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Realities in Senegalese rural communities: the need for a permanent solution to a social problem involving farmers and herdsmen.

In Senegal, as in most developing countries, the economy is based on agricultural activities; farming and herding are the economic sectors that contribute most significantly to food security and poverty reduction. A natural interdependence helps sustain the success of the main actors, farmers, and herdsmen who belong to two ethnic groups: Wolof and Peul. In general, the ethnicity of farmers is not homogenous, as they are members of various ethnic groups.

In this article, the concept "Wolof" is used in relation to farmers, despite the fact that not all farmers belong to this group, the largest one in Senegal. Herdsmen are traditionally Peul, also called Fulbe or Fulani in Ghana and in many other African countries (Freudenberger, 1995; Tonah, 2005). Each group's interaction with its immediate physical environment, its mode of functioning and adaptation to that environment, and the nature of its interactions with the other should favor productive exchange benefiting both communities. Although this relationship has been maintained for centuries, conflicts regularly erupt. Even after successful mediations to adopt a lasting solution, tense interrelations may persist and sometimes reignite other conflicts, thus prompting a new cycle of violence. I demonstrate how this phenomenon has become a social problem. This conceptual article aims to explain this antagonistic interrelation and its persistence using a framework based on systems and exchange theories.

A number of unintended consequences stemming from administrative rules and regulations passed to establish permanent solutions to the problem have brought more issues that are laid out to inform community leaders, administrators, and policy makers.

The Antagonistic and Conflicted Relationship as a Social Problem

How has this Wolof-Peul interaction become a social problem? Barker (2003) defines a social problem as a phenomenon that happens when conditions among people lead to social responses that violate some people's values and norms and cause emotional or economic suffering.

McKee and Robertson (1975) posit that the first factor necessary for a social phenomenon to be considered a social problem is that it involves "the subjective perception of an objective condition" (p. 4). The Wolofs' and Peuls' experience involves an objective condition: every year at the end of the rainy season, in September and October, people are murdered during conflicts between farmers and herdsmen. Every year, more and more people die as a result of these incidents. Many Peuls and Wolofs end up in hospital emergency rooms, and many victims become handicapped for life. In addition to its negative social consequences, this phenomenon harms the economy. In effect, many cows, sheep, and goats are lost when, in retaliation to destruction of their farms by cattle, farmers rustle herds, pass the borders, and sell the animals in neighboring countries to use the money as compensatory earnings. In reaction to these events, herders may ignite fires to burn stored crops or farmers' homes. The consequences of these actions on the Senegalese economy are significant, as hundreds of animals disappear every year, either killed or sold off cheaply abroad, and cash crops are destroyed. Each group subjectively perceives the objective condition as not favorable to its members, because each group perceives a gap between its ideals and social reality (McKee & Robertson, 1975).

McKee and Robertson (1975) noted that the second factor required for these conditions to be considered a social problem is that the phenomenon must be regarded as "capable of solution through collective action" (p. 7). Wolofs and Peuls, along with political and administrative authorities, understand that they have the capacity to find solutions to the collective problem. Unfortunately, individual members of these communities may not be satisfied with the collective solution, which should engage each member.

The last factor that McKee and Robertson (1975) consider necessary for a phenomenon to become a social problem is that a significant number of people or a number of "significant" people perceive the phenomenon as a problem. In fact, in both communities, a number of leaders are conscious of the need to take action in order to change current trends. Both communities are aware of the negative outcome of the actions of some of their members, so in many villages, they have decided to bring changes through local government intervention. These confrontations are reported in newspapers, and when large sections of the population are informed, they often express their concerns and lament the increasing levels of fear and harm. Community leaders, activists, and local and state authorities vow their commitment to tackle the hecatomb. Further, when local authorities meet with community leaders, they discuss strategies to eliminate these acts of violence in order to stabilize both the herding and the agricultural sectors. Even the government has developed strategies to assist in finding solutions.

In summary, this phenomenon meets all the conditions that characterize a social problem. To enhance readers' understanding of the nature and scope of these conflicted community interactions, a number of concepts and assumptions from systems and exchange theory are applied to this context.

Understanding the Social Problem through Systems and Exchange Theories

Previous research has demonstrated the explanatory and predictive power of systems and exchange theories (Dupuis, 2010; Helbing, Yu, & Rauhut, 2011; Lakon, Hipp, & Timberlake, 2010). Researchers have illustrated the relevance of these theories' constructs and assumptions in analyzing interactions between groups. Applying these concepts and assumptions to explain the conflicted interrelations between Peuls and Wolofs may contribute to a better understanding of this social problem.

