Community-Based Solutions for Climate-Related Stresses

In Nigeria, farmer-herder conflict is at times deadlier than the Boko Haram insurgency. And although farmers and herders identify with different ethnicities and religions, a core driver of the conflict is a reduction in usable land—as climate change dries the West African Sahel.

This fall, we began the Protecting Our Communities project, working directly with communities in the center of violent clashes between crop farmers and cattle herders in northern Nigeria. The project has a particular focus on empowering women and youth and learning their suggested solutions to increase the safety of their communities.

Our team—Neem Foundation and Women’s Interfaith Council (both based in Nigeria), and Karuna Center—has been meeting with the affected communities to introduce the project, get feedback, and better understand the conflict dynamics, needs, and windows of opportunity. We have been heartened by the show of support and enthusiasm for the project—in meetings with traditional leaders, local organizations, community members, and other stakeholders.

Above: Imam Muhammad Sani Isah, an interfaith peace activist and key member of our project team, speaks to members of a community impacted by farmer-herder violence about our proposed work to engage women and youth as peace leaders.

In these meetings, we heard that the project is much-needed and happening at the right time: the violent clashes are affecting the ability of communities to thrive and develop, and rising numbers of people are becoming orphaned and widowed by the conflict. Vigilante justice and retaliation is common—and youth need to be engaged in alternatives to the violence. Banditry in the region is also a serious concern, and a problem for travel between communities.

We were also told that, too often, projects to mitigate the violence are not sustained, as outside organizations come and go. The Protecting Our Communities project aims to do better, by training and mentoring community members as dialogue facilitators themselves (first, convening homogeneous groups, and then leading joint conversations between farmers and herders)—and teaching community members how to use a proven “early warning-early response” system to report incidents that could trigger escalations of violence. That early warning-early response system is designed to be used by communities in perpetuity.

Those dialogue and early warning-early response strategies are being combined with call-in radio shows to engage a much broader audience in critical thinking about the conflict; an initiative to teach community members how to actively counteract rumors and hate speech that fuel the violence through social media; and advocacy skill-building, to improve community members’ ongoing ability to raise issues with government officials and security forces.

The local partners who make up our team include farmer and herder associationsWomen’s Interfaith Council, and Neem Foundation (which developed the community-based early warning-early response system the project will use). We co-developed this project, then obtained a grant to implement it from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

Below: The team meets at the office of a local farmers’ association to listen to their advice about violence prevention work and learn more about the local trends and impacts of the violence.

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