In North West Cameroon, increasing competition for access to land and water continues to create conflict and stir up hostility between cattle herders and crop farmers. But herder Alhadji Hamadam Melam has been at the forefront of an initiative to give peace a chance in his local community of Njah-Etu, in the Momo area.
Following a motorbike accident in 2011, Alhadji has been living with a long term disability. It has restricted his mobility, but not his passion to improve conditions for local people. With the launch of UP’s In Search of Common Ground project in in 2013, Alhadji found himself elected as ‘Dialogue Platform’ president, by his local community – a firm vote of confidence in the ability of this family man.
Presiding over the Dialogue Platform, Alhadji encourages his community to openly vocalise their concerns, in order to settle disputes, change negative attitudes and bring about peaceful solutions for both parties.
He acknowledges that beforehand, he didn’t know how to dialogue amicably and resolve conflict.
He can now see clear advantages of his long lasting cordial relationships with the farming community, especially those with who he practices Alliance Farming
This involves cattle herders and crop farmers working together for mutual benefit. Alliance farmers rotate land use between crop farming and cattle grazing. The cattle gain access to nutritious food, which improves their milk production and health, while the cows’ manure fertilises the land, improving the farmers’ crop yields. After the farmers have harvested their crops, Alhadji’s cattle graze on rich pasture which is more fertile than usual for communal grazing land.
He gives two examples of ways he has been able to improve relations between herders and farmers:
When his own cows had strayed into the farm of a local primary school, destroying the school’s corn and bean crops, he successfully opened a dialogue with the headmaster and provided compensation for the damage caused. A difficult situation was happily sorted – and the two men have become friends.
Another example involved a grazer whose straying sheep had damaged almost a hectare of beans and cassava of a local farmer. Alhadji met with both parties separately and together, convincing them to resolve their problems amicably. As a result, the case which had been reported to the relevant government official, was withdrawn - thereby de-escalating the situation - and the grazer and farmer agreed a reasonable level of compensation. Moreover, to stop further conflicts between them, the two men also constructed an animal-proof fence to prevent accidental crop damage in the future.
All in all, the In Search of Common Ground project has brought many benefits to Alhadji and has helped him to provide for his large family in spite of his disability. He now hosts a demonstration biogas plant on his farm; with fuel so readily available, his family no longer has to spend time searching for wood, and can enjoy their meals on time. He has also been inspired to plant a form of grass which is very nutritious for his cattle, meaning they can graze on improved pasture close to home. And his ability in finding a positive way through conflict has greatly increased.
To ensure that the results of the project are sustainable, other individuals are now also being trained in the conflict management techniques that he uses. According to Alhadji, community members greatly appreciate the peace reigning in their neighbourhood - and are learning the lessons fast.
About the project
United Purpose (UP), in partnership with local human rights organisation MBOSCUDA (Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association of Cameroon) is working to reduce conflict in Cameroon. Building on the successes and learning of the Big Lottery funded ‘In Search of Common Ground’ project which ran from 2013-18, UP’s latest project ‘Bridging the Gap’ seeks to address more long-standing issues of cultural misunderstanding and to improve social cohesion in the region over the next three years. Funded by the EU, and working in partnership with MBOSCUDA and the North-West Farmers Organisation (NOWEFOR), the project will scale up the dialogue platform model within conflict hotspots.
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