Exploring farmer-herder relations and conflict management in Niger

This week, ILRI and partners are presenting research on farmer-herder relations and conflict management at an international conference on 'the future of transhumance pastoralism in west and central Africa'.

farmer-herder relations


The main objective of the conference, taking place in Abuja, Nigeria, from 20-24 November 2006, is to provide a forum for discussing the challenges of transhumance pastoralism and associated issues affecting the economy and society of pastoral communities in the West Africa sub-region. Through the presentation and analyses of different experiences, conference participants will share experiences to identify interventions that could enhance pastoral livelihoods and promote environmental and social harmony among communities.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are presenting their findings on farmer-herder relations and conflict management, based on research conducted in Niger. Their study found that conflict, in some form or another, is common in agro-pastoral communities of Niger and has the potential to affect the livelihoods of farmers and herders alike.

Background to study

The nature of livestock husbandry and farmer-herder relations is changing and the potential for conflict management failure increases unless systems of governance change accordingly. Farmer-herder conflicts are enduring features of social life in the Sudano-Sahelian zone. A survey was carried out in four sites in Niger (Bokki, Katanga, Sabon Gida and Tountoubé) to determine the proximate and long-term causes of conflict over natural-resource use, to evaluate the appropriateness of existing institutional arrangements for managing conflicts and identify innovative options and incentives to reduce the incidence and severity of conflicts.

Causes of farmer-herder conflict

Conflict should be expected in an environment of highly fluctuating resource availabilities on unfenced land. Results from this study showed that in all sites, damage to crops was the first reported cause of conflict between farmers and herders. Crop damage is not limited to growing crops on the field but also unauthorized livestock grazing of crop residues after harvest.

Reported causes of farmer-herder conflict in study sites between 2002 and 2004

The increasing number of conflicts due to unauthorized livestock grazing of crop residues is a reflection of the change in farmer-herder relations from that of mutual trust that characterized manure and entrustment contracts to more inherently conflictual relationships based on wage and tenancy contracts. Other causes of conflict reported were access to watering points, expansion of crop fields to corridors used for animal passage, and theft of animals.

Farmer-herder relations and conflict management

The ability of rural communities to prevent and manage conflict is largely based on the strength of networks of communication between herding and farming interests, respected community leaders, and leaders in neighbouring communities. Overall, local institutional arrangements were found to be functional with a high percentage of conflicts effectively managed at local levels. In all the study sites except Bokki, there was a high level of involvement of internal mediators.
Reported causes of farmer-herder conflict in study sites between 2002 and 2004

In all the villages, at least 75% of reported cases of farmer-herder conflict between 2002 and 2004 were resolved. In Tountoubé all reported cases of conflict were resolved. The results support a basic premise that conflicts that necessarily arise as people pursue diverse livelihood strategies are largely managed effectively at the level of local communities. In all the villages, the elders, marabouts and chiefs are the main channel for mediation. For example, all resolved conflict cases in Sabon Guida and Tountoubé were through village elders and chiefs. The high level of success of internal mediation in both villages could be attributed to the high respect for the authority of village chiefs and council of elders by all social groups. However, in Bokki there is a relatively high involvement of external mediators – local court and police- in resolving conflict in the village.

Understanding changing farmer-herder relations

Over the past 20 years, there have been changes in livestock ownership and management that have worked to increase both the inherent conflicts of interest between farming and herding and the potential for these conflicts of interest to escalate. Conflicts of interest have intensified in many areas due to the greater proximity of livestock and cropping during the growing season.

There have also been a number of changes that have affected how local communities manage farmer-herder conflicts. The continued erosion of the local authority of elders, while welcome on a number of levels, have increased the number of poles of authority which may potentially reduce local communities’ ability to manage conflict effectively. The number and nature of social ties between farmers and herding professionals have changed as livestock wealth has become more concentrated, availability of cropland has declined, and the range of herd movements has shrunk and become more erratic.

The relationships between farmers and herders in the Sudano-Sahelian region of West Africa have always been multi-dimensional and like most social relationships have involved both cooperation and conflict. There has always been a strong seasonality to this relationship, with conflicts associated with crop damage and field encroachment onto key pastoral sites common during the rainy season, while cooperative relationships of milk barter and manure contracting are more important during the dry season.

Understanding farmer-herder relations is key to conflict management and resolution. This will improve understanding of the proximate and underlying causes of conflict, the behavioural patterns that are most conducive to provoking or avoiding conflict and the main mechanisms by which conflict between the groups are resolved or managed. Innovative options and incentives that reduce the incidence and severity of conflicts would enhance livelihoods of both farmers and herders, and promote social harmony within and between communities.

farmer-herder relations

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