Barker (2003) defines systems theories as those concepts that emphasize reciprocal relationships between the elements that constitute a whole. Constructs, such as subsystems, boundaries, interactions, and homeostasis, "emphasize the relationship among individuals, groups, organizations, or communities and mutually influencing factors in the environment" (Barker, 2003, p. 428). These groups share a common physical environment as members of a larger community. The concept of subsystems may be applied to each of these two entities and to that of systems to the larger community. As the country includes many systems, the country's population represents the suprasystem. Because of the interdependence of farmers and herdsmen, they influence each other despite their cultural differences with regard to language and lifestyle. Language and lifestyle stand as social boundaries, as they determine group membership and indicate who is and is not part of a subsystem. The concepts of closed or open systems relate to this notion of boundary. Traditionally, Wolofs and Peuls are not inclined to allow cross-boundary exchange. As such, they may be considered closed subsystems, which means that they do not allow members from one subsystem to join another.

Although these subsystems' boundaries may be impermeable to individuals, the community or system allows energy and resources to transfer among themselves and between the community or system and the environment (Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda, 1998). Further, the actions and reactions of each of these subsystems create a flow of energy, or "input," which the system uses to meet its goals of producing more and more resources; crops and cattle represent the "output," because they are exported to other systems. The balance between these forces contributes to the system's homeostasis, defined as the "tendency of a system or organism to maintain stability and when disrupted, to adapt and strive to restore the stability previously achieved" (Barker, 2003, p. 199). Describing this community by using Tonnies's construct of gemeinschaft (cited in Robbins et al., 1998, p. 26) is relevant, as it reflects the type of society these subsystems belong to. In effect, in these rural communities, human relationships are defined on the basis of family ties, names and marriage, or age groups through initiation to adulthood by socialization. This is in line with what Robbins et al. (1998) defined as a relationship "typified by tradition, unity, and a high degree of intimacy" (p. 26). These characteristics contribute to the stability of traditional Wolof and Peul relationships.

Following the conceptualization of these elements, this theory's assumptions may enhance the relevance of its constructs in describing Wolof-Peul interrelationships. These assumptions have been used to help in the understanding of the blended family system, social environment and cooperative behavior, and system-theoretical approaches (Dupuis, 2010; Helbing et al., 2011; Klassen, 2011). Several of these assumptions may be applied to this social problem to heighten understanding of the subsystems' interrelations.

In effect, proponents of this theory posit that systems tend toward homeostasis or stability and balance; further, system maintenance activities contribute to system survival. These two communities represent more than 75 percent of the population involved in the farming and herding sectors. Meanwhile, they are "diverse groups of people who have different viewpoints on the community problem" (Bhandari, 2003, p. 4). They have different objectives but are connected through their interactions with the physical environment. This illustrates another assumption, which suggests that systems affect their environment but that the environment also affects the systems. Vegetation is scarce in the area where Peuls reside because of continuous grazing. Peuls are nomadic, so they do not stay long in one location. They experience significant difficulty in preserving trees, because their herds need to be fed. Contrary to Peuls' practices, farmers are more prone to plant and take care of trees, for their fruit and their shade. They are extremely concerned with soil conservation.

Although these differences of interactions with the environment are pronounced, both subsystems fear both land degradation due to droughts and threats of subsequent famine. This commonality of the two subsystems' points of view on the quality of the land shows that a system should be considered a whole because it may exhibit characteristics that its subsystems do not share. This assumption reinforces the need to understand that a rural community has characteristics that local ethnic groups do not exhibit. Specifically, Wolofs' points of view on the needs of the community are different from those of the Peuls, and the community's points of view reflect neither group's views because the community is more inclusive and more global. The understanding of this social problem as viewed through this social system may be reinforced through social exchange theory.

