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Restricted Grazing: Key to Ending Spiraling violence in Middle Belt

OPINION

By Jonathan Sunday Akuns

Jonathan Sunday Akuns is an economist and former economist/administrator at the Central Bank of Nigeria. courtesy of J. Akuns
Jonathan Sunday Akuns is an economist and former economist/administrator at the Central Bank of Nigeria. courtesy of J. Akuns

[JOS]: Regrettably, armed attacks on farming communities often are blamed on cattle herdsmen who chiefly belong to the Fulani ethnicity. The great Fulani people as a whole do not deserve this mean stereotype. Nonetheless, the regular attacks on unarmed farmers and their families are misattributed by Nigerian Mainstream media [NMSM] to “farmer-herder clashes,” a term that greatly distorts and conceals the political and sectarian motivation of radical jihadist mercenaries.  As is well known, the herding class is almost a synonym with Fulani, the most prolific herders in West Africa. These attacks have scarred the Middle Belt for decades and left a traumatic stain on Nigeria’s Independence Day celebrations in Plateau and Benue States.  Reprisals against herding groups are rare but sometimes happen.

How To Stop Displacement

It’s a fact that the displacement of farming families by land-grabbing terrorists has  made the Middle Belt a cauldron of misery for 4 million displaced people.

 However, a  novel solution dubbed “Livestock Alimentation and Rural Management Initiative” (LARMI) promises a compelling solution to and could usher in a new era of peaceful coexistence.

Nigeria’s current beef industry relies upon open grazing of livestock, which entails large herds of cattle straying or deliberately herded into crop farms, where the blood, sweat and tears of countless farm families are despoiled. Farmers who dare to defend themselves against the unexpected invasions of herds have been gunned down in their fields or have endured “reprisal attacks” months later.  The herders carry automatic rifles with impunity in a nation that strictly enforces gun control laws against non-herders.

“Livestock Alimentation and Rural Management Initiative” (LARMI) envisages the rearing of animals in a secured private space contrary to the proposal by the federal government to provide public lands for livestock ranching a policy which residents in the farming states have voted down.

LARMI, on the other hand, will benefit from public-sector extension services but is entirely a private business that requires no public interference by regulations.

As conceived and aired out in 2018 by my team, LARMI promises to decouple violent crimes from occupational trade practices and reduce the lawless handling of grievances stemming from competition over use of land for crop farming and open grazing of livestock.

By doing so, it aims to mitigate the so-called recurring conflicts, especially in regions such as Plateau State, and across Nigeria.

This initiative resonates with the 2020 report of the United States Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which highlights Fulani violence in the Sahel Region as a key problem. LARMI’s core concept draws inspiration from successful poultry farming practices and seeks to replicate them for other livestock species in Plateau State such as cattle, goats, sheep, and pigs.

This approach not only promises economic benefits but also addresses the root causes of so-called conflicts between crop farmers and livestock breeders in rural communities of Plateau State.

Defund the Conflict Entrepreneurs

Cattle migration route through the North Central State of Plateau where more than 350 persons have been killed since Jan 1, 2023. Credit Stephanos Foundation.
Cattle migration route through the North Central State of Plateau where more than 350 persons have been killed since Jan 1, 2023. Credit Stephanos Foundation.

One of the most significant advantages of LARMI is its potential to expose “conflict entrepreneurs” who exploit occupational trade practices and competition to fuel crises. By providing an alternative and structured approach to livestock farming, it eliminates the need for herders to engage in terrorism — assuming that one accepts claims by the Nigerian and US authorities that the attacks are clashes between farmers and herders. In my experience,  the majority of cases of violence in the Middle Belt, do not stem from a reciprocal clash between farmer militia on the one hand and herder militia on the other. The use of deadly force is far more evident among the herders – or their agents, radicalized mercenaries firing assault rifles in the middle of the night.  Fortuitously, the editors of Truth Nigeria have unpacked the pernicious elements of the simplistic term, “farmer-herder”.

The concept of feed lots in enclosed ranches would free myriads of school-age children from incessant herding chores, allowing them access to formal education and vocational training. The benefits will include their personal growth and the nation’s development.

LARMI emerged as a response to tragic events, including the killing of at least 40 people in Daffo District  of Bokkos County from the first quarter of 2018. It represents a comprehensive effort to understand and address the underlying factors behind Fulani herdsmen attacks in Plateau State.

As an occupational trade-specific framework, LARMI promises to stimulate a new rural economy, benefiting local communities and managing vast tracts of arable land effectively.

Cattle enclosures address the contentious issue of open grazing, putting an end to farmland trespass, crop ravaging and the attendant loss of income stream to occupational tradesmen.

 In conclusion, the Livestock Alimentation and Rural Management Initiative (LARMI) is a novel and holistic approach advocated by the author. It aims to foster peaceful and lawful coexistence between crop farmers and livestock breeders in Plateau State and beyond, serving as a blueprint for harmony in plural societies. With LARMI, we have the opportunity to build a prosperous and peaceful future    for Nigeria, all in service to the greater good of humanity.

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Jonathan Sunday Akuns is a respected economist and former economist/administrator at the Central Bank of Nigeria. He currently serves as the mayor of Mandung Clan in the Daffo District of Plateau State.

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