Climate change is not the only reason for conflicts between farmers and herders

August 12, 2014.  

Interview with ZEF junior researcher <link http: external-link-new-window external link in new>Kaderi Noagah Bukari about his field research in Ghana.

See photos of his research in ZEF's <link http: external-link-new-window external link in new>photo gallery.

What is your doctoral research exactly about?

I conduct my doctoral research on how conflict, environmental change, cooperation and social networks shape and influence relations between farmers and Fulani herders in Ghana. I especially focus on the role of climate change, since there has not been done much research on this topic so far.

So what are the main problems between farmers and Fulani herders in Ghana?

The Fulani are a nomadic people who mainly herd cattle. In Burkina Faso, Senegal, Niger and Nigeria most of the Fulani have integrated into non-nomadic life. However, in Ghana they are still nomad cattle herders - moving with their cattle in search of resources or herding the cattle of Ghanaians. Since the Ghanaian state has established compulsory education, farmers have difficulties with herding their own cattle when their children attend school. As a solution they often engage Fulani to do so. At the same time, the farmers consider the Fulani strangers and competitors for land and natural resources. Some even think that the Fulani aren’t Ghanaian citizens who are entitled to own land and natural resources. The Fulani themselves think that in some cases they have the right to buy land and natural resources, because they have been living in Ghana for many years and some of them are second-generation citizens. These different perspectives lead to a bunch of problems such as armed conflicts between farmers and Fulani - resulting in destruction of property or even deaths.

Are there conflicts between Fulani herders and farmers all over Ghana?

Well, conflicts have been reported in almost all regions in Ghana, but the level of severity varied. Ghana is roughly divided into two geographical areas: the northern and the southern part. Climate and vegetation are completely different in these two areas: In the north we have a savanna with a very short period of rain once a year; the south has rainfall twice a year. Therefore, in the southern part pasture and resources are available throughout the whole year. The northern part of Ghana is dry for half of the year during which resources for the herders and farmers are limited. I compared these two regions and chose Agogo and Gushiegu as my research sites. Agogo is in the Ashanti Region in the middle of Ghana – having lots of forest and natural resources, especially pasture and water bodies that are important for herders. However, Agogo became very notorious because the abundant resources (pasture, fertile agricultural land and availability of water) attracted many people including pastoralists and settler farmers from other parts of Ghana - a situation which triggered competition for resources and resulted in violent conflicts between the farmers and herders. There are no official statistics of people who have died in these conflicts but I did a count of about 21 people who died from 2009 up to 2013. Gushiegu is located in the north of Ghana, where conflicts normally do not get very violent. Yet, one of them got violent and 14 people were killed during in a time span of two days in December 2011. All the people who were killed were Fulani.

What kind of experiences did you gather during your field research?

It was really impressive and sometimes very difficult for me. The conflictual regions can be very violent and it is complicated for researchers to get information. When I arrived in the field and started my preliminary data collection I asked myself how to get in contact with these groups of people, especially the Fulani. They are rather secluded and separated from society and most of them live in forests. I needed to go deep into the forest to get in touch with these guys – which was quite a dangerous endeavor because they have arms.  Before they were going to provide me with information they had to trust me, because they could feel you are selecting information to give it to others. So I had to get into contact with the right people who were going to connect me with the cattle owners and the Fulani leaders. On one occasion, I almost got shot because a Fulani herder saw me and my assistant approaching with a motorbike and he felt he was in danger because all the time people come like that and attack or even kill them and take away their cattle. He got alarmed, took his firearm and was really aggressive to us. Finally, we had to leave without interviewing anyone. Also, a whole community in Agogo was on the edge of lynching us because they accused me of being a spy for the Fulani. Without the intervention and understanding of the chief and a farmer who knew me, it would have been a different story for me.

What could possible solutions for this conflict look like?

The actual problem is about people’s access to resources, changing dynamics of land use and increased agricultural production. Agricultural land use increases because of rising demand by a growing population.  Also, people turn to agricultural activities because of possible benefits. Thus, competition for land and other natural resources increases. Besides, we have a problem with property laws in Ghana. Currently, much of the land is owned by the chiefs or the state (we call this “dual land rights regime” a combination of the customary and state land tenure systems). The chiefs sell this land to people who can afford it, which often means to rich Fulani or other cattle owners. Often, farmers feel that they don’t get a fair share of the communal property for their agricultural production. Another solution could be introducing another type of animal herding. In Ghana, cattle are reared through the extensive system where the animals are not fenced. The animals move freely on fields where they can easily destroy people’s crops, possibly leading to conflicts. I had the opportunity to discuss this issue with the Ghanaian Minister of Agriculture, who told me that there is actually no comprehensive law on animal rearing in Ghana. The only law that exists is about restricting animals getting to homes and properties. The Minister says that the state is currently looking at revising the law and passing it on to parliament for approval. What we need is a more comprehensive policy for resolving these conflicts.

Why and when has climate change turned into a problem? How was the situation around 30 or 40 years ago?

When I looked into data sets of rainfall and temperature, I saw that rainfall patterns haven’t really changed over the past 40 years. But, rainfall distribution over the year has changed. In the past, rainfall started in April. Over the past decade, the onset of the rainy season was often delayed and by now it starts in June or July - causing problems for farmers and herders alike. If you ask farmers and herders about their perceptions they will tell you that indeed the climate has changed over the years. According to them, there are a lot of dry spells which reduce the amount of pasture and agriculture activities they are supposed to undertake. Another problem is that the water that is needed for the cattle to drink and for crops is decreasing. Importantly, what is mentioned in the literature is confirmed by the herders when you ask them their reasons for migrating from their countries: the first reason they will give you is because of climate change and the result of it –that there is no water and therefore no pasture in their part of the countries. They say they need to move to Ghana because there is more water and pasture there. The second reason they give is that in Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger and Mali there are lots of cattle and therefore the competition for resources is higher. We have a lot of Fulani with cattle, but in Ghana there are still fewer cattle than in the other countries. If you take a look at this issue from the perspective of farmers and herders they concede that climate change is affecting them, which results in conflicts between them. However, my research conducted so far concludes that climate change plays a minor role as a cause of the conflicts. For me, the conflicts between these two groups are caused by a combination of social and political factors such as increased and diversified agricultural production, resource abundance (in the case of Agogo), as well as group dynamics and ethnic and political mobilization.

Mr. Kaderi, thank you for this interview.

The interview was conducted by Katharina Zinn and Sebastian Eckert.

Mr. Bukari's research is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) via the German Exchange Service (DAAD).

See photos of Kaderi's field research in Ghana in ZEF's <link http: external-link-new-window external link in new>photo gallery.



Kaderi Noagah Bukari

Dr. Kaderi Noagah Bukari


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