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PROLONGED conflicts between crop farmers and herders in Nigeria have metamorphosed into a chain of crises that are currently threatening the continued co-existence of over 200 ethnic nationalities making up the country. The ICIR’s Senior Investigative Reporter, in this piece, writes on how three countries in Africa manage their cattle and relationship between herders and crop farmers in their territories, including experts’ advice from the countries on how Nigeria can overcome its current travails.
An unprecedented increase in farmers’ population, driven by a corresponding transformation in farming methods and changing climate, has mainly been responsible for a geometric rise in feuds between crop farmers and herders in Nigeria since the beginning of the century.
The conflicts have led to hundreds of deaths, rustling, and displacements of farmers and herders alike. Innocent people in communities have been at the receiving end of the crisis. The clashes have resulted in ethnic profiling, distrust and division, and they have been compounded by banditry, kidnapping, abduction, terrorism, some of which are offshoots of herders-crop farmers’ conflicts.
These crises recently climaxed into the blockade of food and cattle to the southern part of the country by merchants from the country’s north.
Cattle rearing in Nigeria is done mainly in open fields, farmlands, residential areas, as pastoralists move their livestock wherever they could find grass and water. The practice often results in cattle straying into people’s farms and eating up crops or destroying farms.
What appears as the most ambitious effort by the federal government to address the crisis was the inauguration of National Livestock Transformation Plan in September 2019.
It was designed to make cattle farmers embrace ranching, defined as raising herds of animals on large hectares of land. The government said 100 billion naira would be committed to the initiative, which would run between 2019 and 2028.
With the plan, the federal government would provide 80 percent of the fund, while state governments would make land and remaining 20 percent of the fund available, including other logistics needed for its successful implementation.
The initiative followed similar policies that had been introduced by African countries such as the Ethiopian Livestock Master Plan, Tanzanian Livestock Master Plan and Rwanda Livestock Master Plan.
The programme was inaugurated by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Gongoshi Grazing Reserve in Mayo-Belwa Local Government Area of Adamawa. It started as a pilot project in seven states namely, Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara. Stakeholders in the plan included pastoralists, farmers, private investors and government.
Despite the efforts, crises between crop farmers and herders have worsened in the country.
A similar programme known as RUGA had been designed by the federal government, but it faced stiff opposition from some sections of the country which perceived it as a means of grabbling land for herders at every cost.
The plan suggested that state government and communities allocate a section of their land for pastoralists, so they could rear their animals on the land and live on it. The thinking of the scheme was to keep herders away from people’s farms and other assets that could be destroyed by cattle.
The ICIR reports that though the Fulanis, a major tribe in northern part of Nigeria, are famous for cattle rearing in the country. However, people from other parts of the nation also own significant portions of cattle in the nation.
In Zambia, cattle farmers plant their own crops
Zambia has a unique approach to cattle management. Nkandu Luo, a professor and minister of livestock in Zambia, advised Nigeria to create a ministry of livestock (and fisheries) to end crop farmers and pastoralists’ feuds in the country.
Luo said in a telephone interview with The ICIR that her country had not been experiencing any conflict between crop farmers and herders because apart from her ministry’s constant engagement with the two groups, modern methods of animal farming had been introduced to the farmers.
The minister also said that government always urged crop farmers to have their own cattle, and cattle farmers to plant their own crops.
“I don’t know how your sector is organised, but here in Zambia, we have a particular ministry in charge of agriculture – crop farming– and there is a particular ministry in charge of livestock. For example, I am the minister in charge of livestock and fishery. Then, I have a colleague who is also minister for agriculture. Now, the distinction has made it possible for us to pay attention to details, because, in most countries, the agriculture minister is also responsible for fisheries and livestock.
“When a ministry is too huge, there are things that suffer. What the president here realised was that livestock and fisheries were suffering and he had to separate us. So, we have a distinct ministry for them.”
She added: “My advice is, let the government accord the same equal importance to the ministry of agriculture and that of livestock farming. This is an important precursor to an economic development. It is better to identify them as permanent and separate ministries. The second thing in my recommendation is not to have a line on the crop farming and livestock farming because the two depend on each other. You cannot succeed in livestock if you are not doing crop farming. So, my livestock farmers also do crop farming. And, the other way round, the crop farmers cannot succeed without livestock because some of the products of livestock such as cattle dung, chicken manure also are used in the crop farming. So, there should be seamless line for your policies on both livestock farming and crop farming.”
