Transforming Conflict Between Farmers and Herders

By Daniel Orth, Senior Program Manager, Karuna Center

On the surface, they way a conflict begins may appear simple: A farmer returns home to discover that his entire field of corn has been eaten and trampled under-hoof. Gone is the food for his family and the seed corn for the next season. He demands justice—which the government delivers by seizing nearby herders’ cattle and demanding large sums of money to release them. The herders have now lost their means to support their own families, leading to clashes between the groups. 

While the initial spark that sets off a conflagration may seem obvious, it’s much more difficult to untangle all of the dynamics that fuel tension between farmers and herders—government decisions and inaction, shifting weather patterns, diminished grazing and farming land, regional conflict, dangerous stereotypes, and broken communication. In an environment of suspicion and fear, how do two parties seemingly so at odds with one another begin to build trust? 

“I used to think you were ghosts who lived in the forest.”

– Dialogue participant from a farming community,
speaking to a member of the Fulani pastoralist community

Recognizing the critical need to bring together members of the agricultural and pastoralist communities of Nigeria’s Benue State, Karuna and its partners, Neem Foundation and Elohim Development Foundation, developed a carefully sequenced series of activities that would break this cycle. Members of the “Protecting Our Communities” project first needed to build trust with the farmers and herders. The project team met individually with the leadership of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) and the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN). 

After explaining what the project is trying to accomplish and preparing them for the dialogue process, the project team brought the leadership of the two groups together for the first time. As they listened to one another, they discovered their shared humanity and realized they had many common interests. Importantly, they realized how the current situation was hurting both of their peoples and that there was a way for them to work together to bring peace to their communities. 

Since that first meeting, the leadership of the two groups have met on multiple occasions and they now have a WhatsApp group to communicate directly with one another. Hundreds of listeners heard them on a radio program together talking about their shared efforts to bring peace and they have launched a joint advocacy campaign to influence government leaders. Recently 40 women from AFAN and MACBAN came together to dialogue with one another. But the road ahead is long and fraught with difficulty. Incendiary language continues to appear in media alongside dangerous rumors. Dozens have been killed in Benue since March and the election season is fast approaching when politicians who benefit from division sow seeds of discord to advance their own electoral prospects. But the farmers and herders now call each other “brothers” and Elohim, Neem, and Karuna are committed to continuing to support them.

Photo: Meeting of the leadership of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria and the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria. Credit: Protecting Our Communities Initiative 

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