Subsistence Farming

Chad Table of Contents

Since the 1950s, Chad's food production has declined. Even so, despite pockets of malnutrition remaining in areas where rains failed or locusts damaged local crops, the overall picture for Chad's food production was good in the 1985-87 period. The rebound of food production in this period was the result of good rains, the return of political stability, and the absence of major conflict in the sahelian and soudanian zones. The downturn in cotton production and added restrictions on its cultivation also released lands and labor for farmers to put into food production. Production was so high in these years that, for the first time in a decade, it was estimated that Chad had returned to food sufficiency. This followed a cereal shortfall in the drought years of 1984 and 1985 of around 325,000 tons. Total cereal production rose thereafter to the 700,000-ton level, well above the estimated 615,000 tons of grains needed for food sufficiency.

Yet the overall food sufficiency registered by Chad in these years served to underscore the problem of regional imbalances in cereal production. The sahelian zone experienced a chronic shortfall in cereal production, whereas the soudanian zone traditionally had a cereal surplus. The soudanian zone was also the biggest producer of all subsistence food crops and of cash crops. It was estimated that the soudanian zone produced between 53 and 77 percent of Chad's total cereal production from 1976 to 1985, with the average falling in the 60- to 70- percent range. But because the populations of the two regions were approximately equal, the lack of a good transport system and marketing mechanisms to allow the rapid transfer of the southern surplus to the northern zones was a constant problem. This danger was especially threatening during times of drought affecting the sahelian zone.

Sorghum and Millet

Chad's most important subsistence crops were sorghum, millet, and berebere. Areas under production for these grains showed a downward trend after the mid-1950s, dropping from an average of 1.5 million hectares to around 1 million hectares in the 1960s and 1970s and falling to levels averaging 750,000 hectares between 1981 and 1986. Taking an average for all lands devoted to grain production during the years from 1981 to 1985, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), sorghum and millet cultivation accounted for 85 percent of the total area. Between 1980 and 1985, these coarse grains accounted for 80 to 95 percent of all grain production.


In 1987 wheat was Chad's least important cereal grain. Farmers planted the crop in polders around the shores of Lake Chad, and some small planting also was done in the oases and wadis of northern Chad. Replacing an earlier state operation, the Organization for the Development of the Lake (Société pour le Développement du Lac--SODELAC) was founded in 1967 to organize cultivation and provide wheat for the state-owned flour mill at N'Djamena, the Grands Moulins du Tchad. The flour mill began operations in 1964 but closed in 1980; as of 1987, operations had not resumed. In the late 1970s, plans to plant some 20,000 hectares of wheat in polders failed because warfare around Lake Chad affected the infrastructure of SODELAC and the construction of new polders and because farmers resisted SODELAC-controlled production.

Wheat production generally followed trends similar to the production of other cereals, remaining low in the 1960s and 1970s but reaching a high in 1983. In 1984, however, production fell sharply. The bulk of wheat was traded through traditional channels to those herders in the northern regions of Chad who preferred wheat to millet or sorghum.

Rice and Corn

At the time of the French conquest, rice was grown on a small scale. Before World War I, the Germans on the Cameroon side of the Logone River encouraged the spread of rice cultivation. By World War II, the French imposed cultivation in the areas of southern Chad near Laï and Kélo, along the Logone River. Although production was destined originally for colonial troops, the taste for rice spread in some localities. What was originally intended by the French as a commercial cash crop had become a local subsistence crop by the 1980s.

The Development Office for Sategui Deressia (Office de Mise en Valeur de Sategui-Deressia--OMVSD), founded in 1976, replaced Experimental Sectors for Agricultural Modernization (Secteurs Expérimentaux de Modernisation Agricole--SEMAA), originally responsible for the organization, improvement, transformation, and commercialization of rice. Efforts by these organizations to extend commercial rice cultivation had mixed results. The area under rice cultivation has increased since the 1950s. Yet even in the 1980s, the greater part of this area was cultivated by traditional means. Schemes for controlled paddies at Bongor and Laï put only 3,500 hectares and 1,800 hectares, respectively, into cultivation before political events of the late 1970s and early 1980s disrupted efforts and international donor funding ceased. The bulk of rice production from traditional floodwater paddies was traded to the towns and cities or was consumed locally.

Corn was a crop of minor importance, grown in and around village gardens for local consumption. Production from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s remained in the 20,000- to 30,000-ton range. By 1987 no efforts at commercialization had been made, nor had the government tried to improve and extend corn production.


Peanuts have become an important food crop in Chad. Peanuts were eaten roasted or dry, and their oil was used in cooking. Peanuts were cultivated in both the soudanian and the sahelian zones. Production of peanuts was more stable than that of any other major crop, staying in the 90,000- to 100,000-ton range from the 1950s through 1987, with dips in drought years. The area under peanut production also remained stable, although kilograms-per-hectare yields declined slightly. The droughtresistant nature of peanuts made their production particularly important for the peoples of the sahelian zone, where peanuts were planted alone or in combination with millet in the first year of rotation; in the soudanian region, peanuts were traditionally planted in the third year of crop rotation.

Although considerable efforts were made to commercialize peanut production, most efforts failed. Through the 1960s and 1970s, about 97 percent of the annual crop went to local consumption. What remained was sold to various edible oil manufacturing concerns, none of which succeeded. For example, a Chinese-built peanut oil mill at Abéché, finished in 1969, never operated. Local farmers sold surplus peanuts through traditional channels, rather than to the state monopoly set up in 1965, the National Trading Company of Chad (Société Nationale de Commercialisation du Tchad--SONACOT). This parastatal bought local produce for sale abroad or domestically to state-run commercial operations. Unlike Cotontchad, SONACOT was never given the means to compel farmers to sell their crops, and it did not have the resources to compete with prices offered by traditional traders. With the collapse of central authority in 1979, SONACOT disappeared. The only commercial sales of peanuts were then limited to Cotontchad purchases in the south, but by 1987 these had been halted to reduce costs.


The importance of tubers has grown dramatically over the years. Cassava and yams were the most important crops in this category, with much smaller production of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and coco yams (taro). Grown only in the soudanian zone, tubers were once neglected, although such cultivation is widespread in other parts of subtropical West Africa. Estimates in the 1950s put tuber production at 50,000 tons annually. Production rose and by 1961 it exceeded 200,000 tons. From 1961 to 1984, the proportion of roots and tubers in the national diet rose from 6 to 17 percent. The reason for this important shift in eating habits among people of the soudanian zone was the hedge these crops provided against famine in years when drought reduced millet and sorghum production.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress