• Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Herders-farmers conflicts: The climate change connection


The decades-long conflicts between farmers and herders in Nigeria have continued to impede development and economic growth through destruction of productive assets and determent of investments. In this write-up, JOSEPHINE OKOJIE examines the climate change connection in the whole crisis.

For twenty-nine year-old Muhammed Saleh, perhaps only a gun to his head would have persuaded him to leave the rustic splendour of Yusufari, a farming community in Yobe state, northern Nigeria for the pastures of the south.

Yusufari, with a land area of 3,928 km² and a population of over 100,000 has gradually morphed into a highly temperate zone. The wind swirls around instead of blowing straight, resulting in the formation of sand dunes, an accumulation of sand grains shaped into a mound – by the wind under the influence of gravity.

Starved of moisture, the grazing fields withered in the sun baked fields. When the prospect of watching 172 heads of cattle, worth about N25.8 million, a year’s wage for a farmer, die off, Saleh didn’t need much persuasion to migrate to the south where the fields are greener but the odds higher.

 “The sand in Yusufari is now dust, grasses can no longer grow on them,” Saleh says, in a voice shorn of hope.

“Now I am afraid to go south because they are attacking us. They say we are destroying their farmlands. I just want the animals to eat,” he says.

The violent conflicts between herders and farmers in Nigeria are largely as a result of desertification, a consequence of climate change, as Saleh’s experience indicates.

For decades, climate change has slowly altered the landscape of Northern Nigeria, causing a large chunk of the region to be overtaken by desert.

Nigeria covers an area of 923,769 km² with 909,890 km² of landmass and 13,879 km² of water area. Currently, about 105,000sq.km to 136,500sq.km landmass are lost to drought and desertification in the 11 frontline states, according to the National Agency for the Great Green Wall.

The 11 frontline states are Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Bauch, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi states which cut across the North East and North West region of Nigeria.

The result is that grazing land and water for cattle in the north are fast disappearing, compelling nomadic herders to migrate to other regions of the country in search of grazing fields for their cattle.

Even now, the desertification process is advancing southwards, according to Yerima Peter Tarfa, director, Department of Climate Change, Federal Ministry of the Environment.

“Climate change has become a critical issue, both for its global importance and threats to Nigeria and its people,” Tarfa said.

To drive home the point, Dele Ogunlade, a middle-aged cassava farmer whose farm along Obajana road in Kogi State, north-central Nigeria, was invaded by herders, said in the past when the fields in much of the north were greener, there were few or no cases of herders invading farmlands.

“Even when there were cases, it was not as frequent as is it now. The grazing fields are fast disappearing owing to desert encroachment,” Ogunlade said.

“Our 62 hectares of cassava farm were destroyed and burnt by herdsmen. We were expecting a harvest of 25 tonnes from the 62 hectares at a value of N15,000 per tonne. We lost N375,000,” he said.

Today, the story is different. The Lake Chad, once a massive oasis in the northern tip of Nigeria, has lost 95 percent of its volume within the past 50 years owing to desertification. The alarming rate of desert encroachment in the region is the root cause of the herders’ continuous migration down south.

“Most of the grazing fields in the northern region have been taken over by dust as a result of climate change and this is what is causing the internal migration of herdsmen because of the lack of grass and water for their cattle,” Newton Jibunoh, founder, Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE), said in an exclusive interview.

“The herdsmen migrate to other parts of the country where the fields are still green and in the process destroy farmlands. Most of the farmlands are located on the routes herdsmen pass through in search of green fields for their cattle,” he said.

“It will be difficult to address the farmer-herdsmen feud without looking at the major cause, which is climate change, and how we can mitigate it and carry out land reclamation in areas where desertification has already claimed.”

Rising cattle population has meant an increase in the number of herders and cattle that migrate southward.

Nigeria currently has an estimated 21.1 million cattle, 38 million sheep and 69 million goats, according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

There are also over 30 million herders in the country currently, according to the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria.

The 21.1 million cattle, valued at N3.2 trillion at N150,000 per head, need about 1 billion gallons of water per day and 500 million kilograms of grass and forage crops daily. The disappearance of these basic needs in north is the major driving force for the continued southward migration.

 “Areas in the northern parts of the country that used to be fertile are now becoming deserts. As a result, the herdsmen have had to move to other grazing areas in the country to feed their cattle,” said Desmond Majekodunmi, an environmentalist.

Baba Othman Ngelzema, national secretary, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, said while there are numerous issues compelling herders to move out of their region, the most pressing of all is the Sahara Desert encroachment.

“There are 415 grazing reserves across the country with only three located outside the northern region. Because of the desert encroachment, all the grazing reserves are gone and the dam facilities in the reserves can no longer retain water for the cattle,” Ngelzema said.

Nigeria’s cattle are a key part of the country’s quest for food security. The southward migration of herders and their cattle has led to increased destruction of farmlands along the routes taken by them, further escalating the crisis. The prolonged conflicts have also strained the relationships between herders and the communities they pass through.


