Climate Change Threatens End Of Trail For Niger’s Nomadic Herders

 

 

Ali’s sharp eyes scanned the heat-shimmered horizon, searching in vain for clouds.

It was noon and 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) on the ninth day of their quest to reach new pastures.

There was no tree anywhere, no shelter at all for his family, 27 sheep and six camels.

“We heard that the first rain has fallen in the north. That’s where we’re going,” the turbaned herder said, as he filled up a water bottle at the side of the road.

An arduous trail lay ahead: more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) across the arid wastes of southern Niger before the family reached their goal.

There at Bermo, they counted on joining thousands of other herders, spending a few months in verdant hollows on the edge of the Sahara, famous for their moist air, juicy grass and water.

The annual migration of the nomadic Fulani community — also called Peuls — is a vast caravan of herder folk that tails back to neighbouring Nigeria.

Women and children perched on donkeys already overburdened with bags of jute, plastic containers, mattresses and gourdes. Scrawny cows, sheep and goats trailed alongside in the baking heat, looking exhausted.

Vulnerable

Nomadic herders are among the world’s most exposed communities when it comes to the impact of climate change.

Higher temperatures, shifting winds and moisture levels that alter rainfall patterns, sandstorms, torrential rain — all can change the quality or even the location of pasture on which migrating herders depend.

This year, for the Fulani, has been relatively good.

The herdsmen were able to draw on stocks of animal feed to help them survive stress points, while timely rainfall on some areas of the migration trail helped tender young grass to grow.

But whether this respite endures is the big question.

Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, depends on farming, particularly herding, to provide a livelihood for 80 per cent of its population.

In addition to its vulnerability to climate change, the country is on the frontline of desertification — the equivalent of around 150,000 football pitches is lost each year.

Capricious

“The weather has become completely unpredictable,” said Djafarou Amadou, an engineer working for a group called the Association to Revitalise Herding in Niger (AREN).

“What we fear most are pockets of drought which take people by surprise when they least expect it.”

In 2018, more than 60,000 people, gathered in Bermo, celebrated when the rain began to fall as early as May.

But after a few weeks, the precious rain suddenly stopped. None fell for the next 30 days. The green plains turned yellow and the price of cereal fodder on local markets rocketed.

Rouada Sabgari, an elderly herder, said that he had to sell off his skinniest cows at rock-bottom prices just to survive — a mere 5,000 CFA francs ($8.4, 7.6 euros) per animal, compared with more than 200,000 francs at better times.

Every winter, Sabgari said, he camps nearby a well dug by his grandfather more than half a century ago, six kilometres (four miles) from the village of Bermo.

He is part of a Fulani clan called the Wodaabe, famous for travelling extremely long distances with their herds, from Niger to the Central African Republic via Cameroon and Chad.

They are also nicknamed the Mbororo, like the hardy strain of reddish, large-horned steers they drive.

There is little that Sabgari doesn’t know about survival and resilience.

But he said he wondered whether his children will be able to carry on the ancient herding traditions.

Successive droughts over the past 10 years have caused him to lose half of his herd.

Today, he only has 32 cows — a catastrophic loss of capital for him and his 25-member family.

In the Fulani culture, cattle are the measure of wealth and freedom. According to their beliefs, at the making of the world, the cow was created by God (Gueno) himself, using a drop of milk.

Lethal droughts

Seated on a mat in front of his tent, on a plain swept by winds and plastic bags snared on thorny bushes, Sabgari looked back on a life of hardship and brutal change.

“In the old days, we didn’t eat cereal or meat. The milk was rich and plentiful, it made us strong just by itself,” he said. “It’s impossible to do that today.”

Sabgari said the worst droughts, in 1974 and 1984, were turning points for Sahel herders. They lost half of their cattle.

“We were unprepared for it,” he recalled. “Everyone fled (south) to Nigeria. The animals were so thin and tired that we had to lift them to get them on their feet. Even the people were dying. There was nothing in markets.”

