Farmer-Herder conflicts have grown in frequency across the Sahel region of West and Central Africa, including in Ghana, where they have evolved over time in phases. This article explores the drivers of farmer-herder conflict and the challenges it poses to sustainable peacebuilding in Ghana, using Agogo Traditional Area (ATA) in the Ashanti region of Ghana as a case study.
The Fulani herders migrated to Ghana in the early twentieth century and are located throughout the country, from the northern and coastal savannas, to the forest zone in the Ashanti region more recently. Some of these herders have found their way into Agogo communities.
The first phase of the conflict involved farming communities and the first generation of pastoralist Fulani who practiced transhumance, a form of nomadism characterized by the seasonal movement of people with their livestock from drier to wetter areas. Herding cattle was their source of livelihood. However, following cycles of prolonged drought and erratic rainfall patterns in the Sahel that have been attributed to climate change, many herders either lost their cattle or moved their herds southwards.
The second and most recent phase of the conflict involves a younger generation of semi-sedentary Fulani, who farm in addition to herding cattle. These are mostly second generation Fulani herders who were either born in Ghana or migrated to Ghana with their parents at a very young age. Over the decades, as a result of the hard lessons learnt by older generations, they have altered their mode of herding to include permanent settlement in Ghana. With growing population pressures, the competition for land has led to heightened tensions between herders and farmers, feeding a cycle of recurring violence and necessitating conflict management and peacebuilding in the affected communities.
In 1997, the Agogo Traditional Council leased a parcel of land to the Fulani herdsmen through their leaders, with fifty years tenure and twenty-five years renewable. 1 The ATA is green most of the year due to adequate rainfall, making it both favorable to farming, the main occupation in the area, and cattle rearing, due to the lack of tsetse flies. 2 The conflict is primarily a struggle between the indigenous Twi-speaking Ashanti farmers, who are the dominant ethnic group in the area, and Fulani herders.
The drivers of the conflict include, non-adherence by Fulani herders to the land agreement, competing livelihoods, and competing claims of land ownership. The first driver of conflict arises from a breach of the 1997 land agreement. According to the agreement, the Fulani herdsmen were expected to: (a) give one live cow or bull annually as payment of royalty; (b) build ranches to prevent crop destruction on farms and compensate farmers in the event of crop destruction; (c) if need be, they could be relocated from their present location with the approval of the traditional council; and (d) exhibit good behavior. The only condition that has been adhered to by Fulani herders over the years is the offering of live cattle as royalty. The failure of the Traditional Council to monitor and enforce adherence to the terms of the agreement has been the source of conflict in ATA over the years. 3
The second driver of conflict is competing livelihoods. Prior to the outbreak of conflict in 2009, the peaceful atmosphere in ATA was due to the fact that indigenous communities co-existed with semi-sedentary Fulani. Since then, conflict has become recurrent, typically peaking during the dry season (November-April) when ATA experiences an influx of nomadic Fulani herders and cattle from different parts of West Africa’s Sahel belt that do not receive enough rainfall to sustain pastures across the region. The influx of large numbers of cattle leads to encroachment on farmlands, and crop destruction. Some herdsmen even set dry bushes on fire in order to facilitate the new growth of tender grass and plants favored by their animals.
These nomadic herders are similar to the first generation Fulani herders in that they do not have permanent settlements, live in temporary structures, and herd foreign breeds of cattle. The semi-sedentary Fulani live on the outskirts of Agogo Township and within the host villages, while their transhumant kinsmen live in the bush. As such, when the latter group’s livestock encroach on farms, farmers are unable to trace them to resolve the problem. In cases where they have been approached by farm owners, there have been reports of injury, murder, and rape. The anger of farmers is then meted out on the semi-sedentary Fulani herders who reside in the ATA. 4 Escalating conflict between herders and farmers in ATA has resulted in deaths, insecurity, injury, and destruction of property.
Competing claims to land ownership have also been a driver of conflict. Although second generation Fulani see themselves as the rightful owners of the land leased to them or their parents, many farmers see this generation of Fulani herders as ‘strangers’ occupying the land of indigenous people. The second generation Fulani, who have known no other home outside of Agogo, reject the label of ‘strangers’ and see themselves as Ghanaians belonging to the Agogo Traditional Area. Thus, in ATA, both farmers and herders describe themselves as victims of the conflict. Their rigid positions, with one side insisting on claiming land, and the other rejecting such claims and moving to expel the settlers, continue to fuel the conflict and pose serious challenges to peace from below.
In order to retrieve the land from the Fulani herders, in accordance with the 1997 agreement, ATA youth groups and hometown associations in Ghana and abroad have resorted to judicial intervention. The community’s initiative to seek nonviolent, legal redress demonstrates the agency of the indigenes in building their own peace. On their part, the Fulani herders have ignored the Ghanaian court proceedings, despite maintaining the legitimacy of the 1997 land agreement. On January 20, 2012, the high court issued a mandatory injunction and directed the Ashanti Regional Security Council and Regional Coordinating Council to “take immediate, decisive, efficacious and efficient action to flush out all the cattle from” Agogo Traditional Area . Recently, a security task force has implemented the 2012 court ruling by evacuating thousands of cattle from ATA. The local authority has even adopted the slogan: “Total evacuation of all cattle.”
The Traditional Council would normally have initiated a peace agreement, but they lack the power and influence to do so. This is because at the initial stages of the conflict the Council remained silent, which both the farmers and the Fulani herdsmen perceived as condoning the rising tensions. While the farmers mistrusted the Traditional Council for selling out community lands to “strangers,” the Fulani herdsmen also blamed them for not defending them as legal occupants of the land.
The local department of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture has commenced a peacebuilding process that involves farmers, local government institutions, the traditional council, hometown associations, and Fulani herders and cattle owners. 5 The department plans to introduce a ranching system and advocating for the passing of the anti-grazing bill to control the transportation of cattle and the destruction of properties by herdsmen. However, the challenge confronting the implementation is how to arrive at a peaceful consensus between all the groups involved. Effective peacebuilding in ATA must move beyond creating ranches and passing an anti-grazing bill, to address the root causes and drivers of farmer-herder conflicts. These include, problems of land ownership, citizenship rights, as well as designing and implementing local and national peacebuilding programs.
- Agogo Traditional Council Representative, letter of land agreement dated June, 25 1997. ↩
- Interview with the local veterinary officer. ↩
- Interview with a representative of the Agogo Traditional Council. ↩
- Focus group discussion with Fulani herders and cattle owners. ↩
- Interview with the department officers. ↩
Brilliant work. Good read. The issues related to herdsmen and farmers in West Africa is becoming a regional security threat. ECOWAS, the regional economic community, should enact protocol that would regulate the transhumanism in West Africa. It is also interesting to note that the owners of the cattle are politicians and government officials. As a result, the local authority is weaken in the enforcement of the agreement and bylaws in case of any wrongdoing. The contemporary herdsmen do not necessary own the herds. Dr. Setrena is my lecturer at the postgraduate study at the University of Ghana Centre for Migration Studies. She is a brilliant scholar.