(Abdel Ghaffar M. Ahmed, U of K) - The impact of livestock on the economy of Sudan and its social uses
within the pastoral sector are of great importance in the future development of the country. The role of livestock is that of a food system and store of value, wealth, power, and authority in areas where pastoralists practice their daily life without being reached by modern banking systems and market economy.
Livestock is a major contributor to global food systems and a major source of livelihood for nearly one billion poor people in developing countries (Swanepoel 2008). It is one of the fastest growing agricultural sub-sectors in most developing countries, reaching 33% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in some. One main reason is that population growth, urbanization and, most importantly, higher incomes have resulted in a rapid increase in demand for livestock products. This trend is likely to continue in the future.
Sudan is no exception. According to IGAD (2013, 1), official figures reveal that the livestock sector makes a significant contribution to the country’s domestic economy. Although the advent of oil in the 1990s led to the relative decline of the agricultural sector, never did the contribution of oil to the GDP equal the contribution of agriculture, of which livestock is the biggest part. Livestock is, in terms of value, the largest subsector of Sudan’s domestic economy, larger even than petroleum (ibid.). This is even more the case now, after the country was divided in two, with South Sudan emerging as a separate country.
Although the focus of this paper is on the importance of livestock among pastoralists, it is necessary to keep in mind that the livestock sector in Sudan has at least five components. These are (a) animals owned by pastoral groups who make the most significant contribution to the country’s GDP through their participation in the domestic and export markets; (b) animals raised by farmers in the irrigated areas mainly for household uses, such as draft animals, or those used to satisfy other needs; (c) animals raised in settled households on the plains away from the irrigated areas and used for their daily product or sold for domestic markets; (d) animals raised by the rain-fed scheme owners using the byproducts of their
schemes as fodder; and (e) animals raised by the modern sector mainly to provide for the needs of the growing daily consumption of the population in urban areas (e.g., poultry production). While the livestock sector includes all of these five categories, the emphasis here is on the social impact of the portion raised by pastoral ethnic groups. Table 1 gives livestock numbers and production trends for all the above categories.
Uses of livestock
Livestock has many uses – domestic, social, political, and economic – that impact the social life of pastoralists in Sudan. While many researchers have addressed the contribution of the livestock sector on the national economy in the past few years, this paper shall focus on the domestic and social use of livestock by owners, especially pastoralist.
It has already been mentioned that the highest percentage of the country’s livestock is raised by pastoral ethnic groups. Livestock is the main source of food in the domestic arena. It provides milk and meat for families’ local consumption, for households or for the camp unit, depending on the way the ethnic group organizes itself. Hides, wool, and other animal products are part of the daily use of the pastoral household and are carefully looked after.
Pastoralists use their small ruminants as means of exchange to satisfy needs for goods they do not produce. They are also used by almost all pastoral ethnic groups in Sudan for sacrifices during circumcision, marriage, and other social occasions. Some of the animals, such as
camels or the oxen of the Baggara of Kordofan and Darfur and the pastoral Fulani in the Blue Nile, are used as means of transport especially during these groups’ annual movements in search of better grazing areas for their herds.
They are also used as stores of value in the sense that they are the most important means for investing the surplus generated by the household; hence, they act as the pastoralist’s bank. As Haaland stated, “cattle constitute the only way of accumulating capital and are investment that gives profit from calves” (1969, 63). Accumulating large herds is a source of prestige among pastoralists. A person’s position is judged by the number of animals owned. Livestock is like money, and it is used to express generosity and ability to welcome guests, express support for leaders, buy support for gaining positions of power or authority within and outside one’s ethnic group, and go to the Haj, which Muslims are expected to do once in their lifetime.
These, among other reasons, recently prompted the Rashayda to include sheep in their camel herds since they can be easily used for such purposes. They refer to sheep as cash or “dollars” since they can be sold, killed or given as presents.
Livestock is seen, by its owners, as “money-on-hooves” or as the Baggara of Kordofan call it Elfadha um sof(silver that has wool). The best description is perhaps offered by Cunnison in his book “Baggara Arabs: Power and the Lineage in a Sudanese Nomad Tribe” where he writes that “among the Humr, as elsewhere, wealth is one road to prestige, power, and political position. Here perhaps the main road. Humr keep most of their wealth in cattle: a man is wealthy only when he has cattle in camp to prove it. The drive to obtain cattle, and to keep them, dominates his life” (1966, 28). Things have remained more or less the same since Cunnison made these statements. Fighting and cattle rustling between the Baggara and the Dinka in the Abyei area have always been related to such values.
Among pastoral groups livestock used to be, and still is, considered as the major part of the payment of a bride’s wealth. Today, goods handed over on such occasions may vary, but their basic component is livestock. Livestock is also the main source of cash, which is used to settle taxes, as compensation in cases of great physical harm made to others, and sometimes as a bribe to officials, especially by those seeking positions of authority such as Nazirs (presentday Amirs), shaykhs or omdas.
Another important element in having large herds is that they strengthen group solidarity by allowing, for example, those who have large herds to lend some animals to those who have smaller herds or no herd at all, or to those who lost theirs due to drought or epidemics and civil wars in order to keep them moving with the group. The poor households will then become closely linked to relatives and will not hesitate in giving them the necessary political support, when and if it is needed. This symbiotic relationship extends beyond the group to the relationship with settled villagers through whose lands the pastoralists move. Moreover, large herds encourage cooperation between herd owners during annual movements, grazing, and at watering points.
However, the mutating political situation in the country has forced some changes in the symbiotic relations between villagers and pastoralists as well as in the relations within the pastoral ethnic group itself. Cattle rustling in areas where security is lacking has become conspicuous, while cooperation over grazing and watering has been overtaken by hired labor.
Rather than looking for support from one’s group members, it became essential to build relations with major political actors in the regional center or the federal state capital. Excess animals are sold for the domestic or export markets. It is here, more than anywhere else that the impact of modernization and globalization seems to have its influence on the traditional value systems of pastoralists.