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close this bookWar and Famine in Africa (Oxfam, 1991, 36 p.)
close this folder3 Coping with change
View the document3.1 The intensification of production
View the document3.2 Political overview
View the document3.3 The development of 'Core' and 'Capitalisation Peripheral' areas
View the document3.4 The marginalisation of peripheral groups
View the document3.5 Patterns of social transformation
View the document3.6 The effects on the environment
View the document3.7 Coping with change

3.1 The intensification of production

Although, in general terms, there has been a decline in economic performance, this factor should not hide the crucially important fact that, in attempting to achieve economic growth, there have been significant attempts to intensify the production of primary products, including food. While these efforts have fallen short of their goal, from the point of view of this report, their importance lies in their connection with the environment, vulnerability, and conflict.

3.2 Political overview

Apart from confirming Africa's traditional economic role, the 1970s witnessed major political changes. Many of the still buoyant and emerging market systems became increasingly involved in promoting the external orientation of their economies. In addition, the period was marked by the fall of the feudal regime in Ethiopia, together with the colonial governments of Guinea Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, and Rhodesia. In this manner, an important further step in the decolonisation of the continent was achieved. The new governments of Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique responded by attempting to establish planned economies events which marked a high point of Cold War rivalry and South African reaction in Africa. The most systematic attempt to develop a planned alternative was that of Ethiopia. As with Angola and Mozambique, however, this venture is now acknowledged as having been unsuccessful (Clapham, 1989). Within the past several years, following the earlier lead of Africa's market economies, all have introduced market reforms. The end of the Cold War has also seen the liberalisation of South African policy. Despite the 'wind of change' that is evident in some countries, however, conflicts continue. Indeed, in both Angola (Angola, April 1990) and Mozambique (Mozambique, 7/11/90) moves toward a multiparty system have led to renewed violence as parties struggle for position.

3.3 The development of 'Core' and 'Capitalisation Peripheral' areas

Faced with the limited ability to create value through manufacturing, many African governments, where presented with the opportunity, have had little option but to attempt to intensify both food and primary production for export. Both market and planned economies shared this objective. Where differences existed, they related to the means rather than the ends.

The method of intensification in the market economies has usually taken the form of an increased capitalisation of agriculture. In the Sahel, for example, spending on tractors, animal traction, irrigation works, improved seeds and fertilisers has been involved (PAW, May 1984). In Uganda and Kenya, a similar strategy focusing on small and medium farmers has developed. In Sudan (Sudan, 1987/88) and South Africa (Davies, 1990) agricultural production has been mechanised on a large scale. Such developments have usually involved various forms of state subsidy. In the planned economies, the technical emphasis has been less, with more store being placed upon the provision of basic tools, seeds and, more than anything else, major attempts at social reorganisation such things as resettlement, the formation of communal villages, and the promotion of villagebased cooperatives (Morgan, 1988).

Few systematic studies of the social effect of these 'core' developments upon the groups living at the 'periphery' of the countries concerned have been attempted (see lliffe, 1987). From the fragmented evidence, an argument can be made that core developments have indeed had a considerable impact. In Africa, they have occurred in areas characterised by groups living in various, and often complex, forms of semisubsistence. Moreover, they have often been directed by politicians or planners who were unaware of or uninterested in this condition. In some countries, for example Chad, Sudan, Uganda and Mozambique, inherited regional differences have either been accentuated or new ones established. The result has been the widespread marginalisation of peripheral groups and the transformation of social and family relations. A number of general comments can be made.

3.4 The marginalisation of peripheral groups

The terms 'core' and 'periphery' should not be interpreted too literally. They are intended more to introduce a sense of internal disharmony. Moreover, the processes involved clearly have a history which reaches back much further than the 1970s. What is at issue is the transformation of Africa's subsistence economies. This has been both a continuous process and one in which key historical events, such as colonisation, have made a major impact. Conflict also plays an important role in the process of social change. It does so, however, within a context defined by such broader developments. The position of this report is that the events of 1970s, since they mark a reversal of the economic growth emerging from the colonial period, can also be seen as signifying an important and distinct stage of development.