As social exchange theory "seeks to explain human interactions through the dynamics of rewards and benefits" (Robbins et al., 1998, p. 336), its concepts and assumptions could enhance readers' understanding of these conflicted interrelations. Robbins et al. (1998) noted that "at the heart of exchange is the notion of profits. Profits can consist of benefits (or rewards) less cost (or punishments). Rewards may be material (economic) or symbolic (such as attention, advice, or status)" (p. 337). The construct of resources is a key element, as their availability as well as their scarcity influence the exchange process. Resources are defined as "anything that can be transmitted from one person to another" (McGregor, Parker, Leblanc, & King, 2010, p. 75). In this context of Wolofs and Peuls, the resources involved in the exchange are peanuts, rice, millet, and corn, but also cows, oxen, sheep, and goats. Land is a shared resource, but the modalities of its use are differently interpreted, and the outcome of the subjective cost-benefit analysis is different. What farmers perceive as beneficial is a loss to herders. Proponents of social exchange theory support the idea that individuals have a tendency to exchange resources when they believe that each party benefits from the operation. For them reciprocity occurs in an exchange when the transaction is mutually rewarding, and when a long-term equitable exchange relationship occurs (McGregor et al., 2010). In addition McGregor et al. (2010) noted that for a relationship to be maintained, the benefits must outweigh the perceived costs. This Wolof-Peul phenomenon involves both social and economic costs. The social costs may be evaluated through the large number of victims, who could be productive if they were to stay alive and healthy. They can also be assessed through the mental health effects experienced not only by the victims but also by their relatives, who have to take care of them. The financial cost of medications and health-care services may also be a means to evaluate the effects of the problem on the subsystems. Each group member, along with the state, bears the economic cost of these conflicts. Further, because of inheritance and succession rules pertaining to land and herd ownership, the loss often is extended from one generation to another, because local authorities may reallocate lands to other families and sell herds to pay for damages or to compensate victims. Ultimately, the state loses in these operations, since the quantity of perennial cash crops may drop, and consequently, the country's earnings are reduced.

In this context, the social exchange construct of the norm of reciprocity, which refers to the "expectation that if one receives a reward, the favor will be returned in some way" (Robbins et al., 1998, p. 337), is relevant. In fact, some terms of the interrelations lead to profit or expectations of profit; many Wolofs are cattle owners, but they do not pasture the animals. They customarily use the services of Peuls, as both parties may agree to a verbal contract that regulates the mode of payments. Herders are paid either in currency or in resources, such as grains, crops, straw, and food, for their services; they may receive grains and straw from the cattle owners to feed the herds. Also, a long-established, unwritten practice is that whenever a cow gives birth to three calves, the third one belongs to the herder and the milk belongs to the Peul who can sell it.

These ethnic groups still practice bartering, in exchanging resources and commodities. In this long-lasting exchange relationship, both subsystems aim to maximize their mutual benefits. Further, an agreement between herders and farmers pertaining to land occupation is often concluded to maintain the quality of the soil. In effect, the traditional land management model directs that the land should be divided into three areas: one for farming, one for herding, and one left fallow. So, a collaboration between farmers and herders helps develop this three-field farming strategy based on the rotation of crops such as peanut and millet or corn and an area left fallow. This means that every three years, farmers leave fallow the land they cultivate and agree to let the Peuls occupy the land to pasture their herds. In doing so, they let the animals deposit natural fertilizers in the area; consequently, plants will grow better and produce more crops. This is a result of a cost-benefit analysis that each subsystem has made. The issue of power or domination of one group over the other is not reflected in this exchange relationship. There is neither a domination of one ethnic group over the other nor a subordination of one subsystem to another. Yet the two groups at times resolve situational issues and differences with violence, although a process of cooperation and dialogue between the two groups is always available within the community. The issue of trust between parties is also a fundamental principle of social exchange theory. A high level of trust may help establish an enduring commitment to collaboration, dialogue, and peace between Wolofs and Peuls. When each group feels that the other party values its viewpoints, the groups are more likely to adhere to the agreed-on decision.

Factors Perpetuating the Problem

Exchange interrelations between these groups have multigenerational values. They continue as long as the following are present: each subsystem finds that the exchange is balanced, any possible obstacle is factored in, and solutions are put in place. One phenomenon that perpetuates the problem is the recurrence of droughts, which cause water shortages and consequently lead herders to long trips from the north to the south to find grazing spaces for their cattle. The need for more land to cultivate perennial cash crops is an additional phenomenon that contributes to the persistence of the problem. In fact, farmers have a constant need to grow plants in new soil; therefore, they are always looking forward to expand their land. A number of farmers' practices are contributing factors to the problem. For example, inherited lands are customarily protected with fences, which may impede herd movements. Farmers may plant crops in spaces between lands left fallow and newly cultivated farms, ignoring the fact that these spaces are reserved as traditional routes called burlu, which are aimed to facilitate herds' movements (Freudenberger, 1996). Further, the state's reluctance to

enforce the law in its full terms makes it harder to get people to abide by the law. A policy related to national lands has been passed, but people are resisting change.