When told that the majority of herders in Nigeria could not farm because they are pastoralists, she said in Zambia, government recognised the need to transit from an old way of livestock farming to a new way, stressing that cattle grazed openly in her country but were allowed to graze on grazing land only.
According to her, government in Zambia made tanks available in areas where there was no water for livestock so that cows could be comfortable and kept away from people’s farms and homes.
“Zambia realised this a long time ago. Botswana livestock makes good contribution to their GDP. For us here in Zambia, livestock is a very serious agenda,” she stated.
The minister further explained that farmers in Zambia were making money from animal dungs, skins, horns, among others, because the government believed a lot of wealth could be made from livestock farming and was empowering the population with all at its disposal.
Luo had been a minister of health; communication and transport; local government, chiefs and traditional affairs; gender, and higher education in Gambia.
She argued that the creation of livestock ministry in the country enabled her to always send her staff to communities in the country to support farmers in areas they needed assistance, and that she joined them to visit the farmers to ensure that they had shelter for their livestock.
In South Africa, herders and croppers are separated
Similarly, South Africa does not experience farmers-herders clashes, according to Theo de Jager, president of World Farmers Organisation and president of Southern African Agri Initiative.
He blamed the feuds in Nigeria on many things which he said the country and other nations facing similar crises had failed to do.
“I want to say today that these problems, especially in East and West Africa, is partly because we are some 50 years behind on land use management, especially the demarcation of land, respect for property rights or if it is not ownership of property, at least security of 10 years, both for herders and for croppers,” he said.
He noted that land must be commercialised to make them attractive to financial institutions to invest in them.
According to him, the tension between herders and crop farmers in Nigeria was a problem not peculiar only to West Africa but also very common in East Africa, especially in Tanzania, Malawi, northern areas of Mozambique and South Sudan.
He said the reason for such crises was because herders usually had to move their cattle to where the grazing was, and very often, that movement took place through the fields of the farmers.
“As we know in West Africa, as it is in East Africa, very often, it leads to violence and a kind of low intensity warfare between the two. In South Africa, we do not have this similar problem because our land has been divided into farms and many farms do have titles in the communal area. Where we do not have titles, the tribal chiefs manage the land in such a way that the herders and the croppers are separated and that the herders do not need to move their cattle through the fields of the croppers,” he stated.
He urged that government of Africa nations, especially West and East Africa where crop farmers-herders rifts had been common, to adopt property rights or long-term leasing agreement for their land for agricultural purposes as, according to him, agriculture was never a quick back but a long-term investment depending on property rights or long-term lease agreement.
In The Gambia, there are cattle grazing areas
The Gambia has a unique model in cattle management. Ebrima Jallow, president, National Livestock Owners Association of Gambia, said the conflicts between pastoralists and crop farmers in Nigeria had been of great concerns to his country.
In a telephone interview with The ICIR, Jallow said the Nigerian Embassy in The Gambia had contacted him to seek ideas on how to address pastoralists and crop farmers feuds in Nigeria, after it had noted the smooth relationship between crop farmers and herders in his country.
He said in The Gambia, there were cattle grazing areas and every district had its grazing zone.
Asked if there were conflicts between farmers and pastoralists in his country, he said, “Yes, but not much. Usually, due to the sensitisation we carry out with the government and the farmers, people are able to understand how to manage their animals. Again, people try to avoid planting on cattle tracks and cattle grazing areas, and herders too are able to control their animals so they will not disturb farmers.
“When that happens, you will see that there will be no conflict. If the cattle owners do not take care of these animals, leaving them to go eat somebody’s crops is a problem. If the crop farmers also intrude into the animals grazing area, that is a problem. So, here, we embark on a very serious sensitisation, especially at the local communities.”
He said all the six regions in The Gambia reared cattle, but a particular region had more animals than the others.
He said in The Gambia, things were done differently from how they were done in Nigeria, noting that animals would graze around villages during the dry season but not during the rainy season.
He explained that the association worked with The Gambia police force to make sure that strayed animals were arrested while their owners would be identified.
