What happens when farmers and herders clash over use of shared land? My Nigerian colleagues and I facilitated a dialogue between these two groups from Bole and surrounding communities (in Adamawa State) from September 28 to September 30, 2017.The dialogue involved 32 participants, 16 from each community including the state head of farmers and the national head of herders. This dialogue was facilitated by members of the Nonviolent Communication (NVC)/ Restorative Circles (RC) team using a modified restorative circles process.
The first day of dialogue consisted of the first phase of the process, Pre-Circles for both groups – the initial phase of which is where the participants explored together the challenges of dialogue and listening when groups are in conflict. The facilitators then explained the basic dialogue process as developed in restorative circles (by Dominic Barter) and the participants were given the opportunity to change or modify this process as needed. Then the two groups were separated and the participants in each group we’re given the opportunity to express their experiences in this conflict in a safe environment, and receive from the facilitators deep empathic listening for the pain and hurt that has come from this conflict. This gave all participants an opportunity to experience first-hand the quality of listening that they would later experience during the dialogue process.
The next day initiated the second phase of the dialogue process, the Circle. This phase consists of participants speaking to three different guiding questions, one at a time. This began with a face-to-face dialogue with each participant given the opportunity to speak to the first guiding question – ‘how they are right now as they think about the conflict and its consequences’. This question guided the dialogue for the remainder of the day. As each person spoke they chose someone in the circle to listen to them and this listener was invited from time to time to say back the deeper meaning or main message of what they heard the speaker say. Like this all those who chose to speak to this first question were heard.
In answering this first question a number of challenges that the farmers and herders are facing were revealed:
- Decreased grazing land for herds resulting from population and environmental pressures, but also as a result of grazing lands being sold and/or the government no longer maintaining grazing land
- Few/no remaining pathways to access the grazing land, again due to population and environmental pressures but also due to the selling of the route land and/or farmland encroaching on the routes.
- Herders from outside the area but especially from outside the country do not follow the local rules including respecting local farmers fields. The cattle of these herders eat the local crops and leave immediately without paying compensation. They sometimes harm resident farmers or their property before leaving.
- There is a fear of the police becoming involved because frequently when they are involved they do little to resolve the conflict but they demand money from both sides to even look into the conflict
- When the youth in either group is using drugs this often leads to increased conflict. For example, herders’ youth on drugs often respond with violence when questioned by farmers about destruction of farmland.
- Participants (especially farmers) in the conflict do not sense they were given a fair trial because the herds belong to Nigerians with enough resources to pay off local judges to end the court case
- Decreased use of the traditional leadership system (partly due to the way the government political system impacts this leadership) has resulted in decreasing stability, and decreased ease of reporting these conflicts to the traditional leaders
- Participants (especially herders) do not believe that the government cares for them or their problems, therefore they believe they have no choice but to take care of themselves alone, even if this means using violent means at times.
- Sometimes farmers in the conflict ask for more compensation than what the actual damages require
- Sometimes herders do not wait to go into the fields before the harvest is completed; sometimes farmers do not allow cattle into their stubble fields or they ask for money for cattle to eat the stubble field.
- Most of the herders do not have literacy skills making them vulnerable to people who extort money from them in different guises
At the end of this day participants were asked to speak about the impact of this first day of direct dialogue and their satisfaction with the process. Several participants spoke about how they have never sat together like this before, and their huge relief and deep gratitude for the support and the willingness of all the participants to have direct dialogue. One participant expressed it this way:
“This dialogue is so very sweet; it is like Fura da Nono to me. Fura da nono is a delicious drink in Nigeria, the Nono is fermented milk gotten from the herders while Fura is made from millet gotten from farmers, when Fura and Nono is mixed together it becomes a very delicious drink, that is how I see this dialogue.”
The second day began with completion of the first question; leading to participants speaking to the second question which invited them to express ‘what was most important for them that motivated their actions in this conflict’. A number of participants from both groups expressed how the main underlying motivation for them was to protect their livelihoods and thus to protect their ability to support and nurture their families lives and well-being. The final question of the second phase of the dialogue process lead participants to explore actions that they could take together that would address some of the challenges they all face.
See the annex – Agreed Actions Nigeria Farmers and Herders Dialogue – for the details of the actions chosen by the participants.
These actions focused on disseminating the experience and learnings from this dialogue to the nearby communities and to hold similar dialogs at the local level in order to address locally some of the above-named challenges. Another focus of the action plan is to bring this dialogue process to communities all over the state facing similar herder/farmer conflicts; and eventually to other parts of the country. The NVC/RC team will assist with this; and will additionally be following up through the local team member Al Amin Sahabo who will facilitate the third part of the dialogue – the Post-Circle – once the action plans have been completed. The Post-Circle enables the participants to evaluate their satisfaction and effectiveness of the actions they have taken to address the identify problems.
A new level of mutual understanding
The participants expressed very high levels of satisfaction regarding the quality of mutual understanding that resulted from the dialogue. As their smiling faces show they were extremely pleased with what they have accomplished and they expressed I lot of gratitude to each other and to their leaders, and to the facilitation team.
“What I have learnt through this dialogue cannot be quantified, if we have had this kind of dialogue earlier the conflicts in our communities would have been minimal. This dialogue is meant to create more understanding between farmers and herders and I think we have achieved that to a great extent.”
—Salihu Yerima (leader of farmers)
“My ideologies has changed through this dialogue, henceforth there will be improvement in the relationship between farmers and herders. We are going to share the knowledge we got here with those that are not here when we go back home.”
—Elisha Kefas (farmer)
“This dialogue gathered wisdom from two parties in conflict and the wisdom gotten from both sides is being used to promote peace. When we understand each other it goes a long way in helping to resolve conflicts.”
—Mohammed Yahaya (farmer)
For us the NVC/RC team, it was an honour and priviledge to witness first hand the transformation of longstanding conflict into mutual understanding and commitment to find ways of resolving the conflict satisfactorily for both parties. And so with them, we celebrate the miracle of the potential peaceful co-existence, emerging from this dialogue process.