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How Climate Change Is Driving Conflict Between Fulani Herdsmen And Farmers In Ghana

The competition for land and water between nomadic herdsmen and sedentary crop farmers is crucial, and has the potential to escalate.

15/02/2017 04:53 SAST | Updated 15/02/2017 04:53 SAST
Pius Utomi Ekpei / AFP / Getty Images
This picture taken on February 3, 2006 shows a Fulani herdsman carrying a calf on his shoulder in Kano, northern Nigeria.

The Fulani herdsmen will surely return. The prospects of peace in many Sub-Saharan African countries are hinged on how they are able to manage the competing demands on land between agriculture, real estate and other land uses while taking into serious consideration climate change. This competition for land and consequently water is crucial and has the potential to escalate.

Historical analyses by climatologists, have indicated that there were strong causal relationships between global climate change and human conflicts across various geographical spaces in the past. According to a study by Solomon Hsiang, 2013, the magnitude of climate's causal influence on conflict incitement is substantial: the warmer climates got in the past, the higher the frequency of interpersonal violence and intergroup conflicts rose.

Hsiang predicts that, amplified rates of human conflict could be a critical impact of anthropogenic climate changes as global temperatures are expected to rise by 2 degrees celsius to 4 degrees celsius by 2050. These predictions are already manifesting in different parts of the world.

For instance, in Ghana, where I have had firsthand experiences of some of these conflicts, the situation would become worse. News headlines for a greater part of 2016 have been dominated by standoffs between nomadic herdsmen and sedentary crop farmers in different parts of the country.

There have been accusations of rape, murder and destruction of farmlands against the herdsmen, who are mostly Fulani. As a knee jerk reaction to these developments, many Ghanaians have called on government to drive the herdsmen out of the country. But will this be the panacea?

President of the Kwahu Traditional Council of Chiefs [one of the most affected areas], Nana Acheamfour Aseidu Agyemang explained that the standoffs between the farmers and the herdsmen in the area were seasonal. He indicated that driving the Fulani out may not be the solution. According to him, the problems heightened during the dry seasons, but with the onset of the rains, the Fulani herdsmen withdraw into the hinterlands, where there is usually very little crop farming activity.

Anyone who understands the lifestyle of nomadic Fulani herdsmen, knows that, they go wherever they can find fresh foliage and water.

Climate change affecting herdsmen activities

The primary cause of the standoff, which is climate change, has been missing in the media discourse on the subject. The traditional routes of the Nomads are penetrating further south into areas they hitherto do not venture. This is because the climate is changing and the Nomads are changing their routes with it.

Indeed, the history of the twentieth century was characterised by conflict deriving from a scramble for oil, but later this century and beyond, history will be written with the blood of men and women shed in the struggle for water. I dare say that water will become the oil of the future over which wars would be fought.

The world's freshwater reserves are quickly depleting; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Environmental Outlook to 2030 predicts that by 2030, 47% of the world's population will be living in areas of high water stress. (Water stress causes deterioration of freshwater resources in terms of quantity and quality).

Ghana has been experiencing varying degrees of water stress. The volume of water in the Densu River which supplies water to the treatment plant that serves the country's capital, Accra has been dwindling over the years. Within this same period, there had been water shortages in various towns across the country.

"Whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting over"

American author Mark Twain captured aptly the connection between water shortage and possible human conflict when he remarked "Whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting over". Historically, wars have been fought over water, and history is sure to repeat itself if we fail to learn from past events.

In the case of Ghana and Nigeria, the root cause of these conflicts is the dwindling availability of water and pasture to nomadic herdsmen, whose very existence depend on these. Research has shown that climate change is limiting the herdsmen's options for viable spaces to maintain their herder livelihoods.

Ultimately, climate change must be tackled heads on and from all angles. It must be remembered that, humans have a natural inclination to calm and peaceful coexistence, until it bothers on their survival.

Nomadic pastoralists who mostly resided in the semi-arid and arid zones of West Africa, have been compelled to abandon their traditional temporary transhumance routes between wet and dry seasons. When these nomadic herdsmen arrive in Ghana, they make their way as far south as the Accra-Keta plains, whereas a majority of them stay within the middle belt in the Brong Ahafo, Eastern and parts of the Ashanti Region, making these places conflict hotspots.

The herdsmen encounter and strike cordial relationships with several farming communities, however these relationships are becoming hostile.

Are there solutions?

President Nana Akufo-Addo during the campaign that elected him into office, suggested that Ghana could pick lessons from Brazil in managing the problem. He however failed to state specifically what he would do. But really, are there solutions? Yes there are; foremost, we need to start dealing with climate change as the ultimate and long-term solution to the problem.

The nonexistence of grazing reserves and dams, blockage of cattle routes and lack of security are the major triggers of conflict. I will recommend that, grazing reserves be provided in some parts of the country taking into cognisance the migration routes of the herdsmen, and the variations in vegetative cover across various seasons enforced by strict regulations.

We must find ways to integrate these herdsmen into the economy by providing dams and levying the herdsmen. Security must be extended to remote areas especially areas where the nomads operate, to avert or perhaps deter people from engaging in violent acts.

We must encourage already existing nomads in the country to embrace western education to encourage innovation and commercialisation. But ultimately, climate change must be tackled heads on and from all angles. It must be remembered that, humans have a natural inclination to calm and peaceful coexistence, until it bothers on their survival.