Prayers to God to raise this “curse” and bring rain went in vain.

After the big droughts, smaller ones followed — and food insecurity gradually became chronic, worsened by a jihadist insurgency and the displacement of the rural population it caused.

“Today, we have fewer animals and smaller harvests and more mouths to feed,” said the engineer Amadou.

Niger is the sixth poorest country in the world but has the planet’s highest fertility rate at more than seven children per woman on average.

The crunch

Dwindling harvests, relentless population pressure, climate uncertainty, pollution of underground aquifers, the rivalry between herders and farmers over access to land: all this is a deadly mixture.

In recent times, even in good years such as 2019, the phantom of hunger has never gone away.

Harvests and livestock production are in surplus and the price of millet, sorghum and corn has fallen.

Yet despite this, between June and August, 1.2 million Nigeriens were in a position of serious food insecurity, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Barka Azzey, 38, is a testimony to how herder families in Niger can be ground down by repeated crises.

His once-proud herd of 40 cows dwindled from hunger and diseases, leaving only scrawny beasts that gave no more milk and were unable to have calves.

It was time to quit.

“We didn’t have enough to eat, to buy clothes, so I took my family and we went to live in the town,” Azzey said, his voice betraying sadness.

He became a watchman, living with his wife Rabi and their five children in the grounds of a wealthy trader in Maradi, Niger’s second-largest town.

On the floor of his hut, three thin chickens rested in the shadow of a satellite dish where clothes were stretched out to dry.

Azzey earns a meagre 20,000 CFA francs ($34, 30 euros) a month, and to feed the children has to buy food on credit at the local grocery store.

“There’s nothing good in towns. Just despair,” Azzey said.

He is fixated by one idea — “to earn enough money to rebuild my herd and get my old life back.”

Exodus

Azzey is just one of innumerable young Nigeriens who have turned their backs on the harsh life of herding to try their luck in the cities.

In cities across West Africa, you can see these young men hustling for a few banknotes, offering to shine your shoes, sell you a SIM card for your phone or some medicinal remedy.

Many become caught in the poverty spiral and have no way out.

AREN, the British charity Oxfam and other NGOs have set up programmes in rural areas that seek to stem this human haemorrhage.

One such scheme is a dairy, set up in the village of Bermo, which employs 300 people, mainly women, to produce yoghurt and cheese that are then sold at the local market.

Help such as this has been a boon to Hadiza Attahirou, 39, who for 15 years went to Mali or Senegal to work for a few months to earn a little money.

She received two cows under a help scheme — a small income, but a lifeline.

“I can ease the burden for my husband when he goes off with the herds and pay my daughter’s school fees,” she said.

Others have benefited from micro-credit to buy farming tools or sewing machines.

Store the good times

The wheel of time turns, in the Fulani year, to Gerewol — a grand festival to mark the end of the rainy season.

In Fulani folklore, this is a time to breathe and take into account life’s blessings. Food is plentiful and the flanks of the animals are fat.

Nomadic clans arrive in Bermo from across the Sahel. Bonds of friendship and love are renewed. Weddings and births are celebrated.

The ageless rituals of courting are renewed once more, as men — their faces painted, their hair in locks and bodies decorated with magical charms — dance for the women.

Like their animals who have grown fat on the grass of Bermo, the Fulani will also stock up on this moment.

Tomorrow, they will set out once more on the trail.

They will draw on memories of these days of comradeship, love and fun — a precious fund to sustain them in the perils that lie ahead.

Before them lies furnace-like heat. Grass that will unexpectedly wither and die. Water holes that become parched.

And they will be doomed to walk further and further, in search of those elusive clouds.

West Africa’s Fulani Nomads Fight Climate Change To Survive

A Fulani herdsman guides cattle in the area surrounding Bermo, on June 27, 2019.MARCO LONGARI / AFP

 

 

They are one of the last great nomadic peoples of the planet, a community of some 35 million people scattered across 15 countries in West Africa, from the dusty Sahel down to the lush rainforests.

