Mapping environmental conflicts and cooperation



Pastoralist and Farmer-Herder Conflicts in the Sahel

Type of conflict main
Intensity 4
Time 1944 ‐ ongoing
Countries Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Senegal, Nigeria, Niger, Erit …
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Conflict Summary Conflicts between farmers and herders, and between different pastoralist groups, in the Sahel frequently revolve around issues of contested land use (grazing...
Pastoralist and Farmer-Herder Conflicts in the Sahel
Conflicts between farmers and herders, and between different pastoralist groups, in the Sahel frequently revolve around issues of contested land use (grazing vs. crop cultivation) and access to water. At times these conflicts are triggered, or exacerbated, by drought-induced movements of pastoralists. Livestock raiding is a further source of tensions and violence between different herding communities.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Climatic conditions, such as droughts, have contributed to water and land scarcity in the area. Gradual weather changes can also incite agricultural encroachment onto pastoral land.

Intermediary Mechanisms

Localised conflicts between farmers and herders, and between different pastoralist groups, frequently revolve around issues of contested land use and access to water. Furthermore, conflicts between different pastoralists groups are frequently sparked by livestock thefts and clashes over grazing rights.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

Such conflicts are mostly local, sporadic and low intensity, and do not usually involve government intervention. At times, however, they can trigger more violent conflicts.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversChanging climate leads to decreased water availability.Changing climate decreases available land.More frequent/intense extreme weather events lead to decreased water availability.More frequent/intense extreme weather events reduce available land.Demographic changes increase pressures on available water resources.Demographic changes lead to changes in land use.Economic developments lead to changes in land use.Freshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource. Changes in land use reduce available/usable land.Land scarcity hampers agricultural production.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to distributive conflicts between societal groups.A slow change in climatic conditions, particularly temperature and precipitation.Gradual Change in Temperature and/or PrecipitationAn increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityReduced availability of/ access to land.Increased Land ScarcityAn increase in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.More Frequent / Intense Extreme Weather EventsChange in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangeA change in the usage of environmentally relevant land.Land Use ChangeA broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural ResourcesNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal Groups
Context Factors
  • Dysfunctional Resource Management
  • Insecure Land Tenure
  • Water-stressed Area
  • History of Conflict
  • Low Level of Economic Development
  • Overreliance on Specific Supplies
  • Political Marginalization
  • Unresponsive Government
  • Weak Institutions
Conflict History

Farmer-herder conflicts between different pastoralist groups in Sahel states are mostly local, sporadic and low intensity conflicts without direct involvement of governments and government security forces. At times they can, however, trigger or interact with more violent conflicts (see Communal conflicts in Darfur). They frequently revolve around issues concerning land use (crop cultivation vs. grazing), including disputes over access to water and livestock raiding.

Resource scarcity, livestock mobility and farmer-herder conflicts
Securing access to water is a crucial prerequisite to pastoralists’ mobility and hence, their ability to cope with difficult weather conditions in the Sahel. Farmers, on the other hand, have profited from agricultural modernisation and favourable land reforms to gradually expand cultures onto pastoral land. As farmers and herders utilise the same land, conflicts can arise, especially when herds encroach on cultivated areas damaging crops, or when water resources become heavily strained. Such conflicts are frequently exacerbated by government policies which encourage settled agriculture and common perceptions of nomadic pastoralism as unproductive and detrimental to the environment. Additionally, there is also a general lack of government engagement in pastoralist areas (Benjaminsen, Alinon, Buhaug and Buseth, 2012; Schilling, Scheffran and Link, 2010).

Livestock rustling and conflicts over grazing rights
Conflicts between different pastoralists groups are frequently sparked by livestock thefts and conflicts over grazing rights. Indeed, this is especially true when different nomadic groups try to simultaneously access the same area. Although livestock rustling has always been an integral part of pastoralists’ culture as a means of restocking herds after droughts and of providing young herders with bride wealth, this practice has arguably become more violent due to civil wars and the increased availability of weapons in the Sahel region. Political elites and insurgent movements have also exploited pastoralist conflicts to further their own causes (De Haan, Dubern, Garancher, and Quintero, 2014; UCDP, 2014).

