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Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Professor Sandra Bell

Fairet, E., Bell, S., Remanda, K. & Setchell, J.M. (2014). Rural emptiness and its influence on subsistence farming in contemporary Gabon: A case study in Loango National Park. Society, Biology and Human Affairs 78(1-2): 39-59.

Author(s) from Durham


In sub-Saharan Africa, rural exodus leads to increasing unemployment in urban centres
and to the disorganisation of farming practice in rural areas. This article draws on data
from participant observation and interviews to analyse how rural exodus, combined with
a population density that was already low, led to what we refer to as rural emptiness in
Gabon, and how this affects farmers’ livelihoods. Farming in Gabon is largely slash and
burn agriculture with a gender division of labour and therefore requires both men and
women. Farming practices at our study site, in Loango National Park, follow a
traditional pattern, but the labour force has been reshaped by demographic and social
change. The exodus of young people, especially men, has left ageing farmers with
increased workloads but decreased access to labour. Subsistence farming is, therefore, in
a state of crisis and farmers’ livelihoods are threatened. Promoting the development of
farming and rendering rural life more appealing through the development of roads and
other infrastructure could reverse current trends of high unemployment, weakened
agricultural production and high dependence on imported food in Gabon.