The Fulani are pastoral herders who migrate with their cattle, following the pendulum swing of the seasons.

But their age-old way of life is under threat.

Booming populations have intensified conflicts for land, religious extremism has shattered social bonds and climate change is driving them on an ever more desperate search for pasture.

While they are well used to the extreme conditions of this often inhospitable region, today they face threats from longer and more severe droughts to greater rain and flooding.

Niger, a country in which more than 80 percent of the population lives off agriculture, is at the forefront of the climate emergency.

The Fulanis there have seen their herds decimated by droughts and hunger in recent decades — and this decline is gaining speed.

Every year an area of over 1,000 square kilometers (380 square miles) is lost to the spreading desert and soil erosion.

The sixth poorest nation in the world also has the highest birth rates with women on average bearing seven children.

This fuels a vicious spiral that has seen demographic pressures and the struggle for resources intensify competition with farmers for land.

Many Fulani have had to abandon herding and settle down in towns in a bid to feed their families.

They have become security guards or petty traders as huge numbers of people have flowed to Niamey and other capitals in West Africa.

It is no surprise in this context that community elders speak of a “curse”.

Cows represent far more to the Fulanis than just a source of revenue: they are a symbol of freedom and a way of life to be defended ferociously.

The Fulanis: Spotlight On Mali’s Jihadist Insurgency

 

For centuries, the Fulani people trod the paths of the Sahel with their cattle, largely unnoticed by the rest of the world.

Today, the world’s attention has turned to this ancient herding community as many of its members have been ensnared in a deadly jihadist insurgency spreading from Mali’s restive north to its centre.

In the Mopti region, the Fulani — also called Peuls — are the biggest ethnic group and the most numerous recruits to Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist cells, such as the notorious Katiba Macina.

The group’s Fulani leader Amadou Koufa has called on his “brothers” throughout West Africa to join his holy war against “non-believers”.

READ ALSO: Nigerian Contemporary Art Booms And Prices Soar

The deep poverty and isolation of the Fulani people have made many vulnerable to the siren call of the jihad — an appeal that today is disseminated at lightning speed on WhatsApp and Facebook.

The herders’ prominent role in the jihadist revolt has ignited long-standing rivalries, based on access to land, with farmer groups.

The conflict has turned a once-peaceful tourist region into a no-go area for visitors, its highways sown with roadside bombs, and swathes of the countryside are littered with abandoned burned-out villages.

Hundreds have been killed and the situation is getting worse by the day — the number of people who have fled their homes in Mopti has quadrupled over the last year to 70,000, according to the UN.

The violence in Mali, in turn, has spread to neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso, stirring anxiety among the coastal states of West Africa that they could be next in line.

RUGA Settlement An Attempt To ‘Fulanise’ Nigeria – Jonathan Asake

 

A member of the middle-belt forum, Mr. Jonathan Akase says that the proposed Ruga Settlement is an attempt geared at fulanizing Nigeria. 

While speaking on the subject matter as a guest on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, Mr. Akase said the middle-belt has rejected the scheme in totality, arguing that the programme is not necessarily the solution to the herders-farmers crisis.

He said, “The truth is that this programme was announced the first time and was widely reported when the permanent secretary Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development made an announcement to the effect that the Federal Government was proposing to establish RUGA settlement all over the country, starting with 12 pilot states the way he put it. And he went on to say that it is an initiative of the  National Economic Council.

READ ALSO: Benue Assembly Condemns Implementation Of Ruga Settlement

“That announcement will make one cast back on the desperation of the government of the day taking one ethnic group and pursuing programmes to benefit and favour a particular ethnic group, the Fulanis”.

Mr. Akase said that previous attempts by the government to set into motions various plans that will favour the Fulani have in the past met with steep opposition.

He argued that the real people who need to be settled and catered for are “those unfortunate children of God in the Northeast that actually have been displaced from then ancestral lands”.

