Before discussing the Rural Grazing Area Plan, let us look at some facts. Research reveals that farmer – herdsmen clashes in Nigeria dates as far back as 1999 (20 years ago or even before); owing to several factors such as urbanisation, increased agricultural productivity, adverse effects of climate change such as desertification and soil degradation etc (African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes – ACCORD).
In 2015, we witnessed an escalation in these clashes and in recent times various dimensions have added to the conflict (tribal, religious, and political angles) leading to loss of lives and property and consequently, becoming a threat to National Security. Also worrisome is that more farms have been left fallow out of fear of counter and reprisal attacks, thus amounting to a threat to food and nutrition security in the country and by extension, the African region.
Recently, the Federal Government approved the establishment of RUGA settlements across the country and had to shelve its plans after public outcry from the south, east & western parts of the country who viewed this as a move towards an Islamic agenda.
What is RUGA? Rural Grazing Area
Ruga which is originally a Fulani word means “cow settlement”. Today, RUGA refers to Rural Grazing Area – a plan by the government to establish settlements for livestock farmers across different states in the country, with access to infrastructure such as medical and educational facilities, water, pasture and available market to stop transportation of cattle from one part of the country to another which has been discovered to be the major cause of the conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farmers
Here are my thoughts on this controversial plan;
The contemporary twist of the word into an acronym in itself, seems shady and can be viewed as a deceptive move to have Nigerians accept the scheme.
Maybe (keyword: maybe) this plan is a genuine effort by the government to end farmer-herdsmen clashes but I must confess that this is the worst of times for its implementation. The nation has never been more divided across religious and ethnic lines, making the rural grazing area plan ill-timed as there are several insinuations which should be addressed first. In moving forward, it is essential to consider an approach with a buy in from all parties involved, which is where dialogue between farmers and herdsmen becomes critical to proffering lasting solutions.
Then again, what happened to our grazing reserves? What happened to individuals taking care of their cattle by themselves, by setting up ranches facilitated by a re-visitation of the Land Use Act? The defunct grazing reserves in Northern Nigeria can be rejuvenated while individuals are supported with the same facilities to be provided for at the RUGA settlements in individual ranches. Every individual is expected to personally commit to achieving their business objectives by utilizing available resources (with support from the government where necessary), and no, not by jeopardizing the businesses and cultural beliefs of others.
Farmers and herdsmen are currently exasperated, having dangerous notions about each other. It is therefore imperative for public perceptions to be changed before the establishment of cattle settlements in States not originally into cattle rearing, while efforts should also be made to enforce the anti-open grazing law. These, in addition to resuscitating grazing reserves and facilitating private ranches are more sustainable approaches to ending the conflict; especially at a time when we need to intensify efforts towards SAI which not only seeks to protect the environment but also focuses on societal negotiation, institutional innovation and justice for all – the social aspect of SAI (Struik and Kuyper, 2017).
And yes, this is my tenth article so far (smiles)!
Thank you all so much who continue to read my articles; let’s do this again!
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