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The Impact of Commercialisation on the Role of Labour in African Pastoral Societies

Research reports

As pastoral systems undergo commercialisation, all parts of those systems - livestock productivity, range use, household economies and the socio-cultural system itself - adjust to the new goals of production. This paper considers one of the elements in this adjustment, that of the changing role of labour. The evidence is compared from different African pastoral areas, to ascertain whether there are any trends in the way different types of labour are organised when pastoralists commercialise.

We define commercialisation as the re-orientation of livestock production by some or all members of a pastoral society, characterised by increasing rates of live animal sales and increased use of purchased inputs. Commercialisation involves a partial or total shift in the goals of production from meeting subsistence needs to producing, in part, for a market as well as to continue to meet the previous goals of subsistence production. This paper forms part of a research project in progress within the Pastoral Development Network at ODI on commercial change in pastoral Africa.

In this review, we are not so much concerned with quantitative changes in the amounts and types of labour input when pastoralists commercialise, as we are with qualitative changes in the kinds of labour used; the ways in which labour is obtained, managed and renumerated; the tasks undertaken and finally, changing social and economic relationships between livestock owners and those who tend their livestock. The concept of labour which is applied here encompasses all efforts aimed at maintaining the well-being of livestock, which includes management decisions as well as performing actual tasks.

In the first part of the paper we summarise how the necessary balance between labour and livestock is achieved in subsistence-oriented pastoral systems. This balance is inherently unstable, due to human and livestock population dynamics, but pastoral societies have various mechanisms for gaining temporary equilibrium. Commercialisation introduces a further source of destabilisation to which pastoral systems have had to adjust.

In the second part of the paper, we review some of the most significant changes in patterns of labour that have been introduced with commercialisation. Although not all members of a pastoral society may be commercialising to the same degree, the process entails a re-organisation in the division of labour within and between households which affects all members of that society (and often neighbouring societies). These changes range from erosion or transformation of the traditional equilibrating mechanisms outlined in the first part of the paper, to innovations only made possible through the infusion of new capital. We conclude that the shift in the value of livestock from primarily use value to market value, which is the hallmark of commercialisation, has resulted in more rigid and permanent forms of socio-economic stratification in which, among other effects, there are qualitative transformations in the organisation of labour.

Patrick M Sikana and Carol K Kerven