Miyetti Allah Blasts Fulani Lawmakers Over Failure To ‘Defend Their People’

 

The Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore has taken a swipe at Fulani lawmakers in the National Assembly for failing to protect the interest of the people from their tribe.

Secretary-General of the socio-cultural group, Mr Saleh Al-Hassan, faulted the legislators on Friday in a telephone interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily.

“Our elites have failed to come out and represent,” he said from Kaduna. “Our National Assembly members that are of Fulani background are there; they are just there collecting money.

“They can’t defend their people, they don’t want to talk and say the truth. No ethnic group will wake up one and expel the pastoralists from Nigeria because they are Nigerians,” Saleh added.

We Warned Ortom Not To Proscribe Open Grazing ‘Overnight’ – Miyetti Allah
(File) Secretary-General of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Mr Saleh Al-Hassan, speaks about the herdsmen-farmers crisis in Benue State on Sunrise Daily on January 11, 2018.

 

He maintained that the herdsmen-farmers crisis which has claimed hundreds of lives, according to Amnesty International, is politically motivated.

The secretary-general cited as examples, the latest of such in which at least 100 persons were killed in Plateau State and the previous incidents in Benue and other states.

He condoled with families of deceased in the Plateau killings “whether herds or farmers”, distancing the attack from members of his group.

Saleh insisted that the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore is a peaceful organisation, and there is no member of the group who carries arms.

On the Plateau killings, he claimed the crisis was being sponsored by some politicians to divert attention from the corruption offences they were charged with.

While the allegations have not been proven to be true, the secretary-general alleged further that the security agencies “are aware but the question is are they capable of stopping the conflict?”

“We have armed militia that will block highways, kill Fulani people, roast hundreds of cattle in a terrain like Plateau State that is not like a rainforest or where you have trees. These things are purely political like the anti-grazing law in Benue,” he claimed.

Asked about the way forward, Saleh said, “What is needed now is for the security agencies to arrest the perpetrators of this crisis and their sponsors and let us stop the pretence.”

“The agenda to exterminate the Fulani people on the Plateau is not going to work because they are not aliens; they are indigenous in that place,” he insisted.

It’s Wrong To Link Killings To Clashes Between Fulani, Other Tribes – Buhari

It’s Wrong To Link Killings To Clashes Between Fulani, Other Tribes – Buhari
File photo: President Muhammadu Buhari

 

President Muhammadu Buhari says it is wrong to attribute the killings in the country to clashes between Fulani and other tribes, as the conflict between farmers and herdsmen has a long history.

Speaking during an interview with Aliyu Mustapha of VOA in Washington D.C., he noted that those making such allegations know that the herdsmen only carry sticks.

The President, who said the killings have nothing to do with religious or ethnic clash, also condemned reports that Christians were being killed in Nigeria.

“It is wrong to say the conflict is between Fulani and Tiv or other tribes, like in Taraba. What of Zamfara, where more people were killed than in Taraba and Benue put together?” he questioned.

“People need to understand that it is mischief that makes people bring in religion or ethnicity.”

President Buhari, however, highlighted some of the measures being taken by his administration to curb the menace of insecurity in the country.

He revealed that he has ordered the police to recruit 6000 more personnel and that they should recruit across the 774 local government areas in the country.

The President admitted that his administration has yet to conclude what it is doing as insecurity remains a problem, including the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East.

He said, “The worst thing that Boko Haram is doing now is to get small girls, hypnotise and put explosive devices on them to go and detonate in mosques, churches, motor parks and markets and kill people.

“However, they are not able to take over any territory now, although, even today, I read in some newspapers that Boko Haram (terrorists) are still holding territory.”

President Buhari maintained that although the insurgents may be hiding somewhere in Sambisa Forest in Borno State, the military has prevented them from coming out.

Amid the calls for the creation of state police in the country, he said he wants the Nigerian Constitution to be consulted first and see what it says whether or not it should be allowed.