Earlier trends in the transformation process would include the development of transnational labour migration (for example, West Africa to Sudan; Mozambique to South Africa) in response to the uneven development of the colonial economies. In addition, for economic and ecological reasons, there has been a tendency for agropastoralists to lose livestock and become increasingly dependent upon the variable fortunes of agriculture. The struggles for independence, together with disputes over the settlements achieved (for example, Sudan, Kenya, Eritrea/Ethiopia, Chad, Uganda, Mozambique, Angola, Rhodesia, Sahara Democratic Republic) can also be seen as heralding the modern era of internal warfare. More recent developments have both changed and built upon these earlier trends.

In the market societies, the capitalisation of agriculture has worsened the position of poor farmers in both core and peripheral areas. With regard to the former the expansion of commercial farming has confined them to increasingly degraded land while, for both, economies of scale have often tipped the balance of trade in favour of the rich (Duffield, 1990). Pastoralists have also been affected. Independence, for example, has meant that previously open borders have been restricted. The acceleration of commercial farming has greatly reduced the access to water (Almond, 1989). Before the revolution in Ethiopia, for example, Afar pastoralists in the Awash Valley lost hundreds of thousands of hectares of rangelands to irrigated cash crop schemes (Kebbede and Jacob, 1988).

In the planned economies, marginalisation has also resulted through the process of social reorganisation. Central planning may have assisted some groups, but others have suffered. In Ethiopia, for example, the resettlement programme of the mid-1980s, which aimed to move people from the degraded northern regions to the more fertile areas of the south west, was detrimental in terms of displacing indigenous farmers, accelerating environmental degradation, and culturally and materially impoverishing the settlers themselves (Oxford, June 1986; Ethiopia, 1987/88). In Mozambique, compulsory villagisation and the suppression of religion and chiefly authority by the government have also engendered disruption and grassroots hostility (Hall, nd). In Angola, as in the other planned economies, large-scale attempts at social reorganisation had the effect of fracturing rural markets, thereby lowering prices and depressing production (Angola, 12/11/90).

This issue of conflict is dealt with in the next section. It is worth pointing out, however, that together with the continuation of a number of long-standing independence struggles (Eritrea/Ethiopia, for example), questions of region, locality and ethnicity have come more to the fore as internal conflict itself has undergone a process of change.

3.5 Patterns of social transformation

The transformation of local subsistence economies is a complex issue. The diversity of such economies, together with differences in local conditions, means that no single model of the process can be given. One thing, however, is certain: change has indeed taken place. The high rate of urbanisation is indicative Albeit from a low starting point, Africa currently has the fastest rate of urbanisation in the world. Its 35 major cities are growing at an annual rate of 8.5 per cent, which means they are roughly doubling in size every nine years. According to current trends, by 2020 more than half of Africa's entire population will be living in towns (Harris, 1989). The pattern is for subsistence economies to weaken and collapse under the combined effects of market forces, political intervention, environmental change, and direct and brutal consequences of conflict. Here, only a few pointers can be given.

The recent intensification of primary production in Africa's market economies coincided with the decline of transnational labour migration. In South Africa, for example, the mechanisation of agriculture saw the transfer of surplus farm labour to industry, thereby reducing the need for Mozambican migrants (Davies, 1990). The expansion of labour opportunities in West Africa similarly reduced the need for migration to Sudan. Within Sudan, labour for its mechanised schemes was obtained from new internal sources, for example South Sudan. In short, the period was synonymous with the development of national labour markets. This is a most significant event, suggesting that patterns of semi-subsistence (that is, the necessity of wage labour or relations of market exchange), rather than being limited to specific groups or distinct seasons of the year, have become generalised and are an essential addition to the family/group-directed activities of subsistence.