This article's application of the concepts and assumptions of systems and exchange theories may contribute to a better understanding of the social problem experienced by farmers and herders; meanwhile, readers' knowledge of its sequences of causation may enhance comprehension of the strategies for intervention and prevention of the problem.

Sequences of Causation, Intervention, and Prevention

The numerous and ongoing violent incidents occur after farmers find out that herders have let their cattle enter farms and destroy the plants; sometimes all the crops produced during the whole season are lost. As soon as the farms' owners are informed, a crackdown on Peuls starts. Members of both groups may lose their lives. Each of these fights may lead to another rampage in either a Peul or a Wolof community, since the error of one member may be interpreted as the fault of the whole community. It may happen that farmers confiscate herds and bring them to the authorities. Sometimes, because of their anger, farmers slaughter several animals before asking authorities to intervene. They may also decide to kill the animals because they distrust administrative authorities, who may have failed to find satisfactory solutions to similar past events. Consequently, when herdsmen see the extent of their opponents' actions, they may decide to fight back. Further, they may incite their relatives to join them. Often, cases of arson are recorded as retaliatory operations, which lead to a new cycle of violence. Many other actions may lead to these cycles of violence. For example, in one village, Wolofs may decide to close a route for various reasons, including population pressure on the land and the need for new spaces for housing. They may also decide to close the passage because they want to protect the homestead fields around their houses. These homestead fields are usually under the control of women, who grow kitchen-garden plants such as potatoes, yams, millet, and greens. Even between Wolof families, disputes may take place over these fields. When Wolofs decide to close a route without consulting the Peuls, the latter may reopen it to let their herds get through. This reaction leads often to new confrontations.

The relationship between these two communities is always tense, as each ethnic group suspects the other of trying to exert coercive power over the other group's members. The Peuls are known to be armed with axes or knives. They are skilled in using them as working tools to protect their herds and to defend themselves against carnivorous animals such as lions and tigers or to fight off thieves. They do not hesitate to use them to combat farmers, sometimes inflicting very bad wounds to their opponents. A socially constructed image of a Peul is a warrior who would do anything to keep his herds safe. In many Wolofs' minds, Peuls are belligerent people who would not hesitate to kill anybody who would prevent their herds to access water points or who would block them from pasturelands. Peuls are labeled "murderers," and therefore, they are feared. This socially constructed image of the Peuls has made them suffer exclusion from the broader community. Conversely, Peuls see farmers as people who do not care about the well-being of animals. Peuls' constructed image of farmers is as "landscapers" who are in constant need of more and more land for their private use, even if they do not exploit it. These negative perceptions of the "other" do not facilitate the many solutions that have been initiated.

Informal social control methods seem inadequate for solving this problem because the situation persists despite the many rules that the two subsystems had set up to manage these conflicts. For many years, they have been unsuccessfully trying to set up agreements that would eliminate the problem. Leaders from both groups are committed to prevent deviant behaviors from recurring, but they have not been successful--at any occasion, there is a segment of either Peuls or Wolofs that adopts an attitude that ignites a new conflict. Formal government intervention involves sending out security forces to stop the fights and sending to court all those who are involved in these incidents, particularly those who murder.

Another alternative among the series of possible interventions is based on educating people about shared values and societal cohesion. This model of intervention is supported not only by proponents of systems theory, who deem that quality input would enhance group socialization, but also by proponents of exchange theory, who consider that possessing information or knowledge provides people with "expert power." In this context, that power would help people make more appropriate decisions in their interactions with others. The two subsystems need to be able to adapt to a new situation and define new goals to be attained and integrated; they should maintain motivation and deal with internal tensions. This process would create a synergy that would stimulate a sustainable solution to the problem.

A strategy that is deemed beneficial to both subsystems and to the supra-system resides in modernizing cattle breeding by promoting intensive breeding techniques. The current extensive breeding does not favor the improvement of meat quality and the country's exports. The quality of the country's dairy products cannot improve as long as the herds are not better treated and better fed. Intensive breeding or ranching would be based on sedentary herds in ranches, where cattle would be pastured and provided with appropriate veterinary attention. The ranching method would also help farmers because they would not include herd passages in their plans, would use all the land available, and would not fear losing their crops. Model intensive-breeding ranches are being tested in Sangalcam and other villages. This experience has been successful because the cattle are sedentary, so the animals are well fed and produce more milk. This successful outcome illustrates that the country would take advantage of its exchange interrelations at the global level by promoting and implementing intensive herding techniques.

