ACCRA, August 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Agricultural development in northern Ghana is lifting people out of poverty, but researchers say progress has come at a deadly cost, worsening an age-old conflict between farmers and herders.
Rising prosperity in Ghana’s semi-arid north, the poorest part of the West African country, has led to more people buying cows, drawing in more semi-nomadic herders who are hired to look after them.
But as agriculture expands and grazing for cattle becomes scarcer, enmity between farmers and herders has intensified, with cows straying into crop-growing areas, leading to more frequent clashes - and record high deaths.
“In large swaths of northern Ghana, there is a real danger that successful agricultural programming triggers conflict,” said Sebastiaan Soeters, who co-authored a report for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and charities.
“A key message from me to donors is that you may tick all your boxes in terms of success, but if you zoom out and look at how that affects relationships around natural resource use, you may have done harm,” he said.
Last year, the Ghana National Association of Cattle Farmers (GNACF) recorded 104 deaths from farmer-herder clashes, the highest yet followed by 73 deaths in 2015, said chairman Hanafi Sonde. The real number is likely much higher, he added.
“I think the conflict issue is increasing across the country,” Sonde told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Other factors are also driving the rise in conflict.
Droughts and insecurity in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have driven more and more herders into Ghana, Soeters said.
Herders normally belong to the Fulani ethnic group, one of West Africa’s largest, and are regarded as strangers in Ghana even if they were born there, said Clement Aapengnuo, head of a peacebuilding center in the northern town of Damongo.
They are shunned from villages and live in isolated communities, often with no health centers or running water, he said. Very few Fulani children go to school.
But herders also have connections with local elites who own cattle. Sometimes conflicts start because herders venture into cropland, knowing that the chief or official who owns the animals will protect them from punishment, said Aapengnuo.
Disputes then turn violent when people feel authorities aren’t responding to their complaints, he said.
“The two groups never really sit together to understand the concerns of each other,” Aapengnuo said.
Fear and mistrust are so great that farmers’ children run away when they see someone herding cows, added Sonde.
While extremist attacks - from raids to suicide bombs - grab headlines in West Africa, simmering farmer-herder conflicts are growing deadlier.
In Nigeria this year, fighting between farmers and herders has killed six times more people than Islamist group Boko Haram according to the International Crisis Group, a think-tank.
The conflict in Ghana is still small-scale in comparison, but experts say trends indicate it will continue to worsen.
Ghana’s agricultural policy is focused on expanding and intensifying crop production. Companies and organizations that come in with good intentions are often entirely unaware of the herder issue, Soeters said.
“We can do better for livestock than we are doing,” said Kwamina Akorful, director of animal production in the food and agriculture ministry.
The government is working on a plan to create grazing reserves, with the first one soon to open as a test case.
There is enough land for everyone, Akorful added, but “right now it is a free-for-all”.
If herders agree to stay within designated grazing reserves, or cattle ranches, it would be easier to set up schools and health centers for them, said Sonde of the herders’ association.
But this would also mean asking them to give up their centuries-old migratory lifestyle.
“We need to go gradually. If the first try fails, it would be difficult to proceed,” he said.
Reporting by Nellie Peyton, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org