How is pastoral movement managed in Cameroon?

Generally, you don’t have violent conflicts linked to pastoralism in Cameroon. There is a very organised system of managing transhumance. The timing of this seasonal pastoral movement, including movement of Nigerian pastoralists crossing into Cameroon, is controlled by the Ministry of Livestock. During the designated period of transhumance, farming activities along transhumance corridors, around watering points and in mixed farming zones are halted. If there is destruction of crops within that period, pastoralists are not liable.

Cameroonian pastoralists have complained that cross-border pastoralists come with diseases, but compulsory vaccination reduces this problem, which might otherwise result in conflict. 

In cases where the movement of pastoralists does lead to disputes, there are also mechanisms in Cameroon to prevent and resolve conflict. Where crops are destroyed during transhumance, the Agro-Pastoral Commission, which is a state organ, intervenes to resolve the dispute between farmers and herders.

There are also dialogue platforms which facilitate dialogue between the aggrieved parties to resolve disputes. What is good about these is that the conflict is often resolved at the community level without the involvement of the police or the law courts. Where both parties agree on the findings of the dialogue, this has helped to bring about peaceful coexistence between the farmers and pastoralists. 

How are pastoralists perceived along the borders?

In the public discourse in Nigeria, the way the media talks about pastoralism and transhumance is negative. They have a blanket term, ‘Fulani herdsman’, which is used widely in the media as a negative stereotype. In Cameroon, the term ‘Fulani herdsman’ isn’t used. If there is destruction, it’s not put on a tribal basis. In Nigeria, the blame is on cattle owners. In Cameroon the blame is more on the herdsman for leaving the cattle loose. When the blame is shifted people understand, they don’t attack whole communities and fewer farmer-herder conflicts are recorded. 

What changes have you seen in pastoral movement across the Nigeria – Cameroon border?

When we’re talking about pastoral movements it’s important to understand the context and history. Before the partition of Africa by the colonial masters, there were no borders between Nigeria and Cameroon, there were just kingdoms. So, pastoralists feel that this is their land and that they can graze their livestock anywhere they wish. They also have kinship relationships with other pastoralists across national borders. In my case, the majority of my clan are in Nigeria. But with independence and the creation of states this movement across the borders by pastoralists and their livestock is being restricted.

In the last eight years, pastoralists have started moving in greater numbers from Nigeria into Cameroon and subsequently into the Central African Republic (CAR). 

In the past, the population density in Nigeria was much lower. Today, high demographic pressure, coupled with the mechanisation of agriculture, means that more land is needed for crop production and grazing land is being taken away. Land grabbing by elites in traditional grazing areas has worsened the situation. Pressure on land, reduced pasture and watering points, in combination with violent farmer-herder conflicts are pushing pastoralists to move into Cameroon and the Central African Republic. In CAR there is less pressure on land; there are still vast rangelands, water and good pasture.

Some of the pastoralists we interviewed said that CAR is better than where they’d come from even though there is an armed conflict going on.  They told us that they can negotiate with armed groups and pay an annual tax to graze their livestock. Nevertheless, at times the conflict in CAR can be disruptive to pastoral activities – when there is difficulty in Central Africa they come back into Cameroon, then when the situation normalises, they go back to Central Africa.

What did your research tell you about the impacts of changing pastoral movement in Cameroon?

Although pastoral movement is well managed in Cameroon and is generally peaceful, the increase in the number of pastoralists coming in from Nigeria is adding to pressure and tensions in some areas. In the Northern region of Cameroon, where we did part of our fieldwork, availability of land is decreasing. The region is a population hotspot, and with the crisis of Boko Haram, many more people have migrated there from the Extreme North of Cameroon, around Lake Chad. There are also other pressures on land. As more pastoralists cross the border into Cameroon from Nigeria the potential for tension increases.

One source of tension is between migrant herders and agro-pastoralists, who are semi-settled, and who have a little livestock around their farms. They often complain that migrants’ animals come with diseases and sometimes destroy crops. This is a potential source of conflict with agro-pastoralists and with sedentary farmers. If the influx of livestock from Nigeria continues in large numbers, it may lead to violent conflicts in the future.

Recently a lot of mining has been happening along transhumance corridors and around national parks. This is also a cause for concern as mining pits are a death trap for livestock. There is also industrial agriculture, with foreign companies buying up large chunks of land or elites grabbing land along corridors. Palm, cocoa and tea plantations are being created, reducing the available rangelands and pushing more local pastoralists towards Central Africa. 

In addition to all the negative impacts, there are positives. Migrant pastoralists have brought wealth to local economies. They have driven down the prices of beef in Cameroon, they buy crops from farmers and stimulate business activities. They also pay taxes to the councils. 

Finally, what do you think policy makers and other decision makers should be considering based on the findings of this research?

Firstly, I think there should be better regional policy to encourage and support cross border transhumance. There is the ECOWAS protocol and African Union Charter on pastoralism, which include rules governing transhumance, but these should be properly enforced. Governments, and individual states, should also be encouraged to have bilateral and trilateral protocols. 

There is also an urgent need to improve pastoral infrastructure, particularly in Nigeria. This is where donors and international NGOs can support. Lack of pasture and watering points are the main push factors for pastoralists moving out of Nigeria but a big bore hole in one area can save thousands of migrating cattle. This infrastructure will reduce movement, or at least help with managing movement. This in turn would reduce conflict. It is important that livestock development projects listen to pastoralists’ concerns and priorities and not be determined by the political priorities of elites. Governments should also be encouraged to preserve and restore pastoral zones and support livestock production.

This article was originally published on Conciliation Resources’ website.