This analysis of the problem shows how these two subsystems influence each other in their interactions and functioning. Unfortunately, they have not been able to use their energy to reach higher levels of sustained and collaborative networking. The energy they exchange with their surrounding environment makes it difficult to solve the problem in the short term. In effect, farmers' subsystems are located in a number of districts, but all of them face the same problems that oppose them to herdsmen. Consequently, most farmers have a common interest in opposing Peuls' practices. Conversely, Peuls from different districts continually support members of their ethnic group to sustain the profits they gain in having worked with farmers for generations.

Implications for Social Policy and Unintended Consequences

Concepts such as a "norm of reciprocity," "rules of distributive justice," and "status congruence" (Robbins et al., 1998, p. 338) inform policy makers. Citing Gouldner, Robbins et al. (1998) noted that "reciprocity serves to maintain and stabilize the interaction, keeps the threat of power differentials in check, and has applications to larger groups" (p. 337). Therefore, when making decisions pertaining to regulating herds' routes, policy makers should take this norm into account. As it is impossible to draw rural routes that bypass villages and farms, any decision they make would require taking back farmers' lands. The Wolofs would see such decisions as made in favor of the Peuls. Accordingly, they would expect something in return from the state to compensate them for their loss. Policy makers should apply this principle of reciprocity when planning for regulations in rural areas, because the success of policies depends on how profitable each party deems a project to be.

Herdsmen pay taxes when their animals stay in some specific areas. When assessing the amount of herders' taxes, the state should consider the "rule of distributive justice" (Robbins et al., 1998, p. 338). This means that taxes should be proportional to the rewards: if taxes are too high, herdsmen are likely to decide not to pay, since they would believe that they do not get any benefit in return. Robbins et al. (1998) explain this attitude, stating, "People may violate norms and laws if they come to believe that there is no benefit in following them" (p. 338).

Policy makers should also be sensitive to the concept of status congruence, as both parties should be considered of the same status. No privilege should be granted to one group and refused to the other. According to this principle, in an exchange relation, participants prefer to be of the same status. This principle informs policy makers that both subsystems should be considered to be composed of Senegalese citizens who have the same rights and the same obligations. They deserve the same treatment and the same protection. Therefore, any decision made by authorities should help both subsystems function properly, and no specific group should feel frustrated by the law. Accordingly, Wolofs' and Peuls' input is necessary when a decision is to be made. Both groups should participate in all hearings and be involved in all committees set up to initiate laws before the National Assembly passes them. This process requires a permanent dialogue between the subsystems, so that each one has the opportunity to spell out its points of view and expectations. This step is required if the state wants all its citizens to abide by the law. Any solution should be the outcome of an institutional exchange network that includes the state, ethnic subsystems, and other organizations. A positive illustration of the process is provided in the villages located in the district of Keur Momar Sarr (which means "Momar Sarr's home"). Committees including farmers, herdsmen, and local and state authorities should decide every two to three years on the design of the herd routes. A map showing the path that herds would be required to follow when heading to or coming from pasture should be drawn and made public and available to all parties; meetings should be held everywhere, in all villages, to inform the population.

Despite a large consensus on decisions to solve the problem, unintended consequences may still emerge. For example, politicians may get involved in the process. Because they need votes from rural populations, they may blame the "bureaucratic administration" of the ruling political party for not properly handling the cases brought before them. Their speeches may create misunderstanding between groups. Another unintended consequence is competition for the representation of farmers and herdsmen in rural committees. This has become an important issue, since a vote is necessary to elect representatives for each group. The current selection process has revealed its limits because it may be difficult to reach an agreement that indicates each ethnic group's legitimate representatives; very often, committee chairs decide to cancel meetings because many villages are unable to appoint or elect their candidates.

Hypotheses reflecting organizational changes oriented toward social development may be drawn from this analysis. It may be hypothesized that the creation of an apolitical and well-structured village council will more likely have a positive impact on the interactions. Setting up village watch committees that include members of both groups will also likely help monitor individual actions and lower the number of potential conflicts.

These proposed solutions aim to meet the needs of concerned populations who not only have initiated series of meetings involving representatives of many communities but also have worked with administrative authorities to implement community agreements. This is a positive development from these villagers, who are looking for security, safety, and well-being.


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Mamadou M. Seck, PhD, MSSA, LSW, is assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Cleveland State University.
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Author:Seck, Mamadou M.
Publication:Social Development Issues: Alternative Approaches to Global Human Needs
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:6SENE
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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