Both livestock breeding and agriculture can be seen in most of the agrarian structures in the Soudano-Sahelian region. These two activities are linked together in many ways. On the technical ground, the livestock breeding help maintain the fertility of the cultivated lands with the animal manure, and the animal tracted agriculture plays an increasing part. On the other side, the crop remnants (cereals and leguminous plants) are providing precious fodding resources for the cattle. Within the family economy, a strong complementarity between agriculture and cattle breeding is useful for the food needs and the money income. The rural space organization includes the coexistence of both these activities, though concurrency between plant growers and cattle breeders has been dealed with since long ago. and conflicts can become harsher due to an increasing overgrazing.
The interannual irregular rainfalls is a main characteristics of the Sahelian climate. This large region has known since 1960 a severe drop of the rain falls. Drought corresponds exactly to a succession of several poor years, which could be seen not only by a drastic decrease of the level of production (lower yields, low pasture yields and increase number of dead animals), but also by an erosion of the environment which could sometimes become irreversible. If the drought is due to a climatic change, the result is clearly due to the impact of the human activities on the ecosystem. Migration and mutiple associated activities, food assistance and the regional opening of the cereal markets, helped limit the most dramatic consequences of the drought.
This notion is applied at different levels, from an individual up to the population of a country or of a big region as a whole. To remain at the local scale, we would stress out that the capacity to reach a satisfactory state of the food needs does not imply that the rural people do produce the whole corresponding food resources. The food security lays also on an income (obtained with commercial crops, selling of the cattle or other activities), as well as on the products trade and exchanges . Therefore, the way to food security depends strongly on the economic environment.
Each type of agricultural or grazing practice cannot be sustainable unless it allows a regular restoration of the productive resources. The conditions for a sustainable practice are less and less provided in many places of the Sudano-Sahelian region. The cultivated land surface is spreading over, the farmers have to cultivate poor and fragil soils, the fallow land is narrowing or disappearing, the grazing lands have more and more animals, the use of organic manure decreases and the use of mineral fertilizers collapsed, signs of deterioration of the environment become alarmingly evident. A global crisis of fertility restoration endanger the future of such agrarian systems; it is the consequence of various phenomenons, a continuous increase of the rural population, the land owners unsecurity, climatic crisis, non incentive political economy. The result is often now an overgrazing of the land resources, without seeing any fate. Several examples can prove that regressive evolutions can be stopped and that margins of intensification are still possible.
The picking-gathering of various wild plants is usual and intensive in the whole Sudano-Sahelian region. It still plays a major role in the food diet, in the pharmacopy and in the technology of these rural populations. The large number of plant species in use testify of the broad knowledge (acquired and transmitted) of these men of their environmental resources. From the feeding viewpoint, the picking-gathering allows a diversification and a complementation of the food diet, as well as to keep up with the difficult periods between two crops. Its importance can be decisive when the agricultural production is very weak.
Rural societies did react during climatic and economic crisis. They adopted various strategies in order to limit the risks, to restore the productivity level and to break down the process of deterioration of the environment. The farmers from the Soudano-Sahelian region, proved clearly their capacity for adaptation. The cultivated low-land fields, the creation of small vegetable gardens, the creation of new forms of cattle breeding (feed-lots), and moreover the multiplicity of paysant organizations, testify of their will to keep control of the frame of their activities. Structural adjustment politics created heavy constraints but on the other side helped stimulate local initiatives very often in relation with the Non Governmental Humanitarian Organizations (NGO).
In the Sahelian region, the distinction between farmer and livestock breeder is very thin. The need to get a better food security made the peasants to diversify their resources by combining in particular farming and shepherd activities inside of a family run production unit. Range land cattle grazing has become the do it standard even if some of the farmers spend more time with agriculture while others with cattle breeding.
In the Sahelian environment (as in Oudalan, at the northern border of Burkina Faso), where both extensive cereal crops and grazing land cattle breeding are coexisting, most of the population kept up with a certain mobility. The habitat often combine a dry season settlement on cultivated lands in order to gather most of the manure, using cattle fences, and a rainfall settlement far from the fields, for the animals not to damage the crops. The cow herds do still migrate in transhumance with the shepherds, especially during the wet season. But the timelength and the range of these seasonnal moves are decreasing little by little.
The land property saturation due to the demographic increase, the climatic and economic crisis, compelled more and more people from the Sahelian region to diversify their activities and to look for a regular complementary income outside the villages. The migratory phenomenon, known from long ago, increased during the end of the XXth century. More and more male workers leave the country for the town during the dry season and sometimes forever. The migration is often exporting far away, Sahelian people going up to the coastal countries or even to Europe. If migration (to town or to other rural areas) brings money and is infact a decisive regulation factor of the family economy, it brought on the other side changes in the local rural life particularly by increasing the burden of the women and the part of the women's work in the agricultural production.