Communal conflicts and climate change
Both, farmer-herder conflicts and conflicts between pastoralists can be triggered or exacerbated by climate change. Increased drought frequency and severity, for instance, can force nomadic herders to change their itineraries and compete for water and land with other communities. Gradual changes in weather conditions can also open up new opportunities for cultivation and incite agricultural encroachment onto pastoral land. In the absence of effective regulations and conflict mitigation mechanisms this can lead to communal violence (Benjaminsen et al., 2012; Ba & Benjaminsen, 2009).

Marginalisation, vulnerability and violence in pastoralist areas
Pastoralist regions in Sahel states remain marginalised areas, characterised by poor public services, an absence of effective security provisions and a general lack of government involvement. Customary institutions of resource management and conflict mitigation in pastoralist areas have gradually eroded in the presence of overlapping, albeit ineffective formal regulations (Unruh & Abdul-Jalil, 2012; De Haan et al., 2014). These factors contribute to the vulnerability of pastoralist areas to climate change and their propensity for violent conflicts.

Although commitments to pastoralists by state and regional authorities have often remained unfulfilled, there has been some progress in addressing the underlying causes of pastoralist and farmer-herder conflicts in recent times.

Resolution Efforts

Policymakers in Sahel states have become increasingly aware of the necessity to address the root causes of violent conflict in pastoralist areas.

Pastoral laws
Several countries, including Mauretania, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, have passed pastoral laws and codes, which define the rights of pastoralists and provide a more coherent framework to organise the common use of rangelands by different farming and herding communities. Implementation of these codes is still incipient in many parts of the Sahel, generally due to a lack of funding but they have already helped to curb the number of farmer-herder conflicts in some locations (De Haan et al., 2014).

Informal institutions and civil society initiatives
Pastoralist associations are active in Mauretania, Niger, and Senegal but have yet to convince policymakers to introduce improved range management practices. Local and informal institutions are an important tool of conflict mitigation but need to be further strengthened and merged with formal local institutions. Furthermore, the provision of veterinary services in certain regions has helped reduce pastoralist vulnerability (De Haan et al., 2014).

Need for further coordination and cooperation
Recurrent situations of insecurity are a major impediment to pastoralist development and peacebuilding in the Sahel region. Development and security initiatives need to be better coordinated in many places and trust in the government amongst rural communities needs to be built. In addition, there is a need for more cooperation between Sahelian states in order to tackle trans-boundary violence and arms trafficking and to address security issues linked with large refugee populations.

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation Regional
Mass Displacement More than 100.000 or more than 10% of the country's population are displaced within the country.
Cross Border Mass Displacement Best estimate that more than 100.000 or more than 10% of country population are displaced across borders.
Destination Countries Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Niger, S. Sudan, Central African R …
Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence There was no reduction in violence.
Resolve of displacement problems Displacement continues to cause discontent and/or other problems.
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future There is no increased capacity to address grievances in the future.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been mostly ignored.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity There has been no reduction in intensity
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Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Pastoralists (Sahel)
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Farmers (Sahel)
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
0 Cooperation Cooperation between Sahelian states can be effective in tackling trans-boundary violence and arms trafficking, and in addressing security issues linked with large refugee populations.
3 Strengthening legislation and law enforcement Countries such as Mauretania, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have passed pastoral laws and codes, defining the rights of pastoralists and the use of rangelands.
1 Promoting social change Local and informal institutions, such as pastoralist associations, need to be further strengthened and merged with formal local institutions as they can be important tools for conflict mitigation.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Mixed: The abilities of parties to affect the environmental resource is mixed.
Broad conflict characterization Resource Capture is present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse