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Once upon a time, nomadic herdsmen and farmers co-existed and lived happily. That time is no more. The Fula or Fulanis are the world’s largest pastoral nomadic group and are massively spread across countries in West and Central Africa. A large portion of the Fulanis are nomadic, herding cattle, goats and sheep. But how did this ethnic group rise to the rank of fourth deadliest known terrorism group on the 2015 Global Terrorism Index?

For many years, Fulani herdsmen have been known to travel across vast dry grasslands in search of forage crops and water for their herds.  Why then are Fulani herdsmen and farmer crisis on the increase? According to Roger Blench, a leading expert in the area, conflicts between pastoralist and farmers are as old as agriculture itself! However, prevalence of tsetse flies and low settlement densities helped to keep clashes in check. This is until the 20th century where advancement in veterinary medicine helped to increase disease resistance for livestock and provide treatments for diseases. These advancements rapidly resulted in increased herd sizes. Simultaneously, advancements in human healthcare, adoption of technology, urbanization and mechanized agriculture also led to increased pressure on arable land. Thus, the growing livestock population and the corresponding depletion of natural fodder stocks in the northern part of the country continues to drive herdsmen outside their traditional ecological zones in the Sahel and Savannah to the lush ever-greens in the central and southern zones.

Many attribute the clashes to the fact that pastoralists remain largely misunderstood and marginalized. Their migratory patterns affords little opportunity for interaction, talk less of integration with other communities. Their close knit family systems and strong attachments to traditional values also contribute to the inability of others to form lasting bonds with this group. Thus, although in 2013 deaths attributed to the herdsmen-farmer crisis was recorded as 80, this number had spiraled upwards dramatically to 1,229 by 2014, leaving many orphans, widows and internally displaced persons on its tracks. The perennial conflict between herdsmen and farmers that was hitherto confined to the middle-belt (central) states like Benue, Taraba and Kogi have since spread like wildfire across the country. Mass killings as a result of these conflicts have been reported in States like Delta, Enugu and Oyo in the south, and in Adamawa, Zamfara, Nassarawa and Plateau in the north.

Based on the 2011 Agricultural Sample Survey conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, and a 2.1% annual growth rate, Nigeria is estimated to have 22 million cattle with the potential to attain 60 million by the year 2050. At an average of ₦150,000.00 (Nigerian naira) per head of cattle, the country’s cattle population is currently valued at 3.4 trillion or US$16.2 billion. This is not a negligible figure or share of the nation’s wealth. In addition, these cattle contribute about 30% of the country’s meat consumption and make vital contributions to national food security, environmental sustenance and economic stability.

However, livestock herders appear in the news only for the wrong reasons, They are persistently accused of violent attacks, armed robbery, cattle rustling, killings, damage to crops, rape, theft and other vices. Their travel patterns also make them prone to conflicts with forestry and wildlife park officials as they tend to encroach into protected forests and other conservation areas. Their herds are often a nuisance to fishermen as they damage fishing nets and pollute ponds, and they interfere with activities of miners, road construction and other property developers.

Until recently the Pastoralists were known to have no political or civic attachment to land. Like their herds, they are blind to all borders and only pursue suitable forage and water. Many believe that like air and rain, land should neither be owned nor restricted.

The unbreakable bond between the herdsman and his herd

On the other hand, agriculture is the country’s mainstay with up to 70% of its population engaged in farming. It also makes about 24% contribution to national GDP, second only to crude oil. Small-scale, resource-poor farmers occupy between 0.1 to 5 hectares of farmland using mainly low-level traditional technologies to grow food crops like cassava, yam, rice, groundnuts, melon, pepper, onions, vegetables and so on, and cash crops including cocoa, rubber, cashew, oil palm, cotton, etc. Most agricultural activities are rain-fed with farmers engaged mainly in crop production, livestock rearing, fisheries and post-harvest activities. So while the herdsmen are an important source of animal protein, the farmer still provides a wider variety of food options. According to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, women constitute 75% of the farming population in the country and form the bedrock of the nation’s informal sector. This in turn implies that any impact on farmers and farming activities have direct consequences on women. Unlike the herders, farmer groups often have deep cultural, ethnic and political attachments to land.


So what has changed?…



Climate Change refers to some observable variations in the climate system that are attributable to human (anthropogenic) activities, especially those that alter the atmospheric composition of the earth ultimately leading to global warming – an increase in average global temperatures. This is caused by increases in greenhouse gases especially Carbon Dioxide (CO2) through the burning of fossil fuels (oils, natural gas and coal), burning of wood, wood products and solid wastes, raising of  livestock and the decomposition of organic wastes in solid waste landfills; combustion of solid wastes and fossil fuel in industrial and agricultural activities; bush burning and deforestation.  The 4th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report confirms Climate Change and predicts that Africa will be one of the worst hit by the effects of this Change. It notes that ‘if greenhouse gases continue to be emitted unchecked, the climate system will change significantly in the 21st century and that extreme climate phenomena and increasing sea levels will have adverse effects on natural and human systems.’ In addition, there is scientific consensus that the earth’s average temperature has risen between 0.4oC and 0.8oC in the last 100 years.