“In the Gambia, everywhere, there are animals except the urban area very close to the capital. We invite the agriculture director, the livestock director, regional director and local government. We invite the farmers and we sit down to ensure that everybody knows what they are supposed to do. We all learn from each other. You see the farmers interacting, they are not fighting.”
Jallow challenged governments across Africa to be very focused on governance devoid of clannishness, nepotism and favouritism. “Once you are the head of government, you are in charge of all the people in the state and you should try to make sure that you avoid conflicts there. This is why government of The Gambia is supporting us to go around as one as a farmer group in this country.”
He added: “Conflict is not good in Africa. We said this to your embassy here. What is happening in Nigeria is a concern to us. Farmers and herders need to know what their responsibilities are. The government also needs to know its responsibilities. Killing each other is not what is going to help agriculture in our countries…We are ready to see how our thoughts, our strategy plans and ideas with other African countries that are having difficulties with how to manage their cattle within their own areas will help.”
In The Gambia, which has about 11,000 square metres of land, Jallow said there were nearly 300,000 cattle. He put the country’s population at two million, revealing that agriculture contributed between 30 and 40 percent of the GDP, while livestock made up over 10 percent of agriculture’s contribution to the GDP “because people are more in crops than livestock.”
What reports say
In its report titled ‘Nipping Conflict in the Bud,’ the Food and Agricultural Organisation, (FAO) in partnership with Ministry of Agriculture of Gambia confirmed Jallow’s claim that there had been minimal herders and crop farmers rifts in The Gambia.
“In recent years, there has been an increase in violent conflicts between farmers and herdsmen, often leading to death, displacement, and destruction of property. Such conflicts often start when a herder’s cattle strayed into a farmer’s cropland. Although, The Gambia has not experienced large scale violence between farmers and herdsmen, there have been skirmishes that have often turned violent,” said the report, which was published on 24 January 2021.
Meanwhile, in a report titled ‘Pastoralism and Security in West Africa and the Sahel,’ which was published in April 2019, the United Nations Office in West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) said increased use of firearms in the region had intensified rural conflicts, many of which were caused by herders and crop farmers’ feuds.
“This is particularly the case where farmer-herder conflicts occur on top of other conflicts, where they are compounded by the prevailing insecurity. This has happened in rural areas that have been destabilised by insurgency, war, political or ethnic violence, or banditry. In such situations, state authority is usually weak, dispute resolution mechanisms may have broken down, and weapons are readily available.
“Examples are central and northern Mali, where armed groups have gained access to Libyan weaponry after the overthrow of President Gaddafi in 2011, and in parts of central and northern Nigeria. The proliferation of small arms is a regional issue, which has made traditional conflicts deadlier, fuelling cycles of revenge killings between communities.”
The report noted that pastoralists were both victims and actors in the crises. Hence the feuds are not only with crop farmers, but also occur among herders. That is, herders could fight among themselves, and could have issues with other groups such as miners and fishers whose businesses might clash with herding in the bush. “As pastoralists are mobile, these conflicts can be difficult to contain and spill across borders,” the introductory part of the report stated.
While UNOWAS pointed out that the remaining West Africa and Sahel countries successfully managed the relationship between the two groups, it said Nigeria and Mali could not, as crises continued to rage in both countries.
UNOWAS said in its report that the Fulani group was the largest pastoralists in West Africa and the Sahel, engaging in transhumance – the movement of herders and their livestock from areas of scarcity to available pasture and water. This movement was often driven by climate change, UNOWAS said.
”Local and national politics have a strong influence on the frequency and scale of conflicts involving pastoralists. Where the state tries to accommodate the interests and needs of both farmers and pastoralists, conflict is less likely to occur. If the state shows a strong bias towards one group and fails to be inclusive, or if it neglects all or one section of the rural population, conflicts are more likely to emerge,” it said.
It confirmed that over the last years, Nigeria had had more fatalities in farmer-herder conflicts than the rest of the ECOWAS region combined.
“The proliferation of small arms and light weapons has amplified the number of casualties. Their cumulative death toll currently runs into thousands each year in Nigeria, and curbing widespread impunity remains a challenge.
“Beyond heightened competition for rural resources and space, the situation is aggravated by local politics, frequently along ethno-religious lines. Increased southward movement of pastoralists from northern Nigeria to the southeast and southwest of the country has fuelled new waves of clashes between predominantly Muslim pastoralists and Christian farmers,” the report added.
