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Mitigating Farmers-Herders Conflict Through Great Greenwall Initiative (1)



Political and social instability, which not a major cause, can be connected to environmental degradation in some areas. Although the use of force in competing for scarce resources is not new, some believe that the equilibrium between acceptable and unacceptable competition has been dislocated particularly in the Sahelian areas, spiralling into increasingly violent and frequent conflicts, which in most situations trigger serious humanitarian crisis, as well as putting further pressure on the surrounding environment.

In Nigeria, there has been a long record of fluctuating conflict, competition and co-operation between farmers and herders. This includes periods of violent herder domination over settled farming production systems and conversion of former pastoral lands to cultivation. The current levels of violent conflict between farmers and herders in some areas of the country are definitely intolerable for farmers, herders and also for the environment.  The option for local communities to resort to such violence manifests a dearth of policies, or that prevailing policies or conflict resolution mechanisms are not working to the benefit of these communities as a whole. However, at the centre of all the conflicts is competition over access to and use of increasingly scarce productive resources. Resolving these crises therefore in the long-term requires addressing the underlying causes, including natural resources degradation, climate change and other environmental related issues.

Dryland ecological cataclysm and pastoralism

Pastoralism based on mobile livestock keeping is one of the dominant livelihood activities in Nigeria, particularly in the dry northern part. The drylands of Nigeria support much of the country’s livestock economy, hosting about 90% of the cattle population, and 70% of the goats and sheep population. Over the past decades, livestock numbers have rapidly increased in the drylands of Nigeria. Between 1980 and 2010 the livestock population in the drylands grew at an annual rate of more than 4%, faster than the human population. Thus on average, the herd/flock size per household and per pastoralist has gone up.

In the Sudan and Sahel zones, which carry most of the livestock population, nomadic herdsmen graze their livestock throughout the area and are constantly in search of suitable pastures. The vast majority of the livestock – keepers are not only poor, they also face a highly variable environment that exposes them to a variety of shock from which they may have difficulty recovering. Extensive livestock keeping or pastoralism therefore is an efficient and productive livelihood system that enables pastoral households to survive and thrive in difficult environmental conditions. In addition to meeting households’ subsistence needs, pastoralism also contributes substantially to the national economy. Not only does pastoralism provide a high output livelihood for the herdsmen, but it is also a very environmentally sound use of the available resources, contributing to biodiversity conservation and providing a range of other environmental services including carbon sequestration. Pastoralism however is highly vulnerable to climate change that is likely to exacerbate and intensify the frequency and magnitude of droughts and desertification, and the scarcity of water resources and plant resources.

The Nigerian drylands with huge economic potentials are particularly vulnerable to threats of natural resources degradation and highly sensitive to climate variability and long-term climate change. The drylands of Nigeria therefore have been witnessing widespread land degradation as a result of human and climatic factors.

Some of the noticeable consequences of the ecological cataclysm in these drylands of the country include among others, reduction of biomass produced by rangelands and consequent depletion of feed material available to livestock; reduction of available wood biomass; reduction in biodiversity; reduction of available water due to decrease of river flow or groundwater resources; and reduction or failure of yield in rainfed or irrigated farmland. The combined negative implications of drought, land degradation, desertification and climate change and criminality that has been linked to weapon trades, ransom seeking and the rise of religious extremism, contribute largely in driving the nomadic herdsmen further south in search of pasture leading to increased conflict with local communities.

Great Green Wall initiative and pastoral development

The Great Green Wall is an African initiative to transform the Sahel into a stable, sustainable resilient region through improved management of natural resources, land, water and climate risk. The initiative intends to strengthen the implementation of existing frameworks and plans addressing the menaces of drought, land degradation and desertification in the margin of the Sahara desert and improves the livelihoods of the affected communities.

The Nigerian Great Green Wall Programme being implemented in the affected northern states, aims to combat land degradation, desertification, climate change and poverty through sound natural resources management and development; creation of job opportunities; promotion of dryland agricultural development; sustainable rangeland management; development of social infrastructure, especially in rural areas; and diversification of rural economic activities. The initiative is envisioned as alternative to past efforts of combating land degradation in the drylands of the country that yielded little success.