While Climate Change is often viewed in relation to environmental degradation and natural resource scarcity, little attention is paid to its role in inducing conflicts and crisis. Some impacts of Climate Change and how they fuel resource conflicts and crisis include:


As a result of Climate Change, temperatures are rising resulting in increased loss of moisture evaporating from land and water, especially in northern Nigeria. So, there is less water left behind in our ponds and streams for human and livestock use forcing herdsmen in search of water.  Agriculture, hydro power generation are also affected by the decline in water supply. Weather patterns are also changing meaning that even areas that experienced steady rainfall in the past are now experiencing more unpredictable and extreme precipitation. Nigeria is still highly dependent on rain fed agriculture and any fluctuations has significant negative impacts on the welfare of millions of its populace.


With the grounds parched and unable to hold water, the soils cannot absorb the rains resulting in floods. This in turn negatively affects crop farming, harvests and livestock production especially in the northern part of the country. Floods can also result in damage or loss of homes, contamination of drinking water sources, loss of livestock and farmlands. It is also a major cause of population displacements. In July, 2012, the country experienced its worst flood in 40 years resulting in 363 deaths and displacement of over 2.1 million people. About 7 million people within 30 of the country’s 36 States were affected by the flood, with estimated damages of ₦2.6 trillion.

Heat Waves

A hotter planet means an increase in heat waves, in terms of frequency and intensity. As a result of Climate Change, 14 of the 15 hottest years ever recorded have occurred since the year 2000. Since 1950, the frequency, duration and severity of heat waves worldwide have increased. Hotter days and nights are not only hotter but more in number. Borno State in north-east Nigeria recently recorded its highest temperature of 47oC.


Livestock in search of pasture

Drying Lake & Rivers

The lake Chad in north-east Nigeria, and surrounded by Chad, Cameroun and Niger, is now less than a tenth of its size, as a result of Climate Change. The lake is economically important and provides water to over 68 million people. It is the largest lake in the Chad Basin

Recently, the Government of Nigeria also stated that River Niger is also drying up. This could have significant social, environmental and economic impacts on the many communities that rely on the River for their livelihood.

Agriculture & Food Security

A vast portion of Nigeria’s food and cash crops depend on rainfall for growth. Usually, crop that require a lot of rain are grown in the south while those that can thrive with less rain are grown in the north. Uncertainties and variation in rainfall patterns have significant adverse effect on the nation’s agriculture and food security. As a result of Climate Change, pests and diseases are also migrating and causing damages to crops and livestock. Irregular and unpredictable rainfall and sunshine could contribute up to 2.5% decline of harvest per annum for rice, maize, cassava, melon, sorghum and yam. As a result of reduced sunshine hours, annual yields of oil palm, cotton, cocoa, oranges, cashew and coffee can decline by 5.5% following flower and fruit abortion trends. Root and tuber crop harvests are also negatively impacted by flooded farmlands and wetlands with estimated losses of about 0.25 million metric annually. Declining agricultural productivity in turn leads to unhealthy environmental practices like intensive agricultural land use, overgrazing, bush burning, excessive extraction of fuel wood and other biotic resources. Women and children are particularly the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as they are often the poorest and depend largely on subsistence agriculture.

Incidence of Disease & Pests

Pest and disease incidences are becoming varied and more uncontrollable as a result of Climate Change. They contribute to decline in crop harvest especially for vulnerable crops like cowpeas, tomatoes, pepper and groundnuts. Climate Change also poses a major public health threat including rise in respiratory diseases as a result of increasing levels of pollutants, more widespread levels of Malaria within the population, skin ailments, heat stroke and loss of productivity.

Livestock Production

The activities of herdsmen are also greatly affected by Climate Change. Although climatic variations in the country determine the distribution of livestock, availability of natural grasses is increasingly becoming limited and insufficient especially in the dry season. In general, climatic stress reduces livestock feed, water intake and grazing time leading to decreased growth and productivity. In addition, high temperatures hinder livestock production such as poultry, sheep, goat, cattle and piggery through retarded reproductive cycles, and reduced meat and milk outputs. An estimated 15% increase in mortality per annum is experienced in poultry, piggery and rodentary production systems. Under the influence of Climate Change impacts, there has also been an increase in the incidence of animal diseases and pests like PPR, mange, foot rot, etc that cut investment profits in livestock production by 20% per annum. Increasing number and frequency of global pests and diseases like avian influenza and Swine fever affect livestock like poultry and piggery thereby cutting production by up to 25% yearly.


Fishing activities take place across the country in lakes and rivers. About 40 million Nigerians are involved in fisheries and contribute about 0.85 million metric tons out of the nation’s 2 million metric ton national fish demand. However, according to Field Survey of Coastal Fisheries Activities, a decline in catch per unit effort of 0.85 to 0.45 metric tons/fisher/year was recorded between the years 2004 and 2008. Other effects of Climate Change in this area include flooding of fish ponds in wetlands and farmlands, erosion of coastline beachfront (particularly in the nation’s economic capital, Lagos State), deposition of beach sands and mud deposition in coastal areas.


