Seasonal migration in Niger
Seasonal migration, locally called the Exode, plays an important part of the economic and cultural life of the West African nation of Niger. While a common practice in many nations, Niger sees as much as a third of its rural population travel for seasonal labor during the Sahelian nation's long dry season. Common patterns of seasonal travel have been built up over hundreds of years, and destinations and work vary by community and ethnic group.
The Nigerien Exode
All but 18% of the almost 14 million people in Niger are engaged in either crop or livestock agriculture, many in small rural villages operating at subsistence levels. As a solution to both the variability of harvests in the dry Sahel, and as a way to earn currency, Nigerien communities often seek alternate and seasonal sources of income. Each year during the dry season following harvest, men from many communities in rural Niger travel for temporary work.  This process, called the Exode (French for Exodus) normally takes place between January and April in Niger, but is a process common to many nations of West Africa.
Scope and patterns
Historically, different ethnic and regional communities have traveled to different areas. These patterns are in part inherited from precolonial trade networks; cross border ethnic solidarities; colonial era industrial, mining, and harvest projects; and the attraction of areas with greater work potential combined with communities of immigrants from the source ethnic group. Areas in the north of the country, where stock raising is more common, see around 20% of the total population migrate for season work, whereas in the south – dominated by small farming communities – as much as a third of the population travels for seasonal work. While it is not unknown for women to take part, most who take part in the Nigerien Exode are men (unmarried and married) between 15 and 40 years old. Certain communities have traditions of women traveling for seasonal work both domestically and abroad, while it is purely a male preserve in others. Most men travel outside Niger, but cities like Maradi and Niamey also will see a large seasonal influx seeking labor. The major destinations remain Nigeria, which shares large Hausa ethnic communities with Niger, and the former French colonies of Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso. In southern destinations, agricultural work is available long after the season has passed in Niger, while cities offer a variety of casual labor. The famines of the 1960s–1980s Sahel drought helped to cement these seasonal migration patterns. Men from a community will often travel together to the same towns on Exode each year, many to the same area that their fathers had traveled. For many in rural communities which pursue subsistence farming, the Exode provides most of their yearly cash income, and is thus a crucial element of the rural economy, although one not counted in the formal economy of Niger. Cash earned on Exode is partially spent abroad for necessities such as clothing, carried back at the end of the season, or sent via friends and clan or ethnic networks. A 2008 study found that not only do most migrant workers never make use of banks or money transfer systems, but that the Exode period is often a time when men will take out informal loans against their expected seasonal earnings.
Men on Exode may also bring back sexually transmitted diseases from their season abroad. This has been flagged as a potential vector for HIV/AIDS to enter Niger, which currently has one of the lowest infection rates in the world.Measles outbreaks (largely among young children) still occur in Niger, in part due to the low vaccination rate and in part due to the Transhumance seasonal migration of semi nomadic herding populations. Sporadic outbreaks in Nigerien communities were found to have occurred beginning at the end of the rainy season, when many rural populations begin seasonal migration pattern, with traveling children often missing their vital second immunization booster against the disease.
Djerma - Songhai men often travel to Ghana and Burkina Faso, retracing a pattern of migration which has been recorded back to at least the seventeenth century, when Djerma soldiers were recruited to fight for the small kingdoms in what is now northern Ghana and southern Burkina. The trade networks that resulted from this migration survived throughout the colonial period, and also allowed Djerma a way of escaping to British controlled Gold Coast Colony during times of particularly onerous French forced labor under the Indigénat, as well as in times of drought in the 1910s, 1930s and 1940s.
The example of the Djerma-Songhai of Niger's migration to the former Gold Coast Colony is memorably portrayed by French filmmaker Jean Rouch in his film "Jaguar" (1954-1955). For the film and accompanying academic study, Rouch joins an urban educated Songhai (Damouré Zika), a Sorko fisherman (Illo Gaoudel), and a Fula herdsman (Lam Ibrahima Dia) who travel from the Niger river town of Ayorou to Accra and Kumasi. The Songhai finds work with other Songhai in an Accra lumber market, the Sorko fishes the coast among Ewe fishermen to finance a small business in Accra, while the Fula finds a job selling perfumes with a family member in Kumasi market.
