Monday, January 11, 2021

Pastoralists V Farmers in Nigeria

 For many years the clashes have been growing between  farmers and cattle herders searching for pasture and water.  Previously, the two groups usually managed to reach a mutual accommodation. In recent years, however, the climate crisis has contributed to altering that traditional order, and what used to be a fairly friendly arrangement has become a crisis marked by looting, raids, cattle rustling and premeditated killings. At the root of the crisis, according to experts, is Nigeria’s teeming cattle population, which has more than doubled from an estimated 9.2 million in 1981 to around 20 million, making it one of the world’s largest.

Nigeria’s human population has grown too, to about 200 million, the highest in Africa by far. This has led to cities sprawling ever larger and wider, in some cases into formerly designated cattle routes and reserves. Routes that dated back to the 1950s, in line with colonial arrangements, have either been overrun or dominated by new human settlements – pushing herders further into contested territories.

In rural communities, smallholder farmers are claiming large swathes of grazing land. “It means that grazing space, for example, that should originally accommodate only 10 cattle is now being grazed by 50 or more,” says Ifeanyi Ubah, a cattle rancher based in eastern Nigeria.

Nigeria is, moreover, a crossroads for cattle from other countries: transhumance migrants from Cameroon, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad routinely pass through in search of better climate, pasture and more plentiful water. Though there are fewer than 100 official border crossings into the country, Abba Moro, an ex-government official who headed the ministry of interior, was quoted as saying that there were more than 1,499 illegal entry routes into the country as of 2013.

Terrorist groups have become involved in the situation. Boko Haram has been accused of using money obtained from the sale of rustled cattle to fund its deadly operations. On one occasion, Boko Haram militants killed 19 herders as they attempted to steal their cattle. A rising number of attacks has led to the reported loss of two million cattle and the death of 600 herders, many of whom have been forced to vacate the fertile Lake Chad basin in search of new lands.

But the climate crisis is the biggest factor driving tensions. Most parts of northern Nigeria have suffered severe desertification and drought. Mean annual rainfall in this region has dropped below 600mm, compared with 3,500mm in the south coast area.

This change threatens the livelihoods of around 40 million people, especially livestock and smallholder farmers. Large numbers of cattle herders are being forced to move from traditional grazing areas to central and southern Nigeria when dry periods start – a situation that heightens competition and heralds more clashes.

“While growing up, I saw trees, forest, rivers and streams in most parts of northern Nigeria. The grasses grew and it was more than enough for the cattle,” says Bala Ardo, one of the leaders of cattle herders in south-east Nigeria. “But it’s no more. The situation has forced the average herder to seek pasture and water in places they never would have visited in the past, as he struggles to find drinkable water for himself and family and then his animals.”

 In 2018, the federal government proposed colonies for cattle and funded grazing camps across various states in the country. But local leaders were resistant, and fears grew in the south in particular that ethnic groups such as the Muslim Fulani would use the scheme to grab land. Some researchers estimate that the members of the Fulani ethnic group own 90% of Nigeria’s livestock.

The government has set up the National Livestock Transformation Plan, which aims to modernise the livestock sector through a series of phased interventions from 2018 to 2027. Ranches for breeding and processing will be created, and several pilot projects have already been established. But this plan, too, is encountering difficulties. 

According to Khalid Salisu, a journalist in one of the pilot project regions, “It doesn’t serve the needs of cattle herders adequately. The herders in the ranches are struggling to find enough water and pastures to keep their herds alive during the dry season.”

In the absence of effective solutions from the central government, states and communities are proposing various remedies. In Benue state, southern Nigeria, for example, legislation in 2017 banned open cattle grazing. The law required herders to rent or buy lands to host their ranches.

Abubakar Sambo, the leader of the northern community in Enugu state, says the herders must be consulted before fresh initiatives are launched. “The policies received by cattle herders largely on radio and television cannot work. The herdsmen, for whom the policies are meant, should be directly involved.” He believes younger herders need to be educated and sent to study model ranching systems in other countries.

“What the herders have achieved [cattle population growth] despite all the challenges is remarkable. It shows the huge potential of the livestock sector,” says Ardo. “Imagine what the result could be if the government put the right structure and policies in place.”

Nigeria cattle crisis: how drought and urbanisation led to deadly land grabs | Environment | The Guardian

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