Herder-Farmer Conflict Undermines Resilient Pastoral Systems in Africa’s Sudano-Sahel
This post is written by Katie Smith, Search for Common Ground and Matthew Luizza, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and co-chair of the Africa Pastoralism Working Group
November is livestock month on Agrilinks – focusing on livestock’s role in nutrition and resilience. Across the African continent, 268 million people practice pastoralism – this is both a way of life but also a livelihood strategy. In recent years, this adaptive animal production system has faced growing external threats – climate change, increased instability, agriculture expansion, cattle rustling and rural banditry, among others. The confluence of these threats has had devastating humanitarian, development, conservation, and security implications. Competition over limited natural resources has sparked violent conflict between pastoralists and sedentary farming communities that affects the lives and livelihoods of countless families in rural areas across the continent. Increasingly, to avoid this type of conflict, pastoralists and their herds are illegally entering protected areas in search of resources and refuge.
How this conflict manifests is unique to the location where it occurs, but broadly, there are four sub-regions where such a phenomenon has most adversely impacted the greater Sudano-Sahel region: (1) the Liptako-Gourma landscape (e.g., Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso); (2) Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin; (3) Central African Republic (CAR) and northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); and (4) Sudan and South Sudan. This violence represents a critical risk to regional stability and resilience, as conflicts over natural resources and distinct livelihood practices are increasingly intertwined with political and social tensions, provoking deep divisions and destabilizing key agricultural sectors and priority conservation zones.Map of the Sudano-Sahel region and four sub-regions where herder-farmer conflict pose a key threat to the resilience of pastoral systems: 1) Liptako-Gourma sub-region, 2) Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin, 3 CAR and northern DRC, and 4) Sudan and South Sudan. Map courtesy of Matthew Luizza/USFWS.
When we talk about resilience, what we are really saying is the ability of communities to identify and mitigate challenges on their own and adapt to changing social and ecological circumstances. Resilience is an insurance policy on investments in conservation, nutrition, and other development outcomes. As a community of practice, we need to build resilience locally and respond broadly to the transnational drivers of instability that threaten rural communities and the ecosystems they depend on.
As the world’s largest dedicated peacebuilding organization, Search for Common Ground has been working to address farmer-herder conflict for over a decade, with on the ground programming in countries such as the DRC, Chad, and Nigeria. Over the past few years, these conflicts have been particularly destructive in Nigeria, where clashes between farmers and herders have become intertwined with political and social tensions, provoking deep divisions at the core of Nigeria’s identity. Through our work, we have seen community-based solutions reduce triggers for violence, improve security outcomes, and lead to more targeted responses to violence. In other words, they have improved the resilience of communities to farmer-herder conflict.
In eastern CAR, with support from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), conservation partners, including Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and African Parks are working to better understand and address emerging challenges associated with seasonal transboundary livestock movements (i.e., transhumance) in priority conservation zones. These protected areas, including Bamingui-Bangoran and Manovo-Gounda St. Floris National Parks (WCS) and Chinko Protected Area (African Parks) are located in one of the most remote and embattled regions of Africa but are also home to remnant populations of key wildlife species, including African elephant, giant eland, and Kordofan giraffe, in addition to an array of rural communities that depend on the landscape’s natural resources. Here, cattle are also one of the main sources of financing the conflict economy, with armed groups, neo-pastoralists, and small-scale herders among the actors competing for access to ample grass and water in the country’s territorial margins, which includes a number of protected areas.
Chinko’s response has been the deployment of an innovative transhumance engagement strategy, which includes recruiting, training, and equipping herder sensitization teams (comprised of pastoralists) to intercept incoming livestock herds identified through aerial surveillance and fire monitoring and lead them along designated transhumance corridors outside of the core conservation zone. To date, these efforts have produced tangible conservation results through non-conflictual engagement with herders. This includes keeping 17,000 square km of the protected area free from livestock incursion and zero recorded incidents of poaching in the core protection zone from 2018-2019.Sudanese herder encampment outside of Chinko Protected Area, CAR. Picture courtesy of Matthew Luizza/USFWS.
From Mali to South Sudan, conservationists, economists, humanitarians, peacebuilders, and soldiers are all actively attempting to reduce violence between farming and herding communities. However, just because these actors operate in the same geographic space does not mean that they are collaborating, addressing the same issues, or sharing knowledge about expertise and learning. It is time to recognize that conservation, development, and peace agendas are mutually reinforcing. Investments in rural land management that include herders and farmers in the decision-making process can improve governance outcomes and reduce triggers of violence. Investments in improving cattle value chains can produce economic dividends and reduce or better manage southward migrations of cattle in Nigeria and CAR. Next year, Search with support from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations will release a multi-sectoral toolkit on effectives approaches to transforming farmer-herder conflict. This will be based on a review of best practices and previous interventions and strategies of the transnational and multi-sectoral nature of these conflicts.
Interested in how you can get involved? The Africa Pastoralism Working Group (APWG) was established in July 2018 as a joint initiative led by USFWS Africa Regional Program, U.S. Department of State Bureau of African Affairs and Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, and U.S. Agency for International Development Bureau of Food Security. The working group, which includes nearly 180 members, seeks to create a space for various stakeholders from the U.S. Government, non-governmental organizations, and academia to collaborate and combine cross-disciplinary knowledge on issues related to pastoralism in Africa, with a specific focus on the Sudano-Sahel landscape. To date, the APWG has convened five meetings, which provide analytical deep dives into different pastoralism topics via presentations by invited experts, in addition to providing periodic dissemination of relevant reporting, news, and events. If interested in learning more about the working group or joining, please contact APWG co-chair, Matthew Luizza at [email protected].
 Africa Union (2010). Policy Framework for Pastoralism in Africa: Securing, Protecting and Improving the Lives, Livelihoods and Rights of Pastoralist Communities.