Esu: Traditional Mechanisms a Magic-Portion To Resolving Farmer/Grazer Conflicts

Amateur photo of cows grazing at Wetemeh bush in Esu

Esu, a village in Fungom Subdivision, Menchum Division of the Northwest Region is typically inhabited by people of cross cultural practices. It is a fondom predominantly peopled by two ethnic communities; the native indigenes of Esu who speak “Usu” and practice crop cultivation for livelihood and the Mbororos known to have later settled in Esu. Mbororos speak “Fulfude” and mostly carryout cattle herding for livelihood. With people of two different cultures having settled side by side, carrying out crop farming and cattle grazing on the same geographical location, farmer/grazier conflicts have often erupted due to conflict over land ownership, expansion of farmer/grazier activities, population growth and land pressure. Inhabitants hold that conflicts are sporadic, happening frequently as farmers and graziers live closely, doing activities that basically rely on land resources.

Esu is headed by a Fon called “Mbe”. He generally oversees matters in the fondom as well as mediates conflicts. In Esu, traditional Mechanisms for resolving farmer/grazier conflicts include the quarter head, quarter council, village traditional council, farmer/grazier committee (also known as dialogue platform) and the fon. These mechanisms sometimes function in collaboration with state institutions. Generally at the base of traditional mechanisms is the use of dialogue. I shall elaborate on how the various institutions are incorporated to resolve disputes between farmers and graziers. 

Dialogue between farmer/grazier

Dialogue between the two direct parties, the farmer and grazier is often the first spontaneous step in resolving a conflict. Usually when either a farmer or grazier intrudes into the other’s activity, conflict erupts. Dialogue is initiated by any party in an attempt to resolve the problem. In the case of intrusion by a grazier into a farmland, the farmer may assess the damages recorded and bring the attention of the grazier on the need for compensation in dialogue. In a telephone chat with Zong Chu Julius, a farmer in Esu he said he once caught a herder grazing cows on his farmland at “Kaluaba bush”, he confronted the herder who acknowledged his fault and was ready to pay for damages but he told the grazier that all he wants is for the incident to never happen so that they live in peace and stay together happily. “If he was to pay me, he would have given 100,000 FCFA based on the palms, groundnut and cocoyams he destroyed. The fon and quarter heads advise us to settle matters through dialogue” Zong said

Quarter Head/ Quarter Council

A Quarter head is a subordinate to the fon who administer a defined geophical are within the fondom on behalf of the fon. He is the representative of the fon at the level of the neighbourhood (quarter). Quarter heads become stakeholders in resolving farmer/grazier conflicts when they are reported to them. Conflict may be reported to the quarter head by any of the conflicting parties especially when exclusive dialogue between the two fails in solving conflict. When presented to the quarter head, he invites the quarter council (made of delegates of the neighbourhood) who act by making the farmer and grazier to see the reality on the ground; who is at fault, what charges to be paid by the defaulter and how to avoid further conflicts in future. Pa Chu Charles – Quarter head of Kendonghe quarter Esu and former chairman of the farmers/grazier committee of Esu village council said “As a quarter head, when a conflict is tabled to me by the farmer or grazier, I ask them to go and dialogue between themselves to resolve their problem. If they cannot solve the problem, I present it to the quarter council. If the conflict cannot be solved here, we hand it to the village tradional council”

The Esu Fondom Council or Village Council

The Esu Fondom Council, a traditional mechanism put in place for conflict resolution is made of all representatives living in Esu including the Hausas, the Mbororos and the natives. Three delegates from each neighbourhood in Esu are represented in the council. A farmer/grazier committee is also part of the fondom council.  When farmer/grazier conflicts fail to be solved at the level of the quarter council, they are referred to the village council. At the village council, counsellors ensure that a conflict is solved by first engaging the disputing farmer and grazier into an exclusive dialogue. If the two don’t agree, the village council sends delegates to the field to evaluate the problem, costs, consequences and implications. They ensure that damages are paid by the person at fault and caution farmers and graziers to be peaceful. Conflicts that fail to be resolved at the village council are forwarded to the Fon. Venatius Tem, village Council Chairman said “We don’t impose on farmers and graziers. We ask them to go and dialogue between themselves so that they come to an agreement. We counsel them to stay in peace” 

The Fon

The Fon of Esu called “Mbe” is the general overseer of the land. Farmer/grazier conflicts are tabled to the fon when resolution becomes unsuccessful at the level of the village council. When conflicts are brought to the fon, he plays a role in sensitizing, counselling, cautioning and guiding. In a telephone interview with His Royal Highness Kum-A-Chou II Kawzu Albert, Fon of Esu, he gave a brief on farmer/grazier conflict resolution