The most recent official cattle data in Nigeria was from the result of 2011 livestock census that was released in 2016. The National Agricultural Sample Survey showed that the country had an estimated 19.5 million cattle at the time.
In December 2018, Amnesty International reported that 3,600 lives had been lost to herder-crop farmers conflicts in the country. The organisation blamed the conflicts on government’s failure.
In the report titled: ‘Harvest of Death: Three Years of Bloody Clashes Between Farmers and Herders,’ Amnesty International found that 57 percent of the 3,641 recorded deaths occurred in 2018.
Also, the United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG) said in a report published on its website in December 2020 that more people had been killed in herders- crop farmers feuds in Nigeria than by the Boko Haram insurgency.
Blood, tears and sorrow
The ICIR reported in July 2020 that between 2010 and 2015, Nigeria lost 6,500 citizens, while 62,000 others were displaced from their homelands in 850 recorded violent clashes between herdsmen and crop farmers in the Middle Belt region of the country.
The ICIR had, on February 21, 2021, reported how the Nigerian police invited five leaders of Ifon community, Ondo State, over alleged conflict with a herdsman.
Following incessant feuds between farmers and herders in Benue State, Samuel Ortom, Benue State governor, signed the bill seeking the ban on open grazing into law on May 22, 2020. The law angered the herders’ group and led to more attacks months after it was signed.
The state lost over 70 people to a New Year day attack in Logo Local Government Area in 2018. The attack was believed to have been carried out by herdsmen.
Taraba and Benue are states in Nigeria that have been mostly affected by the conflict.
In February 2020, both the South-West and South-East of Nigeria banned open grazing in their regions. The ban followed increasing feuds between pastoralists and crop farmers.
There are arguments in sections of the country that many of the herders causing mayhem are foreigners. In June 2020, the House of Representative urged the Federal Government to block the entry of foreign pastoralists into Nigeria.
Pastoralists and crop farmers have been at greater losses over the conflicts in recent times. In February 2020, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) alleged, through Gidado Siddiki, its South-East chairman, that the group lost four of its members, while over 138 cows belonging to them were missing in clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Anaku and Ifite-Ogwari communities in Ayemelu Local Government Area of Anambra State.
MACBAN had also on June 26, 2018, described the killing of scores of people in Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Jos South local government areas of Plateau State as retaliatory attacks over the killing of 300 cows belonging to its members. Police confirmed 86 dead from the attack.
The ICIR had earlier reported how hostilities arising from herders-farmers crises in Nigeria pitched Rotimi Akeredolu, Ondo State governor, and Bala Mohammed, Bauchi State governor, against each other. Samuel Ortom, Benue State governor, also criticised Mohammed, following the latter’s support for use of AK-47 by herdsmen.
As the challenge lingered, Abdullahi Ganduje, Kano State governor, called for laws banning movement of herders from north to the south.
The rise of Sunday Igboho
Clashes among the farmers and herders brought Sunday Adeyemo, a self-styled freedom fighter, otherwise known as Sunday Igboho, to limelight recently in the South-West of Nigeria.
He swore to evict herdsmen of Fulani extraction from Igangan community in Ibarapa North Local Government Area of Oyo State on January 22, 2021.
Homes and property of the settlers were set ablaze after he left the community, and one person was reportedly killed during the attack.
On Monday February 1, 2021, the activist also stormed some parts of Ogun State, with a view to flushing out killer herders.
Since the death of Funke Olakunrin, daughter of the leader of Afenifere, Yoruba socio-cultural group, tempers have continued to rise against herders’ activities in the region.
Late Olakunrin was approaching Ore Junction area of Ondo State from Akure when she was killed by gunmen on July 12, 2019.
The Nigerian police apprehended her suspected killers in early 2020. They were: Lawal Mazaje, Adamu Adamu, Mohammed Shehu Usman and Auwal Abubakar.
The killing of Ifon monarch, a first-class traditional ruler in the state over a year later, appeared to have further fuelled the fears of unhealthy crop farmer/herder relationship in the state, and by extension, the South-West.
The Nigerian Governors Forum agreed on ranching in February, 2020, but governors in the north are asking for more time to implement it.
As part of efforts to contain proliferation of small arms in the country, President Buhari on March 3, 2021 directed security agencies to shoot anyone found carrying illegal weapon in the country.