Darfur has received extensive humanitarian assistance over the past 12 years in response to a complex, constantly evolving context. Both the government and the international community are looking toward moving from a prolonged era of conflict into one of recovery. The inability of all residents of Darfur to achieve sustainable livelihood strategies suited to the extremely variable climate has been at the heart of the on-going crisis. Any durable solutions must include a detailed understanding of the livelihood systems in Darfur, how they complement each other and how they can be structured to not just meet the needs of the full population, but also to allow them to thrive.
Recovery is a major component of resilience, but is often mistakenly assumed to mean a return to a previous state. Imbalances in access to resources necessary to maintain resilient livelihoods for a portion of the population was the fuel that escalated the conflict. A return to the systems in place prior to 2003 is neither possible nor desirable. Recovery in this case must therefore be understood to be when all residents are able to build new, resilient livelihood systems with altered, more balanced institutions that can support and bring together a polarized population.
This Scoping Study is the first of a two-phase data collection process. This phase identifies the key areas for research to be further explored in a second stage. This paper begins with a review of the livelihood systems of the agro-pastoralist populations in the study area just prior to 2003 as a point of reference.
Livelihood systems in Darfur have been designed over generations to be resilient to extremely variable, unevenly distributed rainfall. Single dry years were not considered a shock by Darfurians, rather a normal part of the climatic system. In order to live with this variation, most agro-pastoralists planned in terms of two or three-year cycles rather than the one-year cycles outsiders tend to impose on them.
Mobile pastoralists developed migration patterns flexible enough to adjust to changes from year to year in the distribution of high quality grazing.
From this point of reference, we then follow the population through their experience of multiple shocks and how they have continuously adapted to them in order to meet their needs at all times. We also look at how families are building new strategies that are resilient in the face of the climate variability that defines the region.
We find that the primary tools households use to reduce vulnerability to future shocks and adapt to current shocks or stresses lies not in subtle changes to core income streams or in the addition of smallscale add-on mechanisms to protect core income streams. Rather, households make major shifts in income streams and informed, proactive and profound choices in the types of income streams: moving in and out of different income streams as the context and their asset base allows in order to maximize both their immediate and long-term outcomes.
The early conflict period saw a fairly comprehensive stripping of assets across the sampled portion of the population with a dramatic shift in the balance of power. In the current context, agro-pastoralists are unable to fully engage in either of the two income streams with the greatest potential: rainy season cultivation and animal husbandry. This is driving them to engage in environmentally destructive, strategies that put all parts of the population at risk, while still not providing satisfactory livelihood outcomes.
Simplified caricatures of the conflict in Darfur have described two opposed livelihood systems, farming and animal herding, as if they function independently of each other, competing for the same resources.
As we look more closely at these populations, we see that they are in fact operating within the same livelihood system, using similar activities, depending on the sustainable management of the same natural resources, only using them in different ways.
The strategies of all engage in both agriculture and animal husbandry in ways that increase overall outcomes and improve resilience. Agro-pastoralists most often focus on cultivation, building large grain reserves to smooth consumption during the drier years that are a normal part of the Sahel’s variable climate. Agro-pastoralists also depend on livestock to protect the grain reserves, selling livestock instead of grain to pay for cash needs in normal years or to meet food and income needs in extreme times when the grain reserves run low. Pastoralists focus on livestock rearing, using agriculture to protect the herds. By cultivating to meet most of their food needs, they do not need to sell as many animals in order to buy food, allowing the herd to grow faster through reproduction. When herds are diminished by disease or theft, pastoralists often turn to agriculture as a way to produce income necessary to buy replacement stock.
This study shows roughly how the livelihood systems of the target population have changed over the past 12 years. It highlights that households are actively selecting particular income streams in a strategic pattern. The next stage of research will need to help us understand which factors are important to households in making these choices. What makes certain income streams more preferable or less risky than others? Which factors allow certain households to engage in specific alternative income streams? Which factors allow a household to move out of low-return income streams and back into more profitable income streams? What are the factors that hinder a household’s ability to move out of the less profitable income streams or to build an asset base? How do the altered relationships between the parts of the population affect these opportunities and choices?
It is clear from our many conversations with people in Darfur that understanding and addressing the forces inhibiting recovery and polarizing the relationships between two parts of the same population are critical components to mapping out a road to recovery. Building structures that allow the full population to have access to and manage natural resources in a way that will provide sustainable and increased benefits to all is the key to developing new resilient livelihood strategies in Darfur.