“When a case is brought up to the village council, the farmer grazier committee asks the grazier and farmer to walk out for a dialogue and resolve their problem by through mutual. Most often, the conflict is settled this way but when the two fail to agree, they present the case to the council. The council endeavours to mediate that they stay in peace. If this still does not resolve the conflict, the farmer and grazier are asked to hand in ten thousand francs each. The money is given to the farmer grazier committee to enable them go down to the scene of conflict to evaluate the problem. This committee goes and assess the level of destruction that may have been caused and they assess what the farmer has to pay the grazier or what the grazier has to compensate the farmer. At this level if there is no agreement, the case is sent to me as the overall boss of the land. I try to mediate and discuss with them on the importance of togetherness. Most often they heed to my advice. But when I don’t succeed to make them agree, I forward the case to the Chief of Post for Agriculture here in Esu who intervenes in the matter and I rest my case”

Besides institutions put in place to handle farmer/grazier conflicts in Esu, other activities serve as proactive measures in farmer/grazier conflict resolution. These are;

  • Group farming: Group farming describes farming by a large number of farmers over a vast continuous piece of land. Group farming can be launched by traditional dignitaries on virgin land. The occupations of vast portions of land serve as interdict for graziers not to trespass into that area thus preventing conflict. Notables advise farmers to farm in groups which prevent graziers from intruding rather than farm in isolated areas that are easily intruded by nomadic herdsmen who move from place to place for grazing. Queen Mothers (coordinators of women folk) are usually assigned to coordinate group farming. Kpwe Philip who was Esu  youth president in 2014 recalls how he announced group farming within the context of conflict “As a youth leader I announced group farming as a way of reducing tension between farmers and a grazier called  Danpullo. At the time Danpullo occupied more land than he was given which disturbed farming”
  • Constructing paddocks: This involves keeping cattle in fenced fields. Some graziers in Esu keep cattle in enclosed fields to prevent the cattle from encroaching into farmland. Speaking about the issue, Fon Kum-Achou II said “We advise graziers to set up paddocks for their cattle to stay confined at night. Farmers in areas close to cattle are also advised to fence their farmland to prevent cattle from intruding.”
  • Festivals: At annual festivals in Esu, the village population is invited to witness cultural displays. Speechmaking on harmonious living together, the importance of dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts are often part of the ceremony. These festivals pave level ground for conflict resolution by guiding and directing people and reducing instances of disagreement.
  • Land allocation: Talking on the allocation of land, HRH Kum-Achou II said “We allocate land to both herders and farmers. My policy is that hills are for herders while plains are for farmers. When a grazier is given a piece of land at the plains he has the obligation to construct a fence. However some fail to fence their area. When conflict arises between the farmer and grazier we advice them to settle it. However the case is brought to the council for solution if unresolved.”
  • Grazing permit: Grazing permit is granted to herders to ensure order.  Chu Dennis Foy, Vice Secretary of Esu Village Council 2008 to 2012 recounts that“those who want to have grazing permit come to the quarter head who refer them to the fon. The fon gives authorisation to the village council to allocate a piece of land to the grazier. The piece of land is allocated but the decision is sent to the Divisional Officer and the delegation of land tenure for approval”.

About grazing permit, Shitu Usmanou a grazier in Esu said When we have been granted grazing permit, farmers around the area who fail to fence their farmland bear the consequence when cows invades farms. Such farmers report the grazier to the council but at the council, they are blamed for not abiding to the rule of fencing. However, the grazier pays damages when cows break into a fenced farm”  

  • Quarter Council Meetings: Theyare held weekly, chaired by quarter heads and attended by all members of the neighbourhood during which the welfare of inhabitants of the area are discussed including farmer grazier issues. During these meetings tips are given on harmonious living. Villagers are also told to engage in dialogue or report matters to the appropriate authority when there is conflict.

Matters of farmer/grazier conflicts in Esu sometimes get tough in which case traditional authorities insist on respect of institutions. Some conflict cases end up with the placing of injunction orders.  “There are people who are recalcitrant. Either the farmer or grazier is hesitant to abide by the rules. Sometimes they even bypass traditional authority and prefer to report their conflicts to judicial authority. But I have advised the judiciary that when matters like farmer/grazier conflicts are brought to them, they should refer the matter to me. I also caution farmers and graziers to recognize the traditional authorities put in place” Fon Kum-Achou II said. 

On the placing of an injunction order, former youth president Kpwe Philip who has witnessed such situation recounts that “When farmer/grazier disputes become tough, a messenger is sent by the fon with a peace plant to summon the conflicting party. If they are summoned but refuse to show up, an injunction order is placed on the problematic land. Usually the injunction order is symbolised by a curved bamboo stick with five facts which is planted on the disputed land to ban any activity on that land”

By Mildred Ndum Wung

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