Current estimates show that Nigeria loses about 350,000 hectares of land annually to desert encroachment. The Sahara desert is advancing southwards, at a rate of 6% or 1,400 square miles each year, eating up valuable land resources that was hitherto used for agriculture and other economic activities, and sometimes swallowing up entire villages. This growing rate of desertification has led to demographic displacements across 11 States in northern Nigeria and is responsible for losses of about US$5.1 billion annually. Some forecasts show that up to two-thirds of northern States like Sokoto, Yobe, Zamfara, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Kebbi, Bauchi, Borno and Gombe could turn into deserts of semi-deserts within the century.

Pastoralists and livestock wander into farms, streets and cities

Loss of Livelihoods

Climate Change not only affects direct livelihoods such as farming and livestock production, but also that of supporting activities such as trading and transportation. It also influences investment decisions, labour investments, water use and irrigation, access to transport and communication, access to energy, availability of resources, amongst others. For instance, some people in the coastal areas who used to depend on fishing, fish net making, fish trading and related activities have seen their livelihoods destroyed by the rising waters.

Forest Resources

As a result of the impacts of Climate Change like storm surges, drought and deforestation, there is a massive loss of forest resources like medical plants, mushrooms and cane. Nigeria currently has an annual forest depletion rate of 400,000 hectares. Aggressive exploitation of firewood for cooking also contributes to the decline of the country’s Mangroves and other natural forests.

Population Displacement & Emergence of Ecological Refugees

About 32,000 Nigerian farmers are displaced annually from their homes and communities as a result of drought, flooding and other impacts of Climate Change.

The communal conflicts orchestrated by Fulani herdsmen in Benue State had claimed the lives of more than 5000 victims in the first half in the year 2014. The victims include women and children and they sacked more than 100 communities and have thrown thousands of refugees into Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp located Makurdi.

Energy Loss

Hydroelectric power generation is sensitive to the amount, timing and geographical pattern of precipitation, and temperature. High temperatures and low rainfall as a result of Climate Change reduce transmission capacities of these stations. Droughts also lead to high evapotranspiration, lower water volumes and decreased electricity generation, therefore adding to the large national energy deficit.



If Nigeria is to ever make significant progress in curtailing the frequency and intensity of herdsmen/farmer crisis, it is important for it to understand the role of Climate Change and other environmental challenges in reinforcing the conflicts. The herdsmen-farmer crisis is not only one of the biggest security threats faced by the country, it is also a major environmental issue.  Although Climate Change is a global problem with far-reaching consequences, its impacts are local and vary from place to place. It is therefore important to embrace appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies to enable these important groups to thrive despite and in spite of Climate Change and its many impacts.

While there are many suggestions as to how to address the challenge, the role of dialogue cannot be over-emphasized. It is essential, as part of efforts to end this crisis, to bring stakeholders and decision makers to the table. If any meaningful progress will be made, and if both parties will abide by recommendations, they must be actively involved in the dialogue and decision making progress.

Although most of the country’s grazing reserves established in its first and second republic have been heavily encroached upon, there is need to salvage as much as possible and ensure their continuous use for grazing purposes only. The call to establish ranches across the country has been met with mixed reactions as some communities are unwilling to allocate vast portions of land for this purpose on one hand, and the herdsmen are reluctant to let go of centuries old tradition of nomadic-pastoralism.

However, one thing is certain: if we will find a lasting and sustainable solution to this crisis, change is inevitable. Both parties must be willing to make some compromise for the sake of peaceful co-existence. The Nigerian government is already exploring opportunities like the introduction of modern systems of breeding, increased private sector participation and cultivation of high yielding pastures in the agro-ecological zones of the country.

If we act now and act right, Nigeria could be a role model and case study of how appropriate adaptation and mitigation strategies based on innovation, technology and sustainability can help to tackle resource conflicts and other challenges of Climate Change like the herdsmen/farmer crisis.



Global Terrorism Index – Nigerian Fulani Militants named as fourth deadliest terror group in world

World population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 

Why the Fulani Herdsmen and Farmers fight: How Climate Change and Boko-Haram Crisis created the crisis and six evidence based policy recommendations for its resolution by Malcolm Fabiyi & Adeleke Otunuga

Drought worsens deadly battle Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria

Economic havocs of Fulani-Farmers’ feuds

Understanding the Fulani-Herdsmen crisis in Nigeria: Here is everything you need to know

Resolving the Nigerian herdsmen and farmers conflict

Herdsmen/farmer clashes: Nigerian government proposes ranches, herdsmen insist on grazing routes

Grazing Reserve Development: A Panacea to the Intractable Strife between Farmers and Herders

How Climate Change is driving Nigeria’s herdsmen conflict 

Conflicts between transhumant pastoralist and farmers in Nigeria – the way out

Herdsmen – farmer crisis – what is the real story by Teniola Tayo

What does Climate Change look like?

The effects of climate change in Nigeria

Impact of Climate Change in Nigeria




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