The Wodaabe of Niger are pastoral ‘nomads’ inhabiting the West African Sahel, a region characterised by low and uncertain rainfall. Drought poses a recurrent threat to the well-being of livestock and adaptations to seasonal, year-to-year and long-term cycles of drought permeate Wodaabe economics and social organisation. The first part of this chapter explores traditional Wodaabe mechanisms for coping with drought. Responses to individual years of low rainfall are often an extension of responses to the more predictable seasonal cycle of aridity but, in the long term, more severe cycles of drought are encountered which necessitate radical disruption of Wodaabe behaviour. The second part of the chapter explores further sources of long-term disruption–the fundamental economic changes which have taken place since colonisation of Niger by the French. The impact of these changes has widely undermined traditional mechanisms for coping with drought.
The Wodaabe of Niger are one of the groups of nomadic pastoralists inhabiting the Sahelian region of West Africa. This region is characterised by low and uncertain rainfall, and drought exercises a profound influence on the well-being of livestock and on the behaviour of the Wodaabe. Strategies for alleviating the effects of seasonal and interannual variability in rainfall permeate many aspects of Wodaabe economic and social organisation, and the potential risks of longer-term cycles of drought are vividly illustrated by the prolonged famine of 1968–74.