Cooperation on the frontlines of the climate crisis

Climate change is here—bringing new risks of conflict. In northern Benin, community livelihoods face threats from droughts, floods, and changing land fertility; a situation faced across West Africa. Longstanding arrangements between farmers and herders continue to be disrupted as they adapt by planting crops in different times and places, or driving cattle to new grazing areas due to changing climate patterns.

Conflicts over land use can escalate into communal violence when cattle stray onto farmers’ tender crops or new fields appear in herders’ pathways. However, violence is not inevitable: farmers and herders are stepping up to safeguard peace.

Our new Building Climate and Conflict Resilient Communities (BCCRC) program in Benin supports farming and herding communities’ desire for a secure and peaceful future. The program’s unique approach uses climate data to help farmers and herders plan ahead and collectively address conflict and improve farming and herding activities— while providing training and coaching to strengthen their skills in managing conflict across divides. This is a close collaboration with the Benin-based Association Coexister and draws lessons from our work with Neem Foundation in Nigeria.

In April 2024, our first workshops—a 4-day dialogue facilitator training and a 3-day early warning-early response training—prepared participants from four core communities to lead dialogues and peacebuilding activities. These sessions united herders and farmers, including women and youth from diverse ethnic backgrounds, to strengthen their skills in managing conflict.

In one town still reeling from recent violence between Fulani herders and Dendi farmers, participants began repairing relationships during the workshop. Reflecting on the training, Karuna Program Manager Troy Caruana noted:

One of the participants pointed out that the leaders and communities were so dismayed from these most recent attacks that communication had more or less been severed between the groups. She pointed out that getting Fulani and Dendi individuals from the same town to follow the same training, with the goal of community peace, already sends a very powerful message signaling hope and a desire to work towards collective peace.

Going forward, dialogue facilitators will receive ongoing coaching to build trust across differences and find nonviolent resolutions. Each community is also forming an early warning-early response committee (EWER) to identify potential problems and refer them to appropriate channels. EWER Committees comprised of diverse stakeholders and community members will collaborate to proactively identify community conflict and violence indicators—and refer them to dialogue facilitators, traditional leaders, or official channels.

EWER committees also help disseminate climate data, forecasting, and practical recommendations generated by the program climate expert. This information can significantly contribute to improving their livelihoods and reduce stressors contributing to conflict. The reach of this information will be extended by using local radio stations and town criers to share this information in local languages such as Peul and Dendi.

The BCCRC’s program is designed to ensure positive impacts will continue into the future as communities take greater ownership of program activities and structures, finding resources and developing local partnerships to expand the program’s reach. The program’s core peacebuilding activities — leveraging climate data to reduce conflict stressors and proactively identify and mitigate the likelihood of violence, as well as training community members to facilitate community-based dialogues —are designed for community members to take ownership of, with ongoing coaching and support.

BCCRC is an 18-month pilot program funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict & Stabilization Operations.

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