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Climate, livestock and the politics of resources

The effects of climate change are being felt around all the world, and Nigeria is no exception. We are experiencing heavier rains, warmer temperatures with…

The effects of climate change are being felt around all the world, and Nigeria is no exception. We are experiencing heavier rains, warmer temperatures with higher dry spells, more flooding, and scientists expect these trends to continue through this century.  

It is important to keep in mind that the impacts charted above are not mutually exclusive. They can occur in any combination or sequence; their effects are often cumulative; and they tend to fall hardest on the vulnerable populations and communities whose socio-economic marginalisation leaves them with fewer options to respond. Location also makes a big difference.  

These climate change impacts are virtually touching all aspects of life in Nigeria and are especially more challenging to our crop and livestock production, the elderly, the disabled, low-income people and other vulnerable populations. Longer, hotter months are exacerbating health conditions, heat stress, allergies and diseases carried by ticks and mosquitoes are becoming more common. 

Infrastructure – already stressed by age and heavy use – is being overtaxed by severe weather events, heat, and precipitation with greater impacts on industries such as agriculture that depend on natural resources. And because agriculture is linked to global markets, our economy is prone to climate-related disturbances well beyond our borders especially in the livestock sector that practises transhumance/pastoral form of production across the borders. 

Pastoralism/transhumance should be understood as a highly productive system of livestock rearing and an extraordinarily well-tuned ‘infrastructure’ for making the most of variable settings. Millions of people in hugely diverse groups around the world engage in pastoralism, as shown by a recent crowd-sourced mapping project. 

Pastoralists produce food and manage ecosystems, making use of variable rangelands that cover over half the land on Earth. Despite this, they are often dismissed as destructive, backward and in need of “modernisation”. Longstanding policy biases and negative narratives have shaped decision-making and investments in pastoral areas even though non-pastoral livelihoods and food production are often impossible in these areas. Much of this land and the many people that occupy these marginally productive areas are often being ignored in policy debates.  

Across regions, pastoralists live from variability, making a living in environments where agricultural and other livelihoods are difficult or impossible. As climate change and other forms of uncertainty intensify, pastoralists have unique knowledge and skills to respond flexibly and effectively in such turbulent conditions. They have vital lessons to offer for navigating highly variable environments that can guide new needed approaches informed by the pastoralists’ knowledge and practice to support livelihoods, to defuse ongoing conflicts, and to mitigate climate, food and social insecurities. 

It is this skill that they use to produce high-quality, nutritious animal products, which supply high-density protein and micronutrients on marginal lands to diverse populations through local sales and wider trade networks. It is however becoming difficult to produce these animal source products that are critically important contributors to the diets of poor, marginalised or under-nourished people due to the politics of grazing resources/lands. 

Even though pastoralism has co-evolved with rangelands, parklands, savannas, and open woodlands that are essential habitats and important sites of biodiversity, environmental degradation through climate change and rapid population growth coupled with policy bias have disposed the livestock farmers of grazing areas that have hitherto made it cheap to raise animals and their products readily affordable at the markets. 

Mobility that has been central to pastoral practices and a key part of their response to variability is now virtually impossible. Mobility varies by animal species, season and environment. It also leads to complex forms of land use. Understanding how mobility is central to adapting to uncertainty will offer important lessons for our mobile, networked world. Some pastoral groups are almost permanently on the move, while others only move short distances. Environmental policy should start looking at how development and environmental programmes can work together with pastoral communities to feed our ever growing population and address the challenges of climate change.  

Nigeria has well-articulated climate change policies, however attempts made right from 1938 after the three “Conferences of West African Agricultural Officers” on introducing fodder and browse plants have not had much success due to poor financing, sufficient Extension Service and policy inconsistency. The Land Use Decree of 1978 worsen the situation where it vested ownership of land on the state governments’.  

With the enactment of the Decree, forests have been deforested and grazing areas are converted to other uses to the detriment of the livestock herders and where they are not converted, they are deliberately allowed to decay with no infrastructures like watering points and improve pasture that will attract the settlement pastoral herds. The pastoralists/herders are thus compelled to move in search of especially grazing resources.  

This search for resources is now being barred by some states in the country through the enactment of draconian laws that are very hash on the pastoralists with the resultant effect of depleting the national herd size and even lives as was recently witnessed in Nasarawa State where herders were killed in Akwanja, Doma community while returning from Makurdi, the Benue State capital after paying fines totaling N 29 million to have their livestock released by the Benue Livestock Guards. As at last count, reports have it that the innocent pastoralists have suffered many such types of massacres (Keana – twice, Awe – once and Doma- twice) around that general area whose main attraction is nature’s endowed grazing resources. 

The Fulbe Global Development and Rights Initiative (FGDRI) has conveyed in a letter to the President, Muhammad Buhari that it has recorded over 600,000 pastoralists that were displaced from Benue state with over 300,000 cattle killed or rustled and over 3,000 herders murdered in cold blood with thousands more that sustained injuries. 

The above scenario is not auguring well for our ever growing population. Policy makers should take advantage of the nation’s nature endowed resources in boosting our productivity to sustain our large population rather than use it to sow discord. 


Ahmad lives at FMA2, off Yaya Petel Road, Fadamar Mada, Bauchi  masalihu@aol.com