With rising tension, especially in the Southwest regions over farmers/herders crisis, there are growing concerns that it can snowball into something calamitous if left unchecked. While some have been at the forefront of fueling the crisis, other major stakeholders and well-meaning Nigerians have proposed that a strategic intervention is needed in curbing the age-old feud. Suggestions have continued to pour in regarding the way out of this crisis. The bee comb for many is the ranching system.
Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki must have seen eye-to-eye with this when he stated that his government would create a grazing area for herders. Obaseki, who was initially opposed to the RUGA settlement scheme was quoted by his spokesperson as saying that his government will create an area where the cattle will go regularly to eat since they must not go to people’s farms.
The Northern Governors Forum on Tuesday, February 10, 2020 equally lent their voice to the notion. The forum reasoned that the open grazing system adopted by parochial herdsmen is outdated and is responsible for most of the clashes. They were in fact echoing Nigeria’s former presidential aspirant, Adamu Garba, when he noted that “it doesn’t make any sense for cows to be roaming the streets in 2021.”
The Northern governors described open grazing as obsolete. They maintained that the current system of herding conducted mainly through open grazing is no longer sustainable in view of growing urbanization and population of the country. This is in sync with the position of Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, who opined that herders should embrace ranching and stop herding their cows from the North to the South in pastoral adventure.
The bulk of the crisis that emanates from the clashes between farmers and herders is owing to land issues. The issue of land is as old as humanity and many are familiar with the graveness with which it is taken, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the words of Adamu Garba, “no any state power can give land to anyone where the land is being identified with an owner for generations, without purchasing or renting. All lands in Nigeria, including forests belong to some entity, FG, SGs, LGs, Companies or individuals. Thus no land can be used without proper authorization.”
Cows should be ranched on a land acquired or rented by the ranchers. The use of extensive grazing on rangelands for livestock production is a practice in over 100 countries worldwide. An estimate by the African Union put Africa as having 268 million pastoralists. This is over a quarter of the total population living on about 43 percent of the continent’s total land mass. Even so, the unwillingness to subscribe to sustainable policies to regulate pastoralism, poor land management, as well as a lack of inadequate policies on climate change adaptation have worsened land-related tensions.
In Nigeria, the surge in the deaths from violence related to clashes between herders and farming communities is alarming. The situation is not entirely different in other parts of West Africa. In Cote d’ Ivoire, violent inter-communal clashes in 2016 between herders and farmers in Bouna, in the Northeast, left at least 27 people dead and thousands more displaced.
Insisting that herdsmen stop herding their cows from the North to the South or restricting pastoral activities to the North are options that do not acknowledge the complexities of the overall situation. The herdsmen are oftentimes caught in the clog of climate change. Rising aridity in the Sahel and Northern regions, increasing desertification and heightened risk of extreme weather, have resulted in decreased availability of grazing land.
In Northern Nigeria, experts say, a blend of more heat plus less rain exacerbates the threat of desertification, thereby reducing the land available for grazing. The herdsmen as such move from the North to the South where there is some respite. This is why Governor Obaseki attributed the herdsmen crisis to “environmental changes” and called for a collective approach to solving it, rather than “take it out of context because of cheap political gains to create crisis in the country.”
While the agricultural sector as a whole has been experiencing increased growth consistently for the past five years, livestock production has witnessed a decline from 6% in 2015 to 3% in 2016. It also went from that of 2016 to 1.6% in 2017 and 0.3% in 2018. This free fall in the level of livestock output needs to be salvaged from dipping further down as was the case in 2012, when livestock production levels of diaries and meat sunk to an all-time low of -2.6%.
The National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) is the instrument that can effectively address the farmers/herders clash. Apart from standing as the solution to the ethnic clashes, the NLTP guarantees economic prospects of efficient livestock and ecological management. The plan has six pillars through which it aims to transform the livestock production system in Nigeria along market oriented value chains while ensuring an atmosphere of peace and justice.
The six key pillars include: economic investment, conflict resolution, justice and peace, humanitarian relief and early recovery, human capital development and cross-cutting issues such as gender, youth, research and information and strategic communication.
Part of the problem is the security challenge in the Northern region which always compels herders to move to other regions. The Federal Government can support States with grants to directly undertake major projects of modern livestock production that will serve as springboards and evidence of success that will break resistance to the full implementation of new methods of livestock production.
Private ranching is equally a viable option as seen in Western United States, where many ranches are a combination of privately owned land supplemented by grazing leases on land under the control of the Federal Bureau of Land Management or the United States Forest Service.
Aggressive sensitisation of herdsmen on the gains of ranching as well as the law on lands will help douse the crisis that emanates from farmers/herders clash. In this regard, the Northern Nigeria Governors’ Forum has set up a four-man committee to be headed by Lalong to work out the plan to educate herders. According to the meeting communiqué issued by its chairman, Simon Lalong, Governor of Plateau State, the Northern governors decided to sensitise herdsmen on the need to adopt ranching and other acceptable modern methods.
Nevertheless, the most successful responses to these clashes are community-driven and location specific, where national government mediation has resulted in solutions that work for both herders and farmers.
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