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COVID-19: Fate of Pastoralists

This article originally appeared on Nextier SPD May 21, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed countries of the world to adopt multiple approaches towards containing the spread of the virus that has killed about 323,256 people as of 21st May 2020. In Nigeria, both the Federal and state governments have initiated varying degrees of movement restrictions and inter-state border closures to flatten the curve of the infections. The implication of this development has halted several businesses that require inter-state logistics and movements. Nigeria’s travel industry has lost about ₦180 billion due to the pandemic. The lockdown will affect pastoralists. Pastoralists in Nigeria are known for constant movement in search of pasture for their livestock. Over the years, violent clashes between farmers and herders over access to land has been recurrent. The intensity of the conflict is due to some factors. First, the receding Lake Chad pose a great worry to the teaming number of herders who need pasture for their livestock. Second, the armed conflict in the Lake Chad region is forcefully displacing people in the area coupled with other conflict issues in the Sahel region. These environmental and security factors are responsible for the southward migration of herders where they are in constant competition over access to diminishing resources with the sedentary farmers down south. The ensuing melee has led to numerous losses of lives and destruction of properties. In the face of inter-state lockdown, what is the fate of pastoralists? Nigeria is one of the few countries still practising open grazing system. The nature of pastoralism in Nigeria requires constant movement of pastoralists and their livestock. The inter-state lockdown will affect this nomadic herding – although unchecked entry points through the forests are still available. However, this will pose a serious challenge to a country trying to stop a raging virus from consuming its 200 million population.  Much worse, movement restrictions will confine pastoralists to areas where there might be a shortage of pasture, and increase the possibility of farmland encroachments. The resultant effect will lead to renewed clashes between farmers and herders. Coronavirus pandemic and the guidelines put in place are already posing serious challenges for people. There is no better time to talk about developing ranches for pastoral farmers in the country. The RUGA settlement initiative by the Federal government received mixed reactions and as such widespread acceptance was a problem. From the media and anecdotal reports at the time, the rejection was as a result of insufficient consultation and buy-in of key stakeholders across the country. The National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) intends to solve the issue of farmers-herder conflict amongst others. However, implementation has been a problem as open grazing is still the dominant form of livestock farming in Nigeria. The National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) has six pillars – conflict resolution, justice and peace, humanitarian relief and early recovery of IDPs, human capital development, cross-cutting issues and economic development. Open grazing associated with pastoralism in Nigeria has socio-cultural underpinnings; hence it requires much more than policy actions. It is vital to secure the buy-in of the key players in the sector. This includes pastoralists and their organisation, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), farmers groups and cooperatives, religious and traditional institutions. Proper sensitisation that communicates the benefits of the NLTP is essential in achieving full implementation and sustainability of the programme. The challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic can trigger renewed violence across the country.

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