Esu, a village in Fungom Subdivision, Menchum Division of the Northwest Region, is headed by a Fon called ‘Mbe”. Esu 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. Conflicts are sporadic as farmers and graziers live closely, doing activities that basically rely on land resources.
The resolution of farmer/grazier conflict in Esu is regulated by laid down traditional Mechanisms featuring the customs of the people. These mechanisms sometimes function in collaboration with state institutions. Generally at the base of traditional mechanisms is the use of dialogue.
- Dialogue between farmer/grazier: Dialogue between the direct parties, the farmer and grazier is often the first spontaneous step in resolving conflicts. Usually when 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 a telephone chat with Zong Chu Julius, a farmer in Esu he said “I confronted a herder whose cows destroyed my crops at Kaluaba bush. He was ready to pay damages but I told him that all I want is peace let the incident never happen again. He was supposed to pay 100,000 FCFA based on the palms, groundnut and cocoyam destroyed. The fon and quarter heads advise us to settle matters through dialogue”. Equally Mamouda Jaja, grazier in Esu said “We have been advised that farmers are our brothers so we should approach them in peace and apologise when there is a problem because it is an accident. Recently, my cows ate a farmer’s crops so I met the farmer and we settled the matter. I paid 160, 000 frs for destruction”
- Quarter Head/ Quarter Council: A Quarter head is a sub chief who takes care of a neighbourhood. Conflicts may be reported to the quarter head by any conflicting party especially when exclusive dialogue between the two initially affected fail 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; the defaulter, compensation to be paid and how to avoid further conflicts. Chu Charles – Quarter head of Kendonghe 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. If they cannot solve the problem, I present it to the quarter council. If the conflict cannot be solved, we hand it to the fondom council”. Besides the Quarter head in Esu is the Ardo who coordinates the Mbororo Community and also acts as a stakeholder in resolving farmer/grazier disputes. The Ardo of Mbororo Community in Esu – Usmanou Jaja said “When farmer/grazier conflicts are reported to me, I solve the problem by investigating to see who is on the wrong. We don’t favour one against the other. When cows break the farmer’s fence, we ask the grazier to pay but when farmers don’t fence their farm, they bear the loss if cows destroy crops”
- The Esu Fondom Council or Village Council: It is made of all representatives living in Esu including Hausas, Mbororos and the native Esu. 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 fondom council. At the fondom 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 fondom council sends delegates to the field to evaluate the problem. 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 fondom council are forwarded to the Fon. Talking to Yaya Rogo, member of the farmer/grazier committee “As a member of the council, I make people to understand that both farmers and graziers have rights. You cannot underrate one against the other” he said. Venatius Tem, Fondom 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”
- The Fon: The Fon of Esu is the general overseer of the land. Farmer/grazier conflicts are tabled to the fon when resolution becomes unsuccessful at the level of the fondom council. When conflicts are brought to the fon, he plays a role in counselling and mediation. In an interview with His Royal Highness Kum-A-Chou II Kawzu Albert, Fon of Esu, he said “farmer/grazier conflicts are forwarded to me as the overall boss of the land by the fondom council. I try to mediate and discuss with farmers and graziers on the importance of togetherness. Most often they heed to me. But when I don’t succeed, I forward the case to the Chief of Post for Agriculture to intervenes and I rest my case”
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 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 branches which, planted on the disputed land to ban any activity on that land”
Customs characterizing farmer/grazier conflict resolution
– kolanut is made available by stakeholders. It is served to disputing parties since it is believed that “where there is kolanut, there is life”
-During meetings bringing together the farmer and grazier as the two opposing partiers, they are made to sit face to face. This custom is intended to enable them face reality.
-The disputing farmer and grazier is made to drink palm wine from the same calabash at the end of a successful conflict resolution; a custom intended to seal the agreement. Hugging and hand shaking is done in place of drinking palm wine when the settlements of disputes involve the Mbororo. This is because Mbororos beliefs prohibit palm wine.
-The Fon summons an accused farmer or grazier by dispatching a messenger with a peace plant to be presented to the accused. This is to show the urgency and severity of the matter. As a custom, only the fon serves an accused with a peace plant.
-An injuction order symbolised by a curved bamboo stick is used to ban activity on a disputed piece of land when disputes are life threatening.
Besides institutions and Customs to handle farmer/grazier conflicts in Esu, other activities serve as proactive measures in farmer/grazier conflict resolution. These are;
- Group farming: This 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 isolation easily intruded by nomadic herdsmen. Kpwe Philip, Esu youth president in 2014 recalled that “As a youth leader I announced group farming as a way of reducing tension between farmers and a grazier called At the time Danpullo occupied more land than he was given which disturbed farming”
- Paddocks: This involves keeping cattle in fenced fields. Some graziers in Esu keep cattle in enclosed fields to prevent the cattle from encroaching 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”
- 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. Festivals pave a level ground for conflict resolution by guiding people and reducing conflicts.
- 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.”
- Grazing permit: Grazing permit is granted to herders to ensure order. Chu Dennis Foy, Vice Secretary of Esu Fondom 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. 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 invade farms. Such farmers report the grazier to the council but at the council, they are blamed for not abiding to the rule. However, the grazier pays damages when cows break into a fenced farm”
- Quarter Council Meetings: They are held weekly, chaired by quarter heads and attended by all members of the neighbourhood during which the welfare of villagers 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.
Traditional mechanisms and customs to resolve farmer/grazier conflicts in Esu continue to thrive amidst challenges. With the evolution of time, herders and farmers have come to understand that conflict solution is best settled through dialogue and negotiation. As a reality, conflicts are unavoidable given that disagreements are bound to occur when different persons, views and activities are concerned. The laid down mechanism for conflict resolution is just a yardstick to reduce tensions.
*Mildred Ndum Wung is a blogger, print Journalist and broadcaster based in Bamenda, North West Region of Cameroon