Evidence from the period of growth during the 1960s would suggest that semisubsistence economies existing within market societies need not necessarily be unstable. Under present conditions, however, the mix is not conducive to stability. Poor agriculturalists, for example, having to compete with commercial farmers at the same time as making do with reduced family labour due to migration, have responded by intensifying their methods of production. Time-saving and labour-saving techniques, such as the decline of inter cropping, crop rotation, strict sowing and weeding regimes, extensive terracing, and so on, have become prevalent across the Sahel (de Waal, 1987). In many respects this intensification has taken place at the expense of traditional drought-resisting methods, thus adding to the erratic nature of food production. A form of intensification has also occurred among pastoralists. The restriction of available rangelands and access to water has stimulated a change in herd composition and herding techniques. One trend has been for large stock (camels, cattle) to be replaced by small stock (goats) requiring smaller rangelands and browse requirements, and less supervisory labour (Abu Sin, 1982).

Changes such as these at the economic level not only underscore the poor performance of domestic food production in the face of continued population growth: they have also brought about a change in family and gender relations. Labour migration and the penetration of market forces has had the effect of transforming relations between generations in favour of the youth. In many groups, political power has shifted away from traditional lines of authority. At the same time, given that farming is women's work in many regions of Africa, the development of national labour markets, together with the growing necessity of labour migration (usually a male activity), has frequently operated to increase the burden of agricultural and domestic work that women bear and, as group support tends to weaken, to leave them more exposed to external uncertainties.

The tensions and contradictions intrinsic to the process of the social change at a local level tend to produce instability. This instability is an essential ingredient in the dynamic of internal conflict in Africa. Its configuration suggests that, in the long term and under present conditions, it is questionable whether semi-subsistence is a viable socio-economic system. The trend to urbanisation would tend to support this supposition. In recent years, drought and conflict have encouraged this rapid growth. However, in so far as increasing food insecurity is connected to the decline of local subsistence economies, and given that this decline, moreover, is related to conflict, then drought and conflict themselves reflect back and further compound the instability of semi-subsistence.

3.6 The effects on the environment

Attempts to intensify the production of primary commodities in core areas of the market and planned economies have had a significant and negative impact upon the environment. Large-scale commercial farming, for example, has degraded fragile soils and added significantly to deforestation. Using a technique that has been dubbed 'agricultural strip mining' (O'Brien, 1977), large areas of bush have been cleared and farmed continuously until the soil is exhausted. Adjacent bush is then subject to a similar treatment. The commercial felling of hardwoods is also depleting Africa's rainforests. Across the Sahel and in East Africa, the numbers of irrigation schemes have grown in an attempt to overcome climatic variation. This, however, has placed increasing pressure on the available supplies of ground and surface water. The waters of the Nile, for example, used to be the main concern of Egypt and Sudan. Intensification, however, has meant that Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have increasingly begun to tap its headwaters m 1984). This example serves to show how questions of natural resources and environment have become issues of regional concern (Ulrich, 1989).

The local changes sketched above also have major environmental implications. Some of the arguments here are already familiar: the over-grazing of restricted rangelands, deforestation due to population growth, the geographical confinement of rural settlement, unplanned urbanisation, and so on. Of crucial importance, however, is that the intensification of peripheral agriculture/pastoralism denotes an important shift in the relationship to the environment from subsistence to semi-subsistence as a mode of existence. The former was dependent upon the finite and renewable properties of nature and was careful to husband these properties. Indeed, cultural life revolved around this necessity. Semi-subsistence, however, as a result of having to adjust to market forces, has, perforce, adopted an attitude towards the environment similar to that found in core commercial activities. That is, nature is seen as an infinite resource that can be exploited at will for short-term gain. This shift in attitude, brought about by force of circumstance and contrary to traditional practice, is another factor that marks the instability of semi subsistence under current conditions.

The intensification of core and peripheral production methods since the 1970s has not only seen declines in yield per hectare because of the short-term practices involved, it has also contributed to a speeding up in the decline of Africa's resource base. This is because the pasture, soil, livestock, water and forest which are being consumed, under prevailing conditions of high population growth coupled with ineffective and short-term management, are essentially non-renewable. In the absence of other value-creating activities, such as widespread industrialization, it creates a situation prone to competition and conflict, from the local level through to national and regional levels.

