)
close this folder3 Survival strategies and their 'costs'
View the document(introduction...)
View the document3.1 Eating wild foods
View the document3.2 Going hungry
View the document3.3 Food preparation
View the document3.4 Slavery
View the document3.5 Sale of assets (productive/non-productive) and purchase of food
View the document3.6 Trading
View the document3.7 Labouring
View the document3.8 Household migration
View the document3.9 Consurnption of assets
View the document3.10 Borrowing
View the document3.11 Gifts
View the document3.12 Receiving remittances
View the document3.13 Theft

3.7 Labouring

When access to food becomes short, selling labour represents one of the most important ways of securing survival. In Kebkabiya area council, Darfur, Sudan, in 1991 most households had adult members working as labourers. Such a strategy is also pursued in normal times, though it generally involves fewer household members for shorter periods of time. UNICEF research on northern Darfur as a whole also suggests wage labour is becoming more common and more important to the survival of households. The labour or women and children is also increasingly being bought. The 'Libyan connection' appears to be gaining in significance in this area: most households interviewed by UNICEF researchers reported having one or more members working in Libya. Many household's attributed their survival to this connection, although the fragility of the job-market in Libya resulted in remittances being somewhat sporadic, and usually in the form of food. In the Red Sea Hills area of Sudan, men have been moving to flooded and riverine areas to look for wage-labour opportunities, or land to cultivate for themselves. In Mozambique, many displaced people have survived through working in the fields of the host population in return for food.

Again, labouring strategies are not without their 'costs'. Oxfam field staff reported from Kebkabiya that people engaged in wage-labour had to neglect their own farms to some extent. Presumably, the shortage of seeds had further contributed to establishing this pattern of behaviour. Often, some members of a larger household will work the household's land, while others will work for wages. Other households were found to work alternately on their own and on other people's land in the course of the agricultural season. The size of plot cultivated depends largely on the labour available to a particular household. Gwen that young able-bodied men are increasingly away from the farm performing wage-labour, the burden of farm production has fallen increasingly on women, children and old men. Woman provide most of the farm labour, and children as young as five are involved in weeding and grass-collecting. Bush noted a significant increase in the workload of women in Saiyah village, North Darfur, as a result of outmigration of men in search of wage-labour during and after the 1984-86 famine. Significantly, increased drains on the labour available for cultivating a household's own land come at a time when farmers in Darfur are reported to be trying to plant larger plots (UNICEF).

Work on the Miedob in northern Darfur (de Waal) and on the Berti of eastern Darfur (Holy) suggests that a shortage of labour may lead households to cultivate the same plot over and over again, because of insufficient labour to clear new fields and because of the reduced need for weeding on land repeatedly cultivated in this way. The cost is a progressive decline in yields and degradation of the land.

'Temporary' labouring may become permanent. Jodha found a transformation from fanners to landless labourers over the course of successive droughts in Rajasthan, India. Famine in the mid-1970s in Mali turned many pastoralists into waged shepherds for other herd-owners. In Darfur, the new emphasis on wage-labour accompanying the 1984-85 famine was only partially reversed in the years after the famine. Increased labour burdens on women may inhibit their productive, educative, and reproductive role, as well as the cohesion of a community which will often revolve around women (Walker).

As with other survival strategies, a major problem with labouring is that many people are likely to be resorting to this strategy at the same time. De Waal noted how this contributed to deepening impoverishment during the 1984-85 famine in Darfur. In 1991, the labour markets in Port Sudan, Red Sea Hills, became flooded by migrants from rural areas.

Oxfam field staff in Angola have observed that working for others may use up valuable physical energy and delay work on the farmer's own farm. Paid work may include prostitution, a significant Survival strategy' in the areas around military camps in Angola.