Changing climatic conditions and human activity in the Sahel, such as over grazing, deforestation and the exploitation of soils for export-oriented crops have led to increased temperatures and contributed to desertification. This has pushed nomadic Fulani herders further south, which has brought them into competition for land and water with the settled Zarma agriculturalists. As a result, tensions between the two groups have risen, leading to sporadic episodes of violence.
Rising temperatures and enlargement of the desert
Various ecological and institutional factors contribute to the tendency for violence between Fulani and Zarma groups. According to the "pulse model", the Sahara shifts back and forth along a north-south axis, defining historical period of southward enlargement and contraction of the desert. At present the Sahara is in a period of southward enlargement, accelerated by climate change. A report from the United Nations Environmental Program in 2011 highlighted a 1-2 degree temperature increase in the Sahel regions of Niger and Mali between 1970 and 2006, which has affected water sources and soil quality (Furber, 1997; UNEP, 2011).
Migration and farmer-herder disputes
Rainfall patterns in this region are also affected by deforestation and overgrazing, leading to soil degradation and desertification. As a result, herders in the Sahel, such as the Fulani, are forced further south, where they frequently encroach on the farmland of other groups, especially in times of drought. Crop damages caused by herds and strained water sources then become a frequent subject of discord between pastoralists and sedentary farmers. Tensions can intensify and lead to violence. For example, following the drought and famine conditions in 1997, seven people were killed and forty-three injured as attacks were carried out between Zarma farmers and Fulani herders (Herrero, 2003; Furber, 1997).
Legal pluralism and weak institutions
This situation is further aggravated by the weak enforcement of land registration laws. Introduced in 1993, Niger’s Rural Code (Principes d’Orientation du Code Rural, Ordinance 93-015) regulates tenure rights, management of resources and resource distribution. The code allows the registration of customary rights but remains unclear about which rights are eligible for registration. Frequently overlapping claims and the simultaneous existence of private ownership and communal use rights render the application of the code difficult. Moreover, the Land Commissions mandated with the enforcement of the code at different administrative levels lack the authority and frequently also the capacities to address land disputes (USAID, 2010).
Introduced in 1993, Niger’s Rural Code remains the most important legislation in the government’s attempt to promote individualized land-use rights and increase land tenure security. Yet, the pre- existence of different and sometimes contradictory layers of land rights and the limited authority of Land Commissions undermine its effective enforcement. Local land disputes are seldom taken to court and mostly addressed by traditional resolution bodies, leaving considerable discretionary power to traditional chiefs and room for contestation and conflict. Less influential groups often lack the power to assert their rights to use particular resources. This situation is further complicated by the fact that formal land legislation traditionally disfavors pastoralist communities (USAID, 2010).
Improving land rights and pastoralist livelihoods
In order to circumvent this problem, aid agencies, such as Oxfam, have been working to strengthen pastoral organizations across the Sahel. Efforts include initiatives to improve pastoralist’s access to services and promote their participation in national decision making processes. As part of a three year project (2008-2011), USAID has focused on improving rights and access to land, pushing for administrative reforms in order to decrease the time and costs connected with land ownership, transfer etc., and assisting the government in reforming its land registration institutions (USAID, 2010). Moreover, national government policies, such as subsidies for herding and subsistence farming, have been introduced to mitigate losses of livelihoods caused by drought and desertification (Bamidele, 2011).
Development of infrastructures
The government and aid agencies have also targeted infrastructure to improve water access and food aid. In 2013, over a 6 month period, the EU alone donated more 184 million euros to address the water and food issues in Niger (European Commission, 2013). However, these policies have in some cases compound fragility. Supplying water in water-stressed areas has attracted more herders, thus further overwhelming water resources. It has been suggested by policy analysts that drought resistant crops and sustainable water usage should be emphasized, while greater integration of local conflict resolution would assist in preventing violent conflict (Bamidele, 2011).
Resilience and Peace Building
Greater integration of local conflict resolution would assist in preventing violent conflict.
Social inclusion & empowerment
Aid agencies, such as Oxfam and USAID, have supported initiatives to improve pastoralist’s access to services and promote their participation in national decision making processes.
Strengthening legislation and law enforcement
Niger’s Rural Code is the most important legislation for individualized land rights and land tenure security. However, it is not effectively enforced.
Coping with uncertainty
The national government has introduced subsidies for herding and subsistence farming to mitigate losses of livelihoods caused by drought and desertification.
Improving resource efficiency
Policies supporting the use of drought resistant crops and sustainable water usage should be emphasized.
Resources and Materials
- Bamidele, O. (2011). Climate change and conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa: Trends, challenges and policies sustainability
- European Commission (2013). More help for victims of Sahel crisis: European Commission increases humanitarian aid
- Furber, A.H. (1997). Fulani and Zarma tribes pushed into fights by desertification?
- Herrero, S.T. (2003). Desertification and environmental security. The case of conflicts between farmers and herders in the arid environments of the Sahel
- UNEP (2011). Livelihood Security Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in the Sahel
- USAID (2010). Property rights and resource governance: Niger