3.7 Coping with change

The question of how peripheral groups cope during times of hardship, especially the matter of enviro-economic stress, has attracted increasing attention over the past two or three years (de Waal, 1987; 1990; Swift, 1989). This is an important body of work, since not only does the operation of coping strategies partly define the specificity of African famine, but the research offers a valuable comment on the nature of semi-subsistence and, arguably, complements the focus of food security upon the operation of food systems.

Coping strategies are more complex than relations of market exchange. They denote a range of family-directed or group-directed activities which exploit a stock of assets, some of them of a subsistence nature, at times when food is scarce or expensive. Swift (1989) has divided assets into investments (including education and productive instruments), stores (including food and valuables), and claims (including debt and patronage). Some strategies involve the sale of assets, for example livestock or jewellery. Others exploit movement, for example labour migration to centres of employment, the temporary relocation of families to centres of food availability, the collection of wild foodstuffs, the collection of grass and wood for sale, and so on. The prevalence and operation of coping strategies mean that under enviro-economic famine conditions (i.e. in the absence of conflict), the social trajectory that a famine can take would be unclear to outsiders without an appreciation of the coping decisions involved. Variation in nutritional status by generation and gender, for example, would be a case in point. Due to the operation of this complex calculus, enviro-economic famine deaths are more likely to result from health crises, for example, due to insanitary overcrowding at food centres, rather than from frank starvation (de Waal, 1987).

Two things need to be emphasised about coping strategies in relation to understanding the impact of conflict. In the first place, coping strategies are not only normal, they are the most effective response that African populations can adopt at times of scarcity or expense. It has been estimated (de Waal, 1987) that during the mid-1980s famine in Western Sudan, farmers were able to grow only 35 per cent of their food requirement, while food aid provided only an additional 10 per cent. Apart from going hungry, the balance was met by the resourceful operation of coping strategies. In other words, coping strategies met around half the food requirement and, although the last 10 per cent was of vital importance for many people, the people's own strategies were five times more effective in dealing with the effects of famine than was food aid. There is no reason to believe that these orders of magnitude are not reflected in other enviro-economic famines.

The other major consideration is the crucial importance of market centres for the effective operation of coping strategies (Tigray, 1990). Without local markets (a frequent target in conflict situations) most of the exchange-based strategies cannot work (the sale of assets, petty trade, or casual labour, for example). In addition, a lack of markets suggests an absence of transport, which would reduce the effectiveness of labour migration. No transport means that even food available within the region cannot be traded. Little or no communication with other areas reduces the information upon which coping decisions can be based, and so on. Markets have an important and pervasive influence which cannot be underestimated. In their absence, coping strategies could well be reduced to living off stored food and the collection of wild foodstuffs, provided of course that these options existed. In other words, the effectiveness of coping strategies is greatly reduced.

While the study of coping strategies is important, it should not obscure the fact that the activities involved are either modifications or extensions of what are, essentially, the normal conditions of semi-subsistence (Tigray, October 1989). For example, the migration of families as opposed to men, or the involvement of men in petty trade alongside women, can be seen as stress induced modifications. It is worth making this point, lest readers mistakenly assume that coping strategies, effective as they can be, are immune from the instability that characterises semi-subsistence. Coping strategies are based upon assets, and in surviving famine, assets are consumed. There is a concern, for example that in responding to the famine currently growing in Northern Sudan, peripheral rural groups have not made good their losses in livestock, movable wealth, and so on, since the last famine of the mid-1980s (Sudan, March 1990). In addition, due to intermittent drought, the availability of wild foodstuffs is also restricted. In other words, the trend is for assets to reduce. This process should be seen as part of the wider (shrinking) resource base. Indeed, although there are no figures available, the loss of peripheral group assets as a result of enviro-economic and conflict factors must be its major (if not its largest) component.

Due to the instability of semi-subsistence, coping strategies evolve and change over time. A changing asset-base would suggest that different strategies may prevail in different famines. This variability, however, is a reflection of the long-term crisis of subsidence in Africa