Agricultural Non-family Workers (Sourga) in Senegal River Valley

by Amadou Ndiaye

Agricultural non-family labour appeared on Senegal’s farms with the introduction of the groundnut crop during the colonial era. This phenomenon started between the two wars. A few years after War World II, with the establishment of a groundnut processing industry in Dakar, the use of non-family labours became very important on groundnut farms. Because of the manual and extensive cropping techniques, and increasing farm sizes, farmers needed more and more labour in the field. This motivated family heads to hire seasonal labours (Faye Jacques, 2005).

This form of seasonal labour (Navatane) lasted all the Navet (meaning ‘rainy season’ in Wolof). It was characterized by a massive use of youth for intensive and temporary work in large areas for a single season of the year. As youth could earn enough money with only three months work, many of them accepted to work on groundnut farms as Navetane. They were generally drawn from the areas where subsistence agriculture predominated. And the phenomenon was consolidated by the introduction of a monetised economy and social relationship in the areas of origin. Of course, as one of the rare opportunities to earn money, the Navetane phenomenon was, for the youth, a means to escape the power and abuse of the elders that was sanctioned by the colonial authorities (Bourgeot André, 1977).

Unfortunately, the phenomenon, after rapid development up until the economic crisis of the 1970s, declined through the combined effect of the drought and the falling global prices for groundnut.
The economic and political foundations of this seasonal labour turned out to be weak. This crisis provoked a decline of the phenomenon, which led young workers to move to Dakar, Senegal’s capital city, to seek work. However, the weakness of the employment market and the saturation of the informal sector in Dakar, lead some youth to look elsewhere for work.

Some of them found, in the Niayes Region and the Senegal River valley, opportunities to sell their labour as farm workers. Although this phenomenon is rooted in the Navetanat, it is fundamentally different from the latter. Workers, here, are not Navetane, but Sourga (meaning ‘single’ or ‘unmarried’ in Pulaar). Then what is a Sourga, and what are the relationships between the Sourga and producers?

Although there is some scholarly work around the phenomenon of Navetanat, it is difficult to find serious research focusing on Sourga. Nonetheless, it has been noted that Sourga appeared in the Niayes “with the great drought of the 1970s”, and the people of the Niayes consider Sourga as a seasonal worker who labours under certain conditions for a sponsor who provides meals and living room (GUEYE Bineta, 2005). Their stay, seldom, exceeds the full cycle of the vegetable and food crops produced during the cold (dry) season. Working arrangements which are granted to them are identical to those of the Navetane.

In the Niayes zone, Sourga are seasonal agricultural workers whom are paid through a sharecropping arrangement (MBENGUE Ahmed AIDARA, 2007). FALL Safietou (2001) focused on the conditions of the Sourga in Niayes zone. For her, the Sourga are feed by the owner and paid through sharecropping. They originate from the south of Senegal (i.e. the Groundnut Basin and Casamance) and from countries such as Guinea, Bissau Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. They work during the Cold Season (the dry season), and then go back home or to Dakar for others seasons.  Yet, some Sourgas can stay for years before returning.

The rate of Sourga use varies depending on the type of farm. It’is estimated at 62.5% for traditional farms and 45% for the evolutionary system which is a system that move from extensive to intensive cropping techniques using more and more pesticides (FALL Safietou, 2001).These statistics show a development of the use of Sourga in the Niayes irrigating system.

What about their use in the irrigating cropping systems of the Senegal River Valley? What are the characteristics of this system of cropping that promote Sourga use? What is the status of this Sourga? And what are the relationships between the Sourga and their employers?

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