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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

3.5 Sale of assets (productive/non-productive) and purchase of food

As with many other survival strategies, a household is likely to be engaged in sales of assets and the purchase of food at precisely the time when large numbers of other households are selling similar assets and making similar purchases. This means that the terms of trade in such deals are generally very unfavourable for those undergoing crisis (although very favourable for merchants, who have their own 'survival strategies' during drought and famine, which, again, one would not necessarily want to support).

Sales of productive assets are to be distinguished from sales of assets which are held largely as a form of insurance against famine. The former can lead to destitution and to a lasting vulnerability to future famines. In the Red Sea Hills area of Sudan, three successive years of drought since the 'fat' year of 1988, and five years of drought prior to that, greatly depleted livestock holdings. Research in October 1991 found that households in all the areas studied (Sinkat, Haya, Ogar, Halag, Tahamium and Arkawit) had been reduced to holding no more than one or two goats. A few had donkeys. No-one reported having any camels, though a few were seen on the roads. Many households had no animals at all. People in these areas were reported to be dependent on relief supplies, which had begun to be distributed in June 1991 and provided enough wheat and wheat flour for one to two meals a day. Reports from Red Sea Hills described the ratio of grain to livestock prices as very unfavourable, even in comparison with the severe famine of 1983-85. At the height of the crisis, it took the sale of 40 goats to raise money for one sack of sorghum, a significantly worse ratio that in the famine of the mid-1980s. Goat prices have recovered since the 1991 rains, rising from some 60 Sudanese pounds to some 2000 Sudanese pounds.

Loss of animals may have an immediate effect on consumption. The Beja peoples of Red Sea Hills, like many pastoral and semi-pastoral people, depend heavily on milk and milk products for subsistence. The drastic loss of livestock in Red Sea Hills also prevented rural people from obtaining loans from traders, since animals have traditionally provided collateral for such loans. Opportunities for trading in water, sand, wood and charcoal were constrained in Red Sea Hills by the shortage of donkeys used to transport these commodities. Handicraft production was also affected, as people were unable to fetch raw materials from urban markets or to take finished handicrafts to these markets. The manufacture of mats from animal wool was reduced because of the loss of animals. Similarly, in Darfur, access to wild foods and trading opportunities was also greater for those who still owned donkeys or camels.

Darfur asset sales also rose in 1991, with the percentage of households in Kebkabiya selling assets rising from 34 per cent in June 1991 to 71 per cent in September. Sales of land and ploughs were reported, though on a small scale. Sales of livestock to buy grain were widely reported in Darfur, and an SCF survey found that more than 80 per cent of surveyed households in Mellit area council reported animal deaths. Loss of goats appeared to have been severe, with households retaining, on average, only two goats. The strategy of minimising risks by planting fields that are some distance apart is facilitated by the possession of donkeys and camels; the strategy is correspondingly constrained when these animals are no longer available.

During the Ethiopian famine of 1983-85, constraints on migration and trade, and contraction of credit, meant that selling livestock was virtually the only viable option for obtaining money for food (aw). This famine was unusual in that sales of livestock (which households generally seek to avoid) greatly outweighed animal deaths due to drought. One survey suggested that 79 per cent of oxen lost had been sold to buy food. Six years after the famine, animal stocks were still well below pre-famine levels, and the shortage of plough oxen in particular remains the biggest constraint to rural production. The low level of animal holdings has created a heightened vulnerability to famine in Ethiopia. In Angola, civil war and drought have led to a shortage of animals used for traction in some areas, reducing the area of land that people can cultivate. Travelling long distances to buy relatively cheap grain may be an important market strategy; but this may take time from own-production.