A comparative study of Fulbe household economies in the rural Fouta Djallon
This research is a case study of the factors that influence contemporary patterns of rural socioeconomic stratification among a sample of rural households in a group of Fouta Djallon Fulbe villages in the Republic of Guinea, West Africa. The study shows that traditional social status and gender account for the variation in individual and household access to the productive resources that determine socioeconomic status. Patterns of socioeconomic stratification are in turn expressed as differences in levels of household agricultural production and income earning. Precolonial Fouta Fulbe society was composed of noble, free, artisan, slave and pastoral groups organized into a rigid hierarchy differentiated by occupation and wealth. Monetization occurred during the French colonial period through taxation and the development of commodity markets, and money has now become an important criterion for socioeconomic stratification. This study examines how contemporary rural Fulbe provide for their individual and household subsistence and income needs through various combinations of farm, non-farm, and migrant activities. A sample of twenty-one households was randomly selected from an initial census of 188 households in seven villages that included all five social groups. Seven of these households were headed by women. Comparisons were made between the five social groups and between male and female headed households from ethnographic data gathered over one year that focused on family demographics, farm level studies, time allocation, household income and expenditures, and market surveys. The study found that men from all social groups migrated elsewhere to earn money while female household heads managed remittances and rural production. However, nobles have generally had more successful migration strategies built around high levels of formal education and active urban kinship networks. They also had relatively high agricultural production based on greater access to extra household labor. Artisan and slave households generally have broadly based rural production strategies built around agro-pastoral, artisanal activities, commerce, and collection and processing of natural resources. For all social groups the levels of household agricultural production, income earning, and production options also change during the household's life cycle.