The President, however, stated that he wasn’t convinced yet and wondered how state governments that were unable to pay workers’ salaries would run a police organisation.

Benue Lawmakers Seek Prosecution Of Miyyeti Allah Leader

The Benue State House of Assembly has called on the Federal Government to immediately arrest and charge the Secretary General of Miyyeti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Mr Sale Alhassan for treason following the passage of the Open Grazing Prohibition Bill on May 4.

The leadership of the Miyetti Allah Association were said to have incited its members to rise against the law even after 12 people were killed by the opposition on May 7.

The call further renewed fears amongst Benue indigenes including the lawmakers who are now calling for stiff penalties.

The Deputy Majority Leader of the House who spoke to Channels TV, condemned the move, saying the House will do all it can to bring the perpetrators to book.

“As for now, this is not the time for anybody to rise up in any way and incite by saying we are going to mobilise against people; it is highly inciting and I think it is a treasonable felony.”

At the end of an emergency plenary session, the Speaker of the House read out the resolutions after various contributions.

“The Assembly calls on the Inspector General of Police to immediately effect the arrest of Sani Hassan and Abdulahi Bello for treasonable utterances capable of causing crisis in the state.”

Governor Bello Uncovers Plot To Cause Crisis In Niger State

Niger State, Fulani, Abubakar BelloNiger State Governor, Abubakar Bello, says he has uncovered a well-planned attempt to use religion and tribal lines to create disaffection in the state by some individuals.

The governor, who made the assertion  on Wednesday in Minna, urged the people of the state to be at alert.

He also briefed reporters on his ‘on the spot’ assessment of the recent Fulani and Gbagy clash at Sabon Daga in Bosso Local Government Area of the state.

“What happened at Sabon Daga was very unfortunate and avoidable (because) I can’t imagine how hips of yam can lead to loss of lives and property.

“Those behind this devilish act will soon be exposed. I urge you all to desist from using inciting statements that are capable of instigating crisis in our communities.

“I am aware of a well-planned attempt to use religion and tribal lines to cause disaffection in the state, we know them.

“They are the elites who are using illiterates to their advantage while their own children are busy watching television and laughing at home. They should have a rethink,” he warned.

Governor Bello assured the residents that we would leave no stone unturned in curbing the situation.

He said his administration would inject more funds into security in the next three months while confirming an external influence in the crisis.

The governor lamented that the monies meant for the development of the state were being spent on providing succour to affected victims of various clashes.

Southern Kaduna Crisis: Troops Nab Two Persons With Ammunition

Southern Kaduna Crisis: Troops Nab Two Persons With AmmunitionTroops deployed to southern Kaduna have arrested two persons in possession of ‎live ammunition in Kagoma area of the state.

The General Officer Commanding One Mechanised Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Adeniyi Oyebade, disclosed the arrest to reporters in the state in northwest Nigeria.

General Oyebade has also ordered the immediate deployment of troops to Ninte, a community that has been ravaged with renewed attacks in Jema’a Local Government Area.

The ammunition was discovered when two middle-aged men, who were driving a maroon coloured Volkswagen vehicle through a road in the front of the Chief of Kagoma’s Palace were flagged down but declined. This led to their suspicion and interrogations by soldiers on watch.

Luck, however, ran out on them, as the GOC and the troops were coming out of the palace after peace talks with the elders to address the killings.

The suspects were apprehended and whisked away to the military camp in Kafanchan for further questioning.

While assuring residents of the area that troops were on ground to restore peace to without taking side, General Oyebade appealed to both the Fulani communities and locals not to cause a religious crisis.

He particularly warned the youths not to allow anyone, especially politicians use them to achieve their agenda by causing crisis at the detriment of their future.

Earlier, the traditional ruler of Kagoma Chiefdom, Paul Zakka Gyon, had said “the recent attacks have connection to the inability of the natives displaced from Ninte to return home.

