In the past several months tensions have escalated between nomadic cattle herders and traditional crop-farming communities. Some traditional and farming communities in central and southern Nigeria have been overrun by herders who are accused of grazing their cattle on crop fields.
The country’s media is dominated by reports of maiming, killings, rape and other forms of banditry associated with highly armed nomadic herders. Unofficial figures put the death toll from one such incident in Enugu State, in the south-eastern region, at about 100.
In the absence of state protection, these events have fuelled affected communities’ support for ethnic or regional militias as a civic defence strategy. The clashes between herdsmen and farmers strike at the core of Nigeria’s vulnerable ethno-political faultlines. They also have ramifications for climate change and food security.
Crop farmers produce more than 80% of Nigeria’s food. Leaving this critical lifeblood of the country’s economic and cultural life at the mercy of herders and their cattle is not an option. Farmers, the majority of whom are women, constitute the bedrock of the country’s informal economy. And the unofficial farming sector is the country’s highest employer of labour. Now this key economic sector is under siege.
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