Thursday, June 17, 2021 3:03 pm
By Katarzyna Rybarczyk
The Middle Belt is a region in Central Nigeria that is home to Fulani cattle herders who lead a nomadic lifestyle and farmers who live in sedentary agrarian communities. In the past, farmers and herders coexisted in peace. However, as the population started to increase and vast areas of land became barren due to permanent drought, herders were forced to migrate to farmers’ regions. That led to violent clashes between the two groups competing over land. Even though the conflict has been happening for more than two decades, the fighting escalated in recent years. The Nigerian government has been unsuccessful in mediating between them, with some officials inciting the brutal disagreement. For example, in Nigeria, policies often put pastoralist communities at a disadvantage, banning practices such as open grazing of cattle.
The conflict between farmers and herders in the Middle Belt is the deadliest conflict Nigeria has ever had to deal with. In fact, in 2018, the dispute has already caused more deaths than Boko Haram’s insurgency.
Climate change is fueling the dispute.
Nigeria is very vulnerable to the severe effects of climate change, and the implications of it have been intensifying clashes between farmers and herders. The north of the country especially has been dealing with problems such as drought and extreme heat. Each year, the temperatures increase, displacing communities living in the region.
Inadequate rainfall has negatively affected the agricultural sector by ‘reducing the total amount of cropland and grassland’ Crisis Group reports. Moreover, climate change has caused the scarcity of resources. As a result of these changes, hundreds of herders were forced to migrate to territories occupied by farmers, and many farmer communities have moved their lands into the herders’ grazing routes. Now, herders and farmers have to compete over arable land and clean water.
Increasing numbers of people are moving further south, but each year there are fewer available resources.
Religious differences are difficult to reconcile.
As most farmers are Christian and most herders are Muslim, religious disputes are another factor that has been aggravating the conflict. Many farmers think that Buhari has been favouring the herders as he is a Muslim himself.
Concerns have been raised about Muslim herders not being prosecuted for carrying out attacks against Christian farming communities. In response to herders’ brutality, however, farmers have been resorting to measures such as cattle stealing.
Herders, therefore, argue that farmers are biased, but the truth is that most Christian deaths in Africa occur in the Middle Belt. In recent years, there has been a surge in religious polarisation in the region, with the Muslim-Christian divide often determining what the person’s quality of life is.
Can the violence be stopped?
Many fear that the violence between farmers and herders will soon turn into a full-blown war. In order to prevent it, in January 2019, a strategy designed to manage cattle production better and solve the dispute was developed by the Nigerian government.
The National Livestock Transformation Plan aims to establish grazing reserves across the country and open training centres to educate people about more sustainable farming methods. The authorities started implementing the reform in February after a grant of €400,000 was approved by the Dutch Investment Agency. Sadly, however, modernising the livestock sector has been proving challenging.
The biggest problem so far has been the opposition from both the herders and the farmers who do not see the programme’s benefits. Crisis Group reports that ‘misconceptions about the Plan are especially prevalent among pastoralists, who will be asked to change a centuries-old nomadic lifestyle.’ Hence, raising awareness and discussing the details of the reform with the two groups is crucial.
There is hope that the Plan will finally reverse the trend of violence in the Middle Belt, but the next few months will determine whether the strategy will be successful.
*Katarzyna Rybarczyk is a Political Correspondent for Immigration News, a media platform affiliated with Immigration Advice Service. Through her articles, she aims to raise awareness about security threats worldwide and the challenges facing migrants.