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  • Making a Living in Rural Sudan: Production of Women, Labour Migration of Men, and Policies for Peasants' Needs
  • Leslie C. Gray
Grawert, Elke . 1998. Making a Living in Rural Sudan: Production of Women, Labour Migration of Men, and Policies for Peasants' Needs. New York: St. Martin's Press. 239 pp.

Elke Grawert's discussion of livelihood strategies appears at a time when there is growing interest in documenting and theorizing about how peasant livelihoods can be sustained during periods of economic and ecological decline. It is clear that peasant livelihoods are under extreme duress in Sudan, where three decades of drought and food insecurity have been exacerbated by political instability and civil war. Grawert presents us with an approach to understanding how peasants in a small town in Darfur, the westernmost province in Sudan, have been able to make a living under these conditions of tremendous uncertainty.

Grawert divides the book into chapters that examine the living conditions of peasants, food insecurity, the specific situation of rural women, and the role of migration in peasant livelihoods. Her book illustrates the importance of a range of strategies influencing a farm household's ability to maintain postcrisis livelihoods. Grawert describes different aspects of peasant farmers' livelihoods, i.e. agriculture, horticulture, market and trade, as well as the alternate coping strategies that people use during times of drought and political instability. In the village of Kutum in Darfur, peasants were able to overcome crop failure and avoid famine by using strategies such as wage laboring, selling animals, and gathering famine foods. When all else failed, people migrated and used extra village networks. As in many places in Sahelian Africa, livelihood networks, the moral economy upon which traditional societies have depended, provided an important resource to peasants during subsistence crises.

One question is whether these strategies are enough. While she argues that farmers can cope with crises in the short term, it is unclear whether, with repeated famine crises, livelihood strategies are sustainable [End Page 191] in the long term. What happens when people sell most of their capital and reciprocal relations break down? Grawert agrees that external interventions in famine situations are crucial because households and communities are not indefinitely resilient. There is a strong role for state or nonstate intervention, especially if recovering assets and earning potential are considered important in maintaining postcrisis livelihoods. Unfortunately, like other peripheral areas in Sudan, Kutum has experienced state withdrawal and marginalization, particularly during the period of rule by the National Islamic Front. This places the livelihood strategies of individuals, households, communities, and regions in strong relief. With the absence of an effective state presence, these are the institutions that ultimately determine whether people recover from one crisis to meet another.

Another main focus of the book is the role of gender relations in maintaining livelihoods. Women play a strong role in sustaining livelihoods; in many cases they are the primary force behind agricultural production, and are also responsible for household reproduction. Women are also frequently left behind as household heads when men migrate. They are then burdened with the labor responsibilities of the departed males and do not necessarily see the financial benefits of migrant remittances. In her household survey, only 70 percent of male household heads sent money home.

Does the book add to our understanding of livelihoods? The book would be strengthened by a more coherent theoretical approach. For example, Grawert presents figures of livelihood strategies and the influence of external shocks that are very difficult to interpret. It would have been useful to present a hierarchical decision-making framework, ranking the importance of the various strategies she describes in maintaining livelihoods. This work would be much enriched by the livelihood analysis framework put forward by Scoones (1998) and Brock (1999). Their approaches focus on the nested framework of conditions, resources, institutions, and strategies that determine whether livelihood outcomes are sustainable or not.

For a book that purports to examine the livelihood strategies of western Darfur, much of it reads like a literature review. The book is particularly weak in its discussion of the period since 1988, when the internal civil war and economic dislocation have intensified. Grawert's fieldwork ended...


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pp. 191-193
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