PROTECTING OUR COMMUNITIES (2019-present)
About the Protecting Our Communities Initiative
Now in its fifth and final year, the Protecting Our Communities Initiative (POCI) supports Nigerian communities at the center of complex land use conflicts and rising insecurity.
We co-lead this initiative with the Nigeria-based Neem Foundation and three community-based organizations: Elohim Development Foundation, Hope for the Village Child, and Voluntary Aid Initiative. The project is currently being implemented across six Local Government Areas in Kaduna, Zamfara and Benue states.
The project works within 18 core communities to establish locally-rooted peacebuilding systems. The goal is to support communities’ capacity to prevent violence and address the root causes of conflict, now and in the future. A key focus of the project is on strengthening relationships between farmer and herder communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
“We never knew there could be such a thing as mediation between farmers and herders, as all we did was fight each other. Now we have found the logic on how to live and work peacefully because this organization has trained us how to. Now the herders even give us manure to use on our farms, while we give them hay from our farms for their cattle.”
– a farmer and POCI participant in the town of Nahuce, Zamfara, Nigeria
A key focus in the project’s final year is on developing the capacity of these communities and organizations to sustain project activities into the future:
Acting Fast to Prevent Violent Conflict:
Early Warning-Early Response (EWER) committees identify, track, and resolve local incidents that could spark broader conflict. To tackle problems like bandit attacks, they also build relationships with local security forces. The EWER committees have resolved over 853 incidents to date across all 18 project communities.
- As armed bandit attacks increased this year, our team suspended program activities in the most impacted areas to reduce the risk to community members and staff. However, the communities found their work of identifying and addressing early warning signs so valuable that they chose to continue to meet and hold dialogues independently, despite our caution. POCI’s peacebuilding systems were designed to be used by and for community members, and during this high-risk time, they addressed over 40 incidents.
Dialogue facilitators within each community are building relationships of trust across ethnic and religious divides—and collaborating with EWER committees to resolve disputes. Community dialogue facilitators have held more than 220 dialogues over the past year (while the project has held more than 1,000 dialogues total, to date) on topics such as farmer-herder relations, land disputes, drug use, inter-religious conflict, and managing harmful rumors. The dialogues have gained a reputation as so useful that facilitators are receiving more requests than they can currently fulfill, and we are working to expand the initiative.
- After years of practice, POCI community dialogue facilitators have become highly skilled at guiding challenging conversations on a range of topics. During the 2023 elections, none of the participating communities experienced politically-fueled violence. Local facilitators attributed this to the success of the project dialogues in deepening understanding and trust across religious and ethnic divides.
The project holds regular call-in radio shows and shares success stories over social media—allowing a much broader community to learn about and discuss themes related to building peace. Community drama performances further educate and engage community members about the project’s peacebuilding systems.
Uplifting Community Leadership:
Community-based peacebuilders are uniquely positioned to understand and navigate complex regional conflicts. POCI’s statewide and interstate forums have brought the project’s community peacebuilders together with a range of leaders and decision-makers to discuss sustaining and expanding the project activities.
To build local peacebuilders’ connections and leadership, the project held an inter-state dialogue forum and co-hosted a National Conference on the Management of Farmer-Herder Relations in summer 2022 (photo above).
In December 2023, we will co-convene POCI’s second national conference on farmer-herder relations, focused on policy and building stakeholder networks. POCI is also working with national governmental agencies to incorporate the project’s model into national planning for strengthening farmer-herder relations and early warning-early response systems.
Psychological trauma can be widespread in communities impacted by violent conflict and insecurity. The Protecting Our Communities Initiative has provided counseling to more than 650 people impacted by trauma, and trained 195 peer counselors so far. Photo above: participants practice mindfulness through weaving.
Through POCI dialogues, Nigeria’s major associations of farmers and of herders have built strong relationships at the state and local level. Leaders of the All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN) and Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) are now holding joint advocacy visits across the Nigerian states of Benue, Kaduna, and Zamfara, to promote their mutual interests with government officials, traditional rulers, and security agencies.
– Abdulaziz Yakubu
EWER Committee Member, Ruwan Doruwa
Photo and interview credit: Neem Foundation
We held statewide dialogue forums in Kaduna, Benue, and Zamfara states (Nigeria) that brought community dialogue facilitators together with a range of leaders and decision-makers. These forums were a focal point for discussing statewide peacebuilding strategies.Read More
In this excerpt from our event on June 11, 2023 — Bringing the Lessons Home: The Power of Dialogue, Locally and Globally — Seth Karamage discusses the importance of the Protecting Our Communities Initiative, especially as climate change creates new challenges for farmers and herders.
December 2022: In this episode of Building Peace: Stories from the Field—Karuna Center’s Religious Leader Liaison in Northern Nigeria, Imam Muhammad Sani Isah, talks about his work in the Protecting Our Communities Initiative!
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