Economic loss

Decades of prolonged violent conflicts in the middle belt region of the country between farmers and herdsmen are thwarting the country’s economic growth and development, as lives and property worth millions of naira have been destroyed during periods of unrest.

Agriculture is seen as the sector that can revive Nigeria’s economy due to its enormous opportunities in job creation and revenue generation, but the conflicts can be a major setback to the sector if the government fails to resolve the issues.

Nigeria loses about $2.3 million (N828 million) annually due to the conflict between farmers and herdsmen, according to a Mercy Corps 2015 report, and states where these conflicts take place lose an average of 47 percent of tax generated internally.

“The crisis has implication for the agricultural sector and employment generation. It is a major risk to the growth of the sector,” said Muda Yusuf, director general, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“This is also a threat to raw materials for industries. The agricultural sector provides the raw materials that feed on industries especially the food and beverage industries. Farmers’ income will be affected due to the conflicts and when there is no income, there is poverty,” Yusuf said.

The disputes have often degenerated into violence in which scores of houses have been burnt, cattle slaughtered, farmlands destroyed and people killed, all of which constitute economic loss to the country.

In 2016, 55 hectares of cassava farmland belonging to Oamsal Nigeria Limited were destroyed by herdsmen. The firm lost N23 million, yet no arrests were made and no compensation was given.

In Adamawa, the tension occasioned by recent reprisal attacks has emptied neighbouring villages, such as Imburu, Pullum and Kwapuke, as many villagers have abandoned their homes, seeking safety elsewhere due to rumours of an impending attack by herdsmen. The few who are left behind appear braced for a reprisal.

In Benue, Nigeria’s largest food-producing state, over 5,000 deaths have been recorded in four years, affecting communities such as Agatu, Tom-Atar, Umenge, Akor, Guma, Ayilamo, Turan and Ngambe-Tiev.

Other states such as Ekiti, Nasarawa, Kogi, Enugu, Delta, Taraba and Imo have also suffered from numerous attacks.

An accurate account of the death toll resulting from herder-farmer violence in Nigeria is difficult to come by due to the lack of a dedicated database in the country, but Global Terrorism Index rated the herdsmen in Nigeria the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world in 2014.

 After the 55 hectares of cassava farmland was invaded by rampaging herdsmen.

Threat to food security

There have been recent attacks in Benue and Taraba States by herdsmen, sacking farmers and destroying agro raw materials such as oranges, mangoes, pineapples, cassava, pears, tomatoes, grains, oil seeds, wheat and other commodities. This has forced a decline in the crops majorly produced by these states.

In 2017, Nigeria’s cassava production declined by 40 percent owing to the continuous invasion on cassava farmland by herdsmen. This forced the prices of the crop, its tubers and by-products, such as garri, to an all-time high.

“We received no form of compensation and up till now we are unable to plant cassava. Farmers are still sceptical to farm because their farms can be destroyed overnight by herdsmen and there is no form of compensation either through insurance or the government,” Oluwafemi Salami, chief executive officer, Oamsal Nigeria Limited, told BusinessDay on a visit to evaluate the level of destruction on the farmland.

The impact has aggravated food insecurity in the country. Nigeria’s food inflation reached an all-time high of 20.32 percent in September 2017, before dropping marginally to 20.3 percent in the country’s latest Consumer Price Index (CPI).

“The conflicts are really impacting negatively on farmers’ livelihoods as their productivity continues to decline,” said Michael Oluwole Ajala, professor of Seed Technology, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

Drying Lake Chad Basin

The Lake Chad Basin, which was once famous for being one of Africa’s largest water bodies, has become a shadow of itself, having shrunk from 25,000 square kilometres in the 1960s to 1,350 square kilometres in 2016.

The reduction in the original size of the Lake Chad Basin, which is situated on the extreme northern part of Borno State and sharing border with Niger, Cameroun and Chad, is due to the effects of climate change, overgrazing, excessive and inappropriate demand for water resources, as well as poor enforcement of environmental legislation, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme.

A combination of these factors, experts say, has had adverse effects on the lake, so much so that apart from occupying less than a twentieth of its original size, there is now a receding shoreline, desertification and a threat to livelihood among the surrounding communities.

The receding waters and the resulting deforestation and desertification are strongly affecting pastures, forcing herders to move to other areas to graze their livestock.

This exacerbates conflicts with farmers whose farms are along the grazing routes.

Lack of water for irrigation has led to crop failures, death of livestock owing to desertification, collapsed fisheries, soil salinity, withered trees and shrubs, amongst others.

As a result, the populations that have drawn their livelihoods from the Lake Chad area are moving southwards in search of greener pasture and grazing fields for their livestock. This, in turn, is putting pressure on other sections of the country and, in particular, fuelling conflicts between farmers and herdsmen.

Currently, Nigeria has 11 river basins which are supposed to tackle the issues of drought in the country, but most of them are operating far below their capacities.

