Nigeria is currently experiencing ongoing conflict between indigenous, subsistence farmers and nomadic herdsmen, who are mainly of the Fulani ethnic group. Amnesty International reported 168 deaths in January 2018 as a result of clashes between farmers and herdsmen in several Nigerian states; Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Ondo and Kaduna. Farmers say herders migrating with their cattle are damaging their crops. Meanwhile, the Fulani claim that gangs from farming communities attack them and steal their livestock. This escalating conflict is resource-related and has resulted in territorial land disputes. In recent years, three interrelated processes have affected Nigeria’s fertile farmland; population growth, urban development and migration.
Chilaka Francis Chigozie, a researcher at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, attributes the conflicts to climate change. “The effects of climate change are partly to blame for the disputes. Northern nomadic communities are increasingly moving southwards as climate change turns their grazing land into desert,” Chigozie says.
In Nigeria, the northern states are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. As a result, the rainfall there has decreased. This has led to the gradual desertification of land, the expansion of the Sahara Desert, and the shrinkage of Lake Chad. Desertification and soil erosion have left large tracts of land unsuitable for agriculture and cattle herding. According to Chigozie’s research, “About 35 percent of land that was cultivable 50 years ago is now desert in 11 of Nigeria’s northernmost states.” Diminishing resources and lack of access to land has displaced Fulani herdsmen, and threatens the livelihoods of 15 million pastoralists. The herdsmen are forced to migrate south with their livestock in search of fertile pasture and water. They have encroached on farmers’ ancestral land and consequently many farmers have been killed whilst trying to protect their land from perceived invaders. Last year alone 1500 people died, and 100,000 were displaced.
The Nigerian government has condemned the killings; however they have not recognized climate change as one of the underlying issues. After a spate of violence in January, the government proposed a policy to resolve the land disputes. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s “cattle colony” policy will designate land in each state for herding, to decrease nomadic grazing. The herdsmen will be able to use this designated land for their livestock. Therefore, they will avoid confrontation with farming communities. This policy may be ineffective because the Fulani herdsmen are nomadic and habitually migratory. It will be difficult for the government to prevent them from encroaching on farmland as they migrate between “cattle colonies.” Some states have prohibited open grazing, for instance, the state of Benue has issued a five-year prison sentence for herdsmen grazing livestock on land outside of ranches. Herders accuse the authorities of trying to eradicate their traditional, nomadic lifestyle.
It is vital that the Nigerian government acknowledges the issue of climate change when implementing policies that seek to combat war and conflict. A feasible, non-combative solution to this conflict could involve intensifying the pace of the Great Green Wall project. This is a reforestation plan for sub-Saharan Africa which aims to resist desertification. Implementation of this project could increase vegetation and return arid land to pastures in northern states. This could alleviate herdsmen from migrating to the south, thus avoiding land disputes and resource shortages.
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