Farmer-herder clashes take a heavy toll in Benue state.

Author:Unah, Linus
Position::COUNTRYFILE: Nigeria
 
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Over a thousand have died and many more have been displaced in a conflict over resources in Nigeria's Benue state. Can the authorities find a workable solution?

Esther Joshua gazes at the crowd gathering in an open field in the centre of a camp for displaced people in Gbajimba in north-central Nigeria's Benue state. Around 24,000 people live in the camp which has yellow perimeter fencing and six blocks of classrooms. The International Committee of the Red Cross is distributing food aid to the people, and this is what Joshua and her family now depend on for survival.

Until January this year, 66-year-old Joshua had no reason to beg for food or watch people queue under the blazing sun to receive aid. "The killing and burning was too much and we had to run to this town," she says.

A deadly wave of violence between settled farming communities and semi-nomadic cattle herders, mainly from the Fulani ethnic group, has gripped Nigeria in the last six years, fuelling a cycle of tit-for-tat violence. A new report from the International Crisis Group says that the conflict has killed more than 1,300 people since January this year, and forced an estimated 300,000 people to flee their homes. Nigeria's central region, also known as the Middle Belt, is the hotbed of the killings and displacement.

At the heart of this simmering conflict is the battle for natural resources like farmland, water, stock routes and grazing grounds. Fulani cattle herders often roam with their cattle in search of pasture and water, especially during the dry season. Although grazing reserves were introduced in the mid-1960s to protect traditional grazing routes from crop farming and promote the settlement of pastoral nomads, this trend did not keep up with the rapidly growing population and the subsequent expansion of infrastructure and farmland for cultivation. Furthermore, Boko Haram's insurgency in the north-east region as well as desert encroachment and frequent drought in the arid north have forced herders to migrate southwards.

But their nomadic lifestyle often brings them into friction with mainly Christian farming communities, creating a vicious struggle for scarce resources and evoking religious and ethnic tensions since the herders are mostly Muslim. Farmers often complain that cows trespass into farmlands and damage their crops. Herders, in turn, say their cows are being stolen.

As the violence rages on, its impact on agriculture, livestock rearing and trade cannot be...

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