Herdsmen Hazards VII: Many sides to a forgotten crisis [Part 2]

by Festus Iyorah

Following the seven-year bloody reign of the deadly Boko haram terrorists in North east part of the country, Nigeria, is yet again embroiled in another conflict that has killed thousands of people from 63 in 2013 to 1,229 people in 2014, according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index.

FESTUS IYORAH in this seven-part series reports the hazards the Fulani Herdsmen have caused, dividing people across ethnic and religious lines.

How climate change fuels conflicts

Beyond religious and ethnic undertones, one underlying factor forcing Fulani herdsmen to migrate from far north to lush vegetation haven in middle belt states is desertification, an effect of climate change.

Since pastoralists, by nurture, migrate from one geographical zone to another, many Nigerians see these migrations as deliberate or a genetic component—which has fuel ethically biased debate in Nigeria.

However, these migrations are galvanized by the effect of climate change such as desertification and Sahel drought on grazing lands in the north eastern part of the county and some parts of Africa such as Mali and Senegal.

For instance, Grazing reserves in the northern states of Kano, Zamfara and Borno, which has the largest population of livestock in Nigeria, are patched and not in good condition for animals to feed on.

U.S-based Dr Ismail Iro once carried out a research on the herder-farmer conflict in Nigeria and make telling conclusions. He wrote:

“An inspection of the sites and edaphic properties shows that the grazing reserves have inferior fodder, consisting of low-protein Andropogon, Brachiarria, and Loudetia. For example, in Borno State, which has the largest population of livestock in Nigeria, there is hardly enough grass for year-round grazing.

“In the early dry-season, herds in this state browse on tree leaves, branches, and farm leftovers. At the climax of the dry-season, animals eat anything green, including their own feces and the so-called poisonous grass.”

Against this backdrop, pastoralists are forced to migrate, turning them into climate or environmental refugees.

These migrations are caused by climate change in the north east, PhD researcher Olufolahan said.

She said Nigeria mainly reduce this discussion to issues of national security without really addressing the underlining cause which is climate change.

“The government has failed to address these questions; why do herdsmen move from one place to another? Why is this migration important for them?,” she asks.

“Because of scarcity of resources; I mean their animals need to feed on something and there is scarcity of resources. And why do we have this problem?”

“Climate change,” she affirms.

From Sokoto to Borno, states in far northern region of Nigeria are in a geographical location where there is a lot of aridness and there’s no policy to improve this, Olufolahan told Ynaija through an interview on skype.

“There’s no policy to plant trees. So what you see is as a result of the northern region that is highly dry to a lusher southern region.”

She added that until herdsmen are positioned as climate migrants, they would be no solution to the problem.

Grazing reserves in the beginning

When Hamisu Kano, an administrator working pastoralists on livestock vaccination foresaw the shortages of grazing land in Northern Nigeria, he initiated the idea of grazing reserves in 1954. The grazing reserves scheme which was supported by the government was re-established from the abandoned government’s Fulani Settlement Scheme.

Researchers say the idea of grazing reserves scheme hatched after a study of the Fulani production system contained in the “Fulani Amenities Proposal” This proposal suggested the creation of grazing reserves and the transformation of herd management.

In a research titled Livestock Development and Range Use in Nigeria, the researcher says in 1964, the government supported with about 6.4 million hectares of the forest reserve, 98 percent in the savanna. Sokoto province had 21 percent of the land, followed by Kabba, Bauchi, Zaria, Ilorin, and Katsina, with 11-15 percent each. The Wase, Zamfara and Udubo grazing reserves followed in succession.

At the close of 1992, Nigeria had identified over 300 areas with 28 million hectares for grazing reserves development.

Dr. Jos Laven, an Assistant Professor in Eindhoven University of Technology says the creation of grazing reserves is aimed at getting and protecting pasture-space for the national herds, and removing discord between agronomists and pastoralists living in the same geographic area.

“By separating the herders from the cultivators, the government hopes to foster peaceful coexistence between them by making the grazing reserve a zone of no-conflict,” he adds.

Then, the conflict began this way

Grazing reserve was established in different parts of the northern region to avert future crisis or discord between nomadic herders and pastoralist but by the end of 1999, grazing reserves established in the northern part of the country had few glitches which led to its end.

In his research, Dr. Ismail Iro, who is also a programmer and data analyst recorded that the conflicts between pastoralists and farmers started due series of challenges that trailed the establishments of the grazing reserves.

According to Iro, the problems are multifaceted with encroachments by farmers and government negligence concerning funding of the reserve constituting the major problems.

Iro noted that the Wase Grazing Reserve, Jos Plateau was a success with enough financial and technical aid from the U.S.A.I.D. The reserve which had about 74, hectares of land, abundant rivers, streams and pasturage started in 1965.

But, by the time the U.S.A.I.D aid terminated in 1975, the Wase Grazing Reserve collapsed. The dams and fences were broken. The implements rusted and the pastoralists on the reserve reverted to their seasonal search for livestock.

The failure of the Wase Grazing Reserve and other grazing reserves built across the northern part of the country premised the beginning of farmer-pastoralist related conflicts.

Grazing reserve: the way out in Nigeria

The unabated crisis between nomadic pastoralists and farmers has formed heated debates among Nigerians. Some analysts have suggested the establishments of grazing reserves as one of the best ways to simmer down the conflicts between farmers and nomadic Fulani herdsmen.

Moreover, the National Agricultural Policy of 1988 proposes that at least 10 percent of land (about 9.8 million acres) belonging to FG should be allocated for grazing reserves.

However, some Nigeria, including the federal and state lawmakers from the southern part of Nigeria has rebuffed the idea of establishing grazing reserves.

In May 2016, about 350 federal and state lawmakers from the southern part of Nigeria have vowed to resist move by the Federal government to acquire land from their territories for grazing reserves. They reacted against the backdrop of the N940m provided in the 2016 budget for grazing.

The lawmakers said they would rather support the establishment of private ranches for cattle owners in the northern parts of the country.

Anthony Peter, a farmer at Agatu, Benue agreed with the lawmakers, he said the establishment of grazing reserves in Benue is not feasible in Benue.

“The lands here have been occupied for farming,” he said. Peter also suggests ranching as the best option compared to the establishment of grazing reserve.

Mr John Gaul-Lebo, the speaker of Rivers state House of Assembly, in the oil rich southern region kicked against the idea.

“Grazing is business and not a government venture. If government wants to establish grazing reserves for herdsmen, it’s a different ball game, but it cannot force people to surrender their and for grazing,” he told Nigeria’s punch in an interview in May.

Nevertheless, Olufolahan believes that creating grazing reserves will stem the lingering skirmishes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers across north central.

She says they (Herdsmen) needs policies in place that will facilitate better grazing system.

“By law we have those policies in place but then the problem we have is implementation. There are no projections from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Federal Ministry of environment,” she adds.

See other stories from the Herdsmen Hazards series below:

– Herdsmen Hazards: Nwa-Offor never became a priest [part 1]
– Herdsmen Hazards II: Nwa-Offor never became a priest [Part 2]
– Herdsmen Hazards III: The Agatu Massacre [Part 1]
– Herdsmen Hazards IV: The Agatu Massacre [Part 2]
– Herdsmen Hazards V: Living in poverty and fear
– Herdsmen Hazards VI: Many sides to a forgotten crisis [Part 1]

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