Development of grazing resources is one of the key components of the Nigerian Great Green Wall Programme to enhance livestock production, create enabling conditions required for pastoralism to fulfil its potential in the economic development of the affected region and the nation at large, and attenuate conflicts over scarce natural resources, particularly between farmers and herders through the rehabilitation or restoration of the existing degraded grazing lands and promotion of improved grazing management system.

Livestock grazing is often perceived as the main driver of rangeland or grazing land degradation. The traditional free grazing system for instance can lead to over-grazing depending on livestock stocking density and frequency of grazing. Based on available evidences however, it is the management of the grazing system in the drylands, not the grazing per se that is the key cause of rangeland degradation. Improved grazing system therefore can lead to a better control of stock density and frequency of grazing, thus reducing the risk of overgrazing and rangeland degradation.

The National Agency for the Great Green Wall has evolved a number of interventions for implementation at community level to enhance the grazing system and reduce conflicts between farmers and herders in the drylands and the country at large. These interventions include:

– Restoration of existing degraded grazing lands through reseeding of grass species, planting of fodder trees and encouraging natural regeneration of native plant species;

– Promotion of rotational grazing in alternating exclosure to restore plant species composition, diversity, biomass, cover and improve soil nutrient status;

– Development of water resources to allow better access to water for livestock;

– Promotion of community and private fodder farms to ensure availability of fodder for the livestock on sustainable basis;

– Improving preventive and clinical animal health services to protect livestock against infectious diseases and parasites. Animal health centers (vet-clinics) are to be established in all the local communities;

–Mamman Katsina is of the National Agency for Great Greenwall, Abuja


– Promotion of livelihood diversification among livestock-keeping households so that they can rely on alternative sources of income when the livestock enterprise fails;

g. Capacity building of the local pastoralists and farmers on improved grazing system and natural resources management;

h. Improving the participation of pastoralists in decision making, natural resources management, and access to healthcare and education;

i. Strengthening of existing traditional conflict resolution mechanisms in areas in which livestock-keeping competes with other livelihood activities, to ensure cooperative land use; and

j. Encouraging livestock insurance to provide compensation for lost animals.

Several other interventions of the GGW contribute also towards enhancing the grazing system and social transformation of the pastoralists. Since 2013, when the implementation of GGW programme in Nigeria commenced, about 159 solar powered boreholes for water sustainable water supply and over 100 animal water-drinking troughs for livestock have been constructed; about 514km of shelterbelt established to protect both grazing and farm lands against wind erosion; about 159ha community woodlot established to restore degraded lands; and about 800 improved woodstoves distributed to reduce deforestation.


Conflict over natural resources can be expected to heighten in the drylands of Nigeria and other parts of the country as populations expand and rainfall and temperatures become more erratic due to climate change. While measures to counteract the impacts of climate change and land degradation through sustainable management of natural resources in the drylands are essential in thinning the tensions, dialogue and agreement among farmers and herders about rules governing access and control over land and water resources have the propensity to enhance transparency and diminish tensions. Creating or strengthening the existing dispute resolution mechanisms particularly at community level could help prevent escalation of conflicts.

Soil and water conservation measures and promotion of other forms of sustainable land management (SLM) are also crucial to combating some of the main instigators of farmers-herders conflict. These measures can alleviate land pressure by increasing productivity of the existing arable lands and restoring the productive capacities of the abandoned and infertile lands. The GGW Programme has invaluable role to play in combating the drivers of these conflicts through all its intervention projects, which include among others dryland afforestation and reforestation projects, poverty alleviation and women empowerment initiative, water resources management promotion of dryland agriculture, sand dune fixation and oasis rehabilitation, rural infrastructure development, promotion of alternative livelihoods, capacity building of the affected people on sustainable land management techniques, and promotion of alternative sources of rural energy.