“(They are) requesting that troops be deployed to restore confidence of the displaced natives to return home and stabilise the community before security agents are withdrawn”.

Meanwhile, normalcy has returned to Kafanchan and Goska, the villages that lost at least 10 lives after the bloody coordinated attacks on December 24 and 25.

Many Feared Dead In Taraba Ethnic Clash

plateau_violence_mainAn unconfirmed number of persons have been killed and many still missing in an ethnic clash between Tivs and Fulanis in Taraba State.

The clash occurred in Sabon Gidan village of Dan Anacha town in the northern Nigerian state.

Although the spokesman for the police in the state, David Misal, could not confirm the number of persons killed, there were reports that over 20 persons may have been killed.

Mr Misal told Channels Television that the police had deployed officials to the area to restore peace and said he would give more information about the crisis afterwards.

Sources claim the crisis started on Saturday when two corpses of Fulanis were found killed in a bush. The situation, thereafter, triggered reprisal attacks on Tivs.

Ogun Farmers, Cattle Breeders Agree On Peace Deal

Ogun Farmers, Cattle Breeders Agree On Peace DealFarmers in Ogun state and the national executives of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, have reached a peaceful agreement on how to operate effectively and peacefully in the state.

The meeting which was held in Abeokuta, the Ogun State Capital, had the National President of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Muhammad Kirowa, the Chairman of the South West Farmers forum, Segun Dasaolu, representatives of the state government and security agents in attendance.

At the end of the peace parley which lasted for over four hours, members and leaders of the two sides agreed that there is no alternative to peace and harmonious relationship between the cattle breeders and their host communities in the state

“In Ogun state as much as possible, we want to use all humanly possible means to make sure that peace reigns supreme and that is why the national president of the Miyetti Allah is here.

“The state cannot do without the Fulani, we must live together, but we must live together without disturbing each other” chairman of the southwest farmers’ forum said.

As a further step towards ensuring the much needed peace, the Ogun state government represented by a director in the state Ministry of Agriculture, announced some of the measures being put in place by the government.

“The state governor has directed that security agencies should always and continuously investigate and prosecute the criminal aspect of the cattle menace issue.

“Currently I want to say in good authority that in a bid to solve the challenge, the governor has approved the renovation of disease control post, and five additional quarantine stations at every entry points into the state,” the director said.

Speaking with journalist at the end of the meeting, the committee’s president promised the determination of the association towards promoting peace among its members and their host communities

“Because of the peace in Nigeria, we do not want any problem in any part of the country. Everybody has a role to play in this direction, as Miyetti Allah national leaders, we do not want any problem with Yoruba because we have been together all along and we will not allow any criminality to divide us.

“We have come to dialogue with the farmers, security agencies and government to avoid the perennial crisis that do occur,” he concluded.

In recent times the relationship between cattle breeders and their host communities has been characterized by hostilities which has resulted in many deaths, while property worth millions of Naira have been lost in the same manner.

Bishop Yahaya Kicks Against Grazing Policy

Timothy Yahaya, GrazingThe Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Kaduna, Right Reverend Timothy Yahaya, has kicked against the Federal Government’s proposed grazing reserves and routes for Fulani herdsmen across Nigeria.

He made his opinion on the issue known at the 20th Synod of the Saint Christopher’s Anglican Church in the Kaduna State capital in northwest Nigeria.

On the state of the nation, the Anglican Bishop said that the creation of grazing routes and reserves for herdsmen would create more security problems than solution.

He urged the Federal and state governments to phase out cattle routes and grazing reserves.

To encourage herdsmen who are in the business to make profit, the Bishop advised the government to establish ranches within their localities in line with global best practices.

Bishop Yahaya equally urged the Federal Government to do everything within its powers to arrest and disarm the herdsmen that have been terrorising innocent citizens across Nigeria.

While voicing his support for the Federal Government’s anti-graft war, the Anglican Bishop stressed that the war should be fair to all irrespective of political or ethnic affiliation.