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Nigerian government demarcate grazing reserves

Nigeria’s Federal Government has started marking out grazing reserves across Katsina and Bauchi states in northern Nigeria, as well as the capital Abuja, to curb often deadly clashes between farmers and nomads over pasture.

The three planned reserves, to serve about 15 million pastoralists, involve demarcating 175,000ha of grazing land, building veterinary service centres, and constructing settlements for nomads to use en route, at a cost of US$247 million, said the Director of livestock and pest control in Nigeria’s Agriculture and Water Resources Ministry, Junaidu Maina

The government is also demarcating a 1,400km livestock route from Sokoto state in the northwest to Oyo state in the southwest; and another 2,000km route from Adamawa state in the northeast to Calabar in the delta region, said Maina.

“The development of the grazing reserves and livestock routes has become imperative to avoid conflicts between pastoralists and farmers due to increased urbanization and rapid population growth,” Maina pointed out.

As pasture shrinks, disputes have increased, particularly in the north during the May to September rainy season, when herds invade farmland and eat crops.

Two days of fighting between farmers and nomads in June left three dead and a number of pastoralists’ settlements burned in Plateau state.

Maina said once built, the three grazing reserves would be managed by a team of pastoralists, conflict resolution committees and local government representatives.

Reasons for the clashes

In addition to population growth and continued felling of the forests for cooking fuel, northern nomadic communities are increasingly moving southwards as once-green pasture becomes desert, said Kabiru Yammama, environmental consultant with Nigerian NGO Green Shield of Nations

Just over a third of land that was cultivable 50 years ago is now desert across 11 of Nigeria’s northernmost states: Borno, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Yobe, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi, Yammama said.

The livelihoods of some 15 million pastoralists in northern Nigeria are threatened by decreasing access to water and pasture — shortages linked to climate change, according to Yammama.

Abubakar Sadiq, political science professor at Ahmadu Bello University, blamed traditional chiefs and local authorities, who control land allocation in rural areas, for the clashes, accusing them of allowing farmers to encroach on nomadic grazing land.

“Once the farmers paid some money the traditional and local authorities would allocate them some portion from the grazing field and gradually it was all eaten up,” Sadiq said.

Nigeria officially has 415 grazing reserves but only one-third are in use, while the remaining 270 have been built on or farmed, Maina said.

Muhammad Nuru, head of Fulani nomad union, the Plateau state branch of the Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, says the government’s move was positive. “We believe this will go a long way to resolve the nomad-farmer disputes. We are delighted with this government’s practical move.”

But some pastoralists say more has to be done to also protect existing livestock routes. “There is a need for northern state governments to complement this [federal government] effort by demarcating at least 18km of land for the cattle breeders as livestock routes,” said  Isa Abdullahi Jabe, secretary of Jigawa chapter of pastoralists union Myetti Allah

When Jigawa state – long a focus of clashes – demarcated 20km of livestock routes several years ago, conflicts dropped from an average of 20 per year to three in 2009, according to Dahiru Mohammed, Jigawa state director livestock services.

Nomads from Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Cameroon and Senegal all now profit from Jigawa’s cattle routes, Mohammed said.

Farming issues

However, Sani Nanono, head of the Kano chapter of All farmers Association of Nigeria, said : “Such measures can only be sustained if farmers are also considered in the equation.

“The soil is degraded, seeds are low-yielding and farmers need large swaths of land to grow more. This is at the root of the grazing reserve encroachment.

“Farmers need to be provided with new farming techniques, high-yielding crop varieties and other farming tools and incentives to uplift them from the traditional subsistence farming to modern mechanized farming,”

By Babatope Babalobi