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Rural-Urban Linkages

Cities in Nigeria, as elsewhere, have historically exerted potent influences on the countryside. The northern city-states played a major role in the distribution of human population and economic activity throughout the savanna region. As citadels and centers of power and conquest, they caused depopulation in some regions, notably those subject to conquest and raiding, and population concentration in other areas. The low populations of the middle belt savanna probably resulted from the raiding and the conquests of the Hausa and Fulani city-states. The subsequent regrowth of bush land is thought to have led to a resurgence of tsetse flies and other disease vectors, which inhibited attempts to repopulate the region. The complementary effect was to increase population in zones of relative security, either areas under the protection of the dominant political states or areas of refuge, such as hill masses, which were difficult for armed horsemen to conquer.

The areas under the control or influence of major city-states would have been economically oriented toward those centers, both through the coercive exaction of taxes or tribute and through the production of food and manufactured products for the court and urban population. Many of these economic factors were replicated in the modern experience of urbanization, although one major change, dating from the imposition of British colonialism in the north, was the removal of the insecurity caused by warring polities.

Although there are similarities to this northern savanna pattern in the historical impact of Yoruba urbanization, the very different nature of the Yoruba cities led to a distinctive pattern of rural interaction. Yoruba cities traditionally had attached to them satellite villages or hamlets, the inhabitants of which considered themselves as belonging to that city, although most of their lives were spent outside the cities and their livelihoods derived from farming or other rural activities. The resulting close connection between urban dwellers and the surrounding farmers, indeed the fact that they were often identical in that urban dwellers also had farms in which they lived for much of the year, was noted by early European travelers to Yorubaland. Even in 1990, many Yoruba urban dwellers owned farms within a reasonable distance from the city and worked them regularly. Moreover, many villagers owned houses, rooms, or partly completed structures in nearby towns or cities and divided their time, investments, and activities between urban and rural settings. Thus, the traditional pattern of urban-rural interconnections continued to be a deeply rooted facet of Yoruba culture.

Among the most important interactions between rural and urban areas through the 1980s in Nigeria and most other parts of Africa were the demographic impacts of urban migration on rural areas. Because the great majority of migrants were men of working age, the rural areas from which they came were left with a demographically unbalanced population of women, younger children, and older people. This phenomenon was not new to Nigeria and had been evident in parts of the country since long before independence. The 1953 census showed that the crowded rural regions of Igboland, among other areas, had already experienced a substantial migration of men, leaving a large preponderance of women in the prime working ages. In what is today Imo State, for example, the sex ratio (i.e., the ratio of men to women, multiplied by 100) for the zero to fourteen age-group in 1953 was 100.2, but for ages fifteen to forty-nine, it fell to 79.1, indicating a large surplus of females. Many of the male Igbo migrants left to work in the cities of the north and southwest. Although the civil war subsequently caused many Igbos to return to the southeast, the overall scale and geographic extent of rural-urban migration in the country had increased steadily after the war. Migration was strongly stimulated by the oil boom of the 1970s, with all of the opportunities that era brought for making one's fortune in cities such as Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Warri, as well as others that were indirectly affected by the oil economy. Since then, migration has waxed and waned with the state of the economy. In the late 1980s, many young people were compelled by the sharp downturn of the economy and the shortage of urban employment to return to their home villages. As a longer-term phenomenon, however, migration from the rural areas, especially by young men, was expected to be an accelerating and largely irreversible social process.

This process affected the rural economy in the areas of migration by creating marked changes in the gender division of labor. In most of Africa, agricultural labor was traditionally specified by gender: men had certain tasks and women had others, although the specific divisions varied by culture and ethnic group. As working-age men left the rural areas, the resulting labor gap was met by others, usually wives or children, or by hired labor--or the tasks were modified or not performed. The departure of men helped to generate a lively market for rural wage labor. In many areas in 1990, male and female laborers were commonly hired to perform agricultural tasks such as land preparation, weeding, and harvesting, which in the past were done either by household labor or traditional work parties. In turn, the growth in demand for hired labor fostered an increase of seasonal and longer term intrarural migration. The improvement of roads was also extremely important in stimulating the scale of seasonal labor migration. It became feasible, for example, for Hausa and other northern workers to come south to work as hired laborers in the cocoa belt and elsewhere at the onset of the rains and later return to their home villages in time to plant their own crops.

In more remote areas, however, finding hired workers was often difficult. The absence of men led to neglect of such tasks as land clearing and heavy soil conservation work, which they generally performed. Thus, in forest areas from which there was much male migration, thickly overgrown land that had been left fallow for extended periods would not be cleared for cultivation; instead, the same parcels were used repeatedly, leading to rapid declines in soil fertility and yields. As a result, land degradation also occurred in these low density areas.

Some of the most profound impacts of urban areas on the rural economy derived from the vast increase in food demand generated by the growth of cities. Both the amounts and types of foods consumed by urban populations helped to transform agricultural systems and practices. Cassava, corn, and fresh vegetable production especially benefited from the expansion of urban demand. Cassava tubers can be processed by fermenting, grating, and drying to produce a powdered product known as gari, which can be stored and is very suitable for cooking in urban settings. Especially throughout the southern parts of the country, gari demand grew rapidly with the expansion of urban populations, causing a large increase in cassava planting and processing, largely done by women as a cottage industry. Demand for and production of corn also increased significantly. In the early portion of the harvest season, fresh corn sold as roadside "fast food" became a highly profitable endeavor, especially in cities. Throughout the northern areas of the country, corn production for dried grain--most of which was grown for sale to urban areas--also expanded rapidly through the 1980s, supplementing or replacing some of the traditional sorghum and millet production. The expansion of commercial chicken and egg production, also largely for the urban market, further raised demand for corn as feed.

The expansion and improvement of the transport network in the 1970s and 1980s played a key role in tying urban markets to rural producing regions. This linkage was most critical for fresh vegetable production, which previously was very limited in geographical extent but became feasible and profitable in many areas once efficient transport connections to urban areas were established. The continued growth of urbanization and expansion of transport capacity were likely to be the major driving forces of agricultural production and modernization through the 1990s.

Data as of June 1991

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