Integrated landscape approach may help end conflict with herders in Ghana, study says

Multi-stakeholder forums have potential to balance farmer relations with Fulani pastoralists
Cheeba Malundu Village, Chikanta Chiefdom. Photo by Kaala B. Moombe/COLANDS

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Integrated landscape approaches (ILAs) could help resolve recurrent conflicts that have taken place between farmers and Fulani pastoralists in northern Ghana for the past 20 years over the use of natural resources, such as land and water, according to a recent study.

These conflicts jeopardize sustainable development and have led to deaths and theft as well as the social marginalization of the Fulani community. However, context-specific ILAs – with more inclusive multi-stakeholder processes – could help reconcile diverging interests, says Eric Bayala, the lead author of the newly published research.

“These multi-stakeholder processes aim to bring together people who have different and sometimes conflicting interests within a multi-stakeholder platform, to negotiate trade-offs and seek a balance between the various objectives and the sustainable use of a common landscape,” says Bayala, a doctoral candidate at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, and a researcher on the Collaborating to Operationalise Landscape Approaches for Nature, Development and Sustainability (COLANDS) initiative.

Most of these conflicts – which can become violent and include reprisal attacks – arise when animals intrude into agricultural fields or when land traditionally used by herders is taken for agriculture, occurring along pastoralist routes or close to villages. Pastoralists, like the Fulani, are considered a threat to natural landscapes and become stigmatized, shut out of natural-resource governance processes.

Underlying the conflicts is a fundamental rivalry between two competing production systems: agriculture versus pastoralism. Adding to tensions are pressures from climate change, urbanization and population growth, as well as cultural identity issues.

“Changing pervasive, negative perceptions of the Fulani; the neglect of pastoral activity in broader development processes; and the lack of inclusion of Fulani pastoralists in multi-stakeholder platforms and decision-making all need to be urgently addressed,” Bayala says.

ILAs offer opportunities to negotiate competing claims to land uses and facilitate multiple land uses within a multifunctional landscape; ensure the sustainability of natural ecosystems; and address contemporary challenges related to biodiversity loss, climate change, food insecurity and poverty, says Mirjam Ros-Tonen, an associate professor in the Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam.

“They are forms of landscape governance that help minimize stress and conflict related to natural resource use, notably by establishing multi-stakeholder platforms,” says Ros-Tonen, a co-author of the study.

The success of ILAs and platforms for dialogue, consultation and negotiation in northern Ghana depends on the particular context and the ability to change attitudes towards pastoralists, according to the authors.

The study explored neighbouring Burkina Faso’s experience in order to broaden the perspective, identify lessons learned and gather evidence of good practice – including forms of collaboration between farmers and pastoralists – all of which could inform the Ghanaian context.

Many Fulani pastoralists migrated to Ghana from countries such as Burkina Faso due to development of the livestock trade and agriculture, as well as droughts in the Sahel during the 1970s and 1980s. These factors forced many pastoralists and their herds to migrate southwards to lands richer in pasture and water.

More than 14,000 Fulani have settled permanently in Ghana, and many have established strong ties with the country. However, pastoralists often live on the outskirts of villages, leading to weak social and cultural interactions that feed tensions and stereotypes. These factors have increased the risk of conflict, stigmatization and exclusion.

Important lessons have been learned in Burkina Faso about managing these conflicts – lessons that align with ILA principles. These include promoting legislation that defines rights and responsibilities; local institutions to settle conflicts; as well as training and awareness raising, particularly concerning pastoralism.

Not all lessons will transfer easily between the two countries, but fundamental ILA principles are critical pre-conditions to success with multi-stakeholder platforms in northern Ghana, according to the authors.

Dispute resolution and landscape governance through ILAs must be based on a deep analysis of the context – something missing in the current dynamics in northern Ghana, Bayala says.

Trust in the Fulani community and in the multi-stakeholder platform process itself – as well as general goodwill – may be lacking, along with other necessary features. These include inspired leadership, a strategy to deal with differing interests, strong systemic governance, and the financing of new approaches, he says.

COLANDS is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI) and is funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV).

PhD research that is part of COLANDS is hosted at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR) of the University of Amsterdam and at the University of British Columbia.

For more information on this topic, please contact James Reed at
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