Nigeria has spent N166 billion within the last three years for the development of river basins, according to data from the country’s budget.

Between 2008 and 2015, an average of 26.4 million people was displaced annually by natural hazards-induced and climate-related disasters globally, according to data from the Food and Agricultural Organisation. And the trend is rising rapidly.

 Rampaging herdsmen with their herds of cattle.

Ecological funds

The herder-farmer crisis has persisted and is becoming more intense owing to the gross misuse of money meant to address issues of climate change.

From inception, Nigeria’s ecological fund got 1 percent of all the revenues accruing to the country’s Federation Account. Today, the fund gets 2 percent of all federal earnings.

The ecological fund, which is only released with the approval of the president through the National Committee on Ecological Problem, has not been spent judiciously over the years.

Between 2007 and 2015, Nigeria set aside an average of N48 billion annually as ecological funds, implying that a cumulative of N432 billion was released in eight years to address the issues of climate change.

Out of the N432 billion, 57 percent was released in four years between 2011 and 2014, a period during which Nigeria generated a lot of revenue from oil price rally.

But investigations show that these funds were either mismanaged or diverted and the projects they were supposed to have funded turned out to be substandard or abandoned. Meanwhile, ecological problems continue to take their toll, as seen in desertification, a major cause of the farmer-herder conflicts that have led to loss of thousands of lives and destruction of properties worth millions of naira.

“One of the reasons the issue of desertification has continued is corruption within the system against desert war,” said Majekodunmi, an environmentalist.

“Ecological fund is massive amount of money on a yearly basis and so little of it has been spent addressing climate change and environmental issues in Nigeria. This is because of the enormous corruption we have in the system. Until the money is judiciously used, we would not be able to address the issues of climate change,” he said.

Also, a lot of international agencies and donors have assisted the country with some funds to redress the issues of climate change in Nigeria, but all the funds cannot be accounted for, nor were they used appropriately.

But while the misuse of funds meant for fighting ecological disasters goes on, it is important that Nigeria understands that such practices cannot continue in the face of these challenges.

Meanwhile, serious countries have adopted modern techniques to avert such herder-farmer conflicts as witnessed in Nigeria.

Climate change mitigation

Nigeria must begin now to address climate change and rescue lands taken over by desertification as a lasting solution to the conflicts between farmers and herders.

This, according to experts, will help reduce the herdsmen’s southward migration as more lands taken over by desert encroachment north of the country will be reclaimed and become productive again.

“The Federal Government needs to look at climate change which is the main cause of the farmer-herder conflicts and look at how to mitigate it. The approach has to be driven by the public sector while the government does the monitoring,” said Jibunoh, founder of Fight Against Desert Encroachment.

Nigeria’s vulnerability to climate change is closely linked to the country’s low adaptive capacity and increasing dependence on resources sensitive to changes in climate.

In the rural areas, major activities that contribute to climate change include bush burning and illegal felling of trees, a means of livelihood for the production of fuel wood and charcoal. This has reduced the country’s forest cover, which serves as a big buffer against climate change, from about 45 percent in the 1960s to less than 5 percent today.

“We must now begin to grow our forest cover and tackle the issue of deforestation to win the desert war against mankind,” Majekodunmi said.

 Fulani women and their herds of cattle migrating out of Gombe State

Ranching: Lessons from Bostwana

Over 70 percent of Botswana’s population lives in rural areas and earns a living from agriculture. Because of the dry climate, livestock production dominates agricultural activities.

Although both Nigeria and Botswana have a rich history of pastoral agriculture, unlike Nigeria, Botswana as a nation has decided that there must be a change in its method of animal husbandry.

Bostwana currently has more cattle than human population, but the country has adopted a ranching technique similar to the one practiced in South Africa, Australia, and Argentina. Most of its ranches are medium- and large-sized cattle ranches fitted with a flavour of modern global dairy practice. The ranching initiatives are mostly driven by the private sector.

Apart from being a major source of dairy products, these ranches create thousands of jobs for the Botswana people and also function as tourist centres.

Experts say Nigeria can adopt the framework to tackle its farmer/herder conflicts while addressing issues of climate change as a lasting solution to the decades-long conflicts. While it is important to build ranches, some experts say this should be undertaken by individuals since cattle-rearing is a private business.

“Within the confines of the ranch, the animals can be sustained. You will be sure you can get feed and water for them, providing all these within the ranch. This will minimise the movement outside the ranch in search of water and feed, in the course of which destruction of farmlands and communal clashes occur,” said Chryss Onwuka, professor of ruminant animal nutrition and president, Nigerian Society for Animal Production.

“In their nomadic herdsmen tradition, once their fields start thinning out and water becomes less available, they start moving towards regions where there is enough food and water. And all these tell on their cattle energy which in turn reflects on their weight gain, bringing about weight losses which they had hoped to gain by moving,” Onwuka said.

 “The little potential they have for weight gain is lost in the course of transiting from one place to another. If they were sedentary, then their restricted movement would have translated into weight gain,” he said.