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Conflict between rice farmers and cattle herdsmen in the Northern Province

…A threat to security

February 26, 2015 With Alusine Sesay & Ibrahim Jaffa Condeh

Due to its geographical proximity to Guinea and as a result of vast savanna landscape, the Northern Province attracts nomadic Fullah herdsmen. Almost all five districts within the province host nomadic Fullahs to the annoyance of local rice farmers who on several occasions have clashed with the nomads over grazing/farming land.

Quite recently in Kamakwie, a 17-year-old boy was shot dead by a nomadic Fullah in retaliation of his cattle being attacked and killed by local rice farmers.

Few years back, some residents at Gaumba village, very close to Kalangba in the Gbendembu-Ngowahun Chiefdom, burnt to ground an entire settlement of nomadic Fullahs. Many farmers were arrested and imprisoned in the regional capital Makeni, although they were later released.

The locals are opposed to the settlement of Fullahs simply because they are aggrieved that their rice farming is being disturbed by cattle owned by the nomads.

In Kabala, a local farmer reportedly went on a cattle killing spree after his son was beheaded by a nomadic Fullah who alleged that one of his cattle was killed by the boy’s father.

Some paramount chiefs in the north reportedly see cattle rearing as a source of revenue, thus locals allege they would always side with the nomadic Fullah tribesmen. Thus, the response from rice farmers has been violent clashes.

Because both conflict actors view local redress mechanism with suspicion, there is the propensity for violence to erupt as they struggle to undo each other.

Cattle rearing is an important component of agriculture in the north but there is no clear-cut policy by agriculture officials on how to maintain a peaceful co-existence between the nomads and rice farmers.

Cattle are reared through a semi-intensive system in which they are confined during the rains and allowed to graze in the grassland during the dries when farmers would be busy harvesting their crops.

A herd of cattle can cover miles per day while grazing with the ability to pillage an entire farm within hours.

From time immemorial, local farmers have always been aggrieved and have reacted with violence against Fullah herdsmen, as both sides value their rice and cattle in equal measure.

The reality though is that Fullah herdsmen own fewer land in the province, while their cattle graze over wide swathes of land, including those they do not own.

Therefore, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security should ensure that the seeming conflict between local rice farmers and Fullah nomads in the north does not transform into a full scale violence that would undermine peace and security in the country.

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