Nigeria: Conflicts between herdsmen and farmers bring hunger to communities

| April 23, 2018

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It’s morning and the weather looks friendly. Bulus Rimankante and other farmers are in their fields keeping watch and carrying rifles. They are protecting their crops from animals seeking grazing land. Now and then, Mr. Rimankante fires shots in the air to warn herdsmen that his farmland is out of bounds for grazing.

Mr. Rimankante farms on seven hectares in Takum, in the Taraba State of eastern Nigeria (for security reasons, we are not using his real name). He built a makeshift shed on the farm where he can rest while he guards his crops. He explains, “It is [common] to prevent cattle from destroying our farms.”

Tensions between farmers and pastoralists in the area have been increasing. Drought is forcing cattle herders to travel farther south to find water and pasture. When they come close to farming settlements, violent conflicts sometimes erupt.

According to Mr. Rimankante, many farmers harvest their crops in November and start irrigated farming immediately afterward. But this year, many abandoned their farmlands because of the conflict.

Mafindi Umaru Danburam is the North East Chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria. He says the herder-farmer crisis demonstrates the real impacts of climate change. Rising temperatures and erratic rainfall have decreased the availability of resources such as water and pasture.

He adds: “There is a scarcity of water and shrinking of grazing fields in the [arid] north, which appears to be pushing herders southwards to the grasslands of the savannas and forests.”

Dr. Agoso Bamaiyi is a conflict resolution expert who works for the Adamawa State government to help mediate the conflict. He says, “The skirmish over natural resources, namely water and grazing fields, could become more dire as the impact of climate change takes hold.”

Dr. Bamaiyi adds: “[H]erders can travel hundreds of miles in large numbers with their cattle in search of pasture. They are often armed with weapons to protect their livestock. They frequently clash with farmers, who consistently accuse them of damaging their crops and failing to control their animals. The [herders] respond that they are being attacked by gangs from farming communities who try to steal their cattle, and are just defending themselves.”

Conflicts between herdsmen and farmers have resulted in loss of lives, property, and farm produce in many parts of Nigeria.

The Nigerian government has established technical committees to search for ways of ending the conflict. Delegations have visited the affected states and met with stakeholders. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has deployed troops to stop clashes in Benue, Taraba, and Nassarawa states.

But despite these security measures, Mr. Rimankante says the crisis appears to be continuing in many parts of the country, particularly in the north.

Moses Japhet lives in a community called Dong, about 100 kilometres from the Cameroon border. His brother was killed in the conflicts. He says many farms are more than two hours’ walk from villages and farmers no longer go to these farms due to security concerns. He says, “We have to make do with farming around our homes. We can only produce [for home consumption]. It is not enough. Our children are hungry.”

Ngurigon Nathaniel is a community leader in northern Nigeria. He says, “We don’t know what to do next because we are all living in an atmosphere of despair and uncertainty.”

Mr. Nathaniel adds that, because some farmers have abandoned their fields, the end result of the conflict is hunger.

But, despite the risk, Mr. Rimankante plans to continue farming. He adds, “Although farm produce was destroyed and burnt to ashes, I will remain here…. We must stay to defend our land and our farms in order to keep life going.”

Photo: Fulani herdsman leader