Reports of violent disputes between herders and farmers in Nigeria’s north have risen in recent years, especially conflicts over diminishing resources. For decades, farmers and herders – also known as “pastoralists” – have coexisted. Through reciprocity, economic exchanges, and support, many pastoral and farming settlements created symbiotic partnerships.
However, when economic cooperation declines, so does the availability of and access to common resources, and their relationship becomes increasingly marked by violent confrontations.
Nigeria’s western states have also been experiencing an uptick in violence. In 2018, more than 1 300 Nigerians were killed in clashes between herders and farmers.
Money, the root of all evil
The main source of conflict between the two groups is economically driven, particularly when it comes to access to water resources and land. Increased movement of herders into the humid forest zone of West Africa since the Sahelian drought of the 1970s and 1980s has resulted in a major increase in incidences of farmer-herder conflict.
“Northern Nigeria accounts for 68% of every fierce death due to the issues of land between farmers and pastoralists in 2006 and 2014, a figure not half the reported cases in 2018 alone. The inadequacies in the Nigerian adaptation efforts to its dwindling climate could be attributed to corruption, institutional shortcomings, and political will predispose the country to more dangers of environmental change impacts,” revealed a study by IOP Science.
Farmers have complained that herders do not stick to the uncultivated areas, ruining their crops and livelihoods, as a result of their constant migration from arid Sahel areas into wet forest zones.
Study kicks off to ease farmer-herder tensions
“In a study we ran with Mercy Corps, an international humanitarian and development agency, we examined whether training local leaders in mediation skills would improve their ability to resolve local disputes. The trainees included traditional chiefs, religious leaders, women and youth,” said Dr Rebecca Jayne Wolf, leading expert on political violence, conflict and violent extremism. She is also a senior lecturer and the executive director of international policy and development at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.
“We found that mediation skills training improved local conflict resolution and reduced violence. Compared to leaders who did not receive training, trained leaders reported fewer violent events and higher perceptions of security. Moreover, so did the wider community. This has implications for peacebuilding programs seeking to prevent and stop violence worldwide.”
Wolf and her colleagues analysed the impact of the intervention by comparing leaders from 44 communities who received training to leaders from 44 areas who did not. The team also assessed if the program enhanced overall community security in Nigeria.
“Leaders who had received the training felt they had stronger conflict resolution skills, perceived fewer violent events and felt there was greater security in their communities. Trained leaders also said they talked to people from other groups more often. And they thought that leaders from different groups wanted to prevent violence and would be more likely to stick to an agreement,” she said.
“This positive impact of the training extended to the wider community. In the year following mediation training for leaders, 29% of citizens in those communities reported experiencing a violent event. In comparison, 55% of citizens in communities where leaders had not received training said they had experienced violence during that same time period.”
Trained leaders give a sense of security
Only 32% of respondents in intervention communities said they felt unsafe “often”, while over 53% of respondents in comparison communities said they felt unsafe “often” or “always”. People in groups with trained leaders said they interacted with people from other communities more frequently. People in societies without trained leaders, for example, traded or socialised more regularly and travelled more freely.
“These results should inform the efforts of international donor governments, the Nigerian government, and neighbouring countries like Mali, Benin, and Niger, to address the violence between farmers and herders. It points to ways these countries can mitigate violence without curtailing migration routes for herders (a common policy), impeding economic activity or risking further violence.”