|The Courier N° 152 - July - August 1995 - Dossier: NGO's - Country Reports: Belize, Malawi (EC Courier, 1995, 104 p.)|
|CTA - Bulletin|
(Evolution of agrarian systems in the Adrar oases in Mauritania)
Mari- Laure Gibaud and Pascale Le Roy: 20, rue Larrey, F-75005 Paris. Report on a study canted out in Mauritania, April-August 1994. 120pp.
The text may be consulted at the GRET (213, rue Lafayette, F-75013 Paris), at the AFVP (Le Bois du Faye, Linas, F-91311 Monthlery), at the IEDES (58, boulevard Arago, F-75013 Paris) and at PNUD and CIMDET Documentation Centres in Nouakchott (Islamic Republic of Mauritania).
In the following summary, the authors of the report examine the future of the Adrar oases in the Mauritanian Sahara region.
The Adrar region in Mauritania, the Adrar Tmar ('the mountain of the dates' in Berber) is the country's centre for the date-palm crop and the fiefdom of the Moorish tribes. Traditionally, the oases in this region were merely staging posts for the nomadic stockmen and the great trans-Sahara merchant caravans. Only the lower social castes (slaves and emancipated sharecroppers) worked there throughout the year, the nobles staying only for the date-harvest period known as the guetna. Today, the oases still enjoy a prestigious, romantic image amongst Mauritanians, representing an area for rest and barter.
Even after the colonial period (1921-1960), Moorish society still bore the marks of its nomadic, tribal culture and it still operates largely on a system of trade based on payment in kind.
Repercussions of drought on the production system
The period of drought which began in 1970, and is still causing acute problems, affected an environment already weakened by the intensification of agricultural activities, linked with the former French presence. It considerably hastened the trend away from a nomadic lifestyle and accelerated the rural exodus. A number of proprietors affected by the drop in yields were obliged to free their slaves, who were replaced by paid workers or sharecroppers. The dual constraint of a drop in the water table (from two to five metres, depending on the oasis) and the need to reduce manpower costs contributed to the rapid development of the use of motorised pumps for water extraction. This constituted an additional financial demand and, in this context, market gardening was encouraged by international projects and government actions. Unfortunately, despite the efforts made to group communities together in cooperatives, producers in the Adrar region suffer from the fact that the area is very isolated. The sight of oases which specialised too soon in vegetable production and are currently seriously threatened by over-exploitation led a number of villages to reject intensive methods and seek alternative solutions such as the development of tourism during the guetna.
Agriculture on a 'drip feed'
Nowadays, traditional agricultural methods at the oases do not produce sufficient surplus to renew production capital. Agriculture survives, therefore, only by virtue of non-agricultural local activities and, above all, through the repatriation of assets and money sent by rich and noble urbanised merchants and officials who originally came from the region.
Most people have their inherited palm groves maintained by a sharecropper when there is no family member left in Adrar to do the job, and visit only during the period of guetna. To keep these workers on their land, it is obviously in their interest to offer them the opportunity to carry out market-gardening activities. Given the low level of income obtained by the sharecroppers, their continuation appears to be at risk and this forces proprietors, unwilling to take on higher manpower costs, to sell their palm groves. The properties would probably be bought up by a second type of absentee proprietor which appeared in the 1980s and who combines profit with traditional leisure pursuits, investing on a massive scale in highly lucrative intensive date production.
Agriculture and social inertia
The permanent population at the oases consists mainly of proprietors of small multi-purpose food-producing gardens. These people are often of lower caste, old stockmen ruined by the drought and sharecroppers and workers mainly from the families of emancipated slaves who did not previously receive payment. It is difficult, these days, for these people to gain access to property ownership owing to the increase in land prices.
The two criteria differentiating those involved in farming, namely the level of non-agricultural resources and inherited means of production, are thus largely determined by their inherited social status. It is this which offers them mobility, a range of customers and the opportunity to have access to powerful interdependent networks. These in turn, condition their capacity to mobilise funding, international finance and information on new techniques, market status, etc.
Which social groups hold the key to the future of the Adrar oases ?
Will the small market gardeners be able to benefit from effective and long-lasting supply and marketing networks enabling them to release the funds they need to remain at the oases?
Given the results obtained by the urban producer-proprietors, will other entrepreneurs make a contribution to increasing national date production by investing in a palm grove in Adrar?
Will the proprietors who are more interested in receiving tourists in the guetna period be capable of competing with the spa resorts which are increasingly popular with the younger generation ?
The future of the oases undoubtedly depends on rational water management to preserve the fragile oasis ecosystem and on development support carefully adapted to the physical and human characteristics which differ from one oasis to another.