Hausa communities in Niger often send men south to Nigeria during the Exode, not only to majority Hausa areas in the north of the nation, but to large cities such as Lagos which contain networks of Hausa immigrants. Hausa immigrant communities as far afield as Ghana also provide a focus for Nigerien seasonal migration. During the late pre-colonial and early colonial period, Hausa communities also saw frequent labor migrations to escape rule by states linked to the Sokoto Caliphate to the south, and the French to the north and west.
Fula communities, scattered across all of West Africa, provide a frame for Nigerien Wodaabe - Fula seasonal labor networks as far afield as Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire and Lagos in Nigeria. Wodaabe women are more likely to travel for seasonal work migration than other groups, especially Hausa people, and often face discrimination in Nigerian communities to which they travel.
Tuareg communities in the north, like the pastoralist Fula, have their own established seasonal migration patterns revolving around moving their herds in Transhumance cycles for pastures and markets. But they too see seasonal labor migration. Algeria and Libya and south into Nigeria are the more common destinations, amongst Tuareg communities of the complex interrelated Kels or clan structure. The successful export industry coming from the Aïr Mountains oases production of produce such as onions carries other local men as far south as Côte d'Ivoire. Tuareg men are often seen in cities across the Sahel region working in security, an evolution of the traditional self-imposed cultural preference for certain jobs by aristocratic or warrior caste Tuareg men.
Pattern of emigration
These Exode traditions also provide the basis for modern longer term emigration from Niger to the Maghreb and Europe. Niger is a transit point for immigrants from throughout West Africa, traveling by truck and bus north, especially to Libya, from which many attempt to cross to European nations.
- PROJET DE DEVELOPPEMENT TIC DANS LA REGION DE DAKORO AU NIGER. Télécoms Sans Frontières. April 2006
- Background Notes for Niger: January 2009 Bureau of African Affairs, United States State Department. Retrieved 2009-03-25.
- Chapter 5 Pauvreté rurale et mendicité, esp. pp. 210-250, in Patrick Gilliard. L'extrême pauvreté au Niger: mendier ou mourir. KARTHALA Editions, (2005) ISBN 2-84586-629-1
- Niger - Période de l'exode : Plus de 400 familles ont pu être mises en relation (summary). Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF). 05 April 2006
- Loga: Quand l'exode s'accorde au féminin. Issaka Saidou, Le Sahel (Niamey). 2008
- DEVELOPPEMENT-NIGER : L'éducation pour prévenir l'exode des jeunes. Adel Arab, Florent Breuil . Inter Press Service. 7 March 2005.
- Niger Livelihood Profiles. USAID-FEWSnet Project (January 2005).
- COS - Niger: PCVs in the Field - Niger: Personal Web Site: Peace Corps Volunteer Leigh Josey in Niger. Peace Corps Online. May 9, 2004.
- Sarah Bailey. Disaster Risk Reduction in Niger: A Feasibility Study. Report commissioned by CARE International and produced by the Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute, London. (February 2008)
- "SIDA en Exode" Project Information. Care International project number NER062. Retrieved 2009-03-25.
- Researchers Blame Seasonal Migration for Measles in Niger. Jessica Berman, Voice of America. 6 February 2008.
- French: Peul; Fula: Pullo (pl. Fulɓe)
- These three men dramatized their real life roles in the film, and went on to become three of Nigerien cinema's fist actors. See: Jean Rouch. Notes on migrations into the Gold Coast. (First report of the mission carried out in the Gold Coast from March to December, 1954) Tr. into English by P.E.O. and J.B. Heigham. Accra, (1954) OCLC 11092127 and Jean Rouch, Steven Feld. Ciné-ethnography. University of Minnesota Press, (2003) ISBN 0-8166-4104-8 pp. 352-353
- Gerd Spittler. URBAN EXODUS URBAN-RURAL and RURAL-RURAL MIGRATION IN GOBIR (NIGER). Sociologia Ruralis. Volume 17 Issue 1 (March 2008), Pages 223–235.
- L'exode, cauchemar des femmes woddabés. Illia Djadi, SYFIA Niger. 01-06-1999.