Tackling the herdsmen menace with technology

It is no longer news that Fulani herdsmen and farmers are clashing all over Nigeria. We have been regaled with the atrocities committed by Fulani herdsmen armed with AK47s and swords attacking and sacking villages and towns from Kaduna in the north to Nimbo in Enugu State in the east and many other places in between. A quick search on Google will reveal more than half a million hits.

We have had feverish demands for restricting the movement of herdsmen, banning the grazing of cattle, appropriation of lands for grazing routes and ranches , institution of vigilante groups and other self help defense. units as solutions to the perceived menace of the herdsmen. Understandably neither of these solutions have worked and many are leading to greater conflict.

They have not worked in the main because they stem from a misunderstanding of the nature of this conflict. For many of the farmers, this is simply an invasion by the Fulani looking to expand their territory. Many observers and analysts point to the tactics behind the spread of Fulani hegemony in the 17th or 18th century as a pointer to the reason for the current conflict — the Fulani are about to build a new empire. So of course the response is to create self defense militia and confront this expansion. This thinking is then tied in with the political context where the President and avowed cattle rearer is a Fulani as are many in the power corridors at the Federal level. Accepting this thesis assumes Nigeria does not exist as a nation and neither does the individual states exist because this was the situation when the referenced Fulani tactics led to creation of the Sokoto Empire and the Emirates. In this thesis therefore there is the possibility of Nigeria dissolving into a Fulani Emirate. While it may be foolish to discountenance this possibility, I think it is rather far fetched. In the fevered context of struggles for political power in a rent seeking environment like ours, fables, rumors and conspiracy theories are easy to manufacture, even easier to disseminate and unfortunately easy to believe.

A few other view points however seem missing in the analysis. One view point is that of the herdsmen. On a few occasions, they or their representatives have come out to claim that they were only responding to aggression targeted at them by the farmers who deny them thoroughfare through the farms on routes already agreed to by the community leaders who may have asked for and received compensation in advance. In some cases, the clashes are triggered by acts of criminality by either groups who then resort to self help to settle their differences and further feed into whatever narrative fits their side.

The other view point not seriously canvassed is that the herdsmen are engaged in economic activity. The cattle are reared and sold for economic benefit. Conservative estimates are that no less than 100,000 full grown cows are consumed in Nigeria every day. At a price of N150,000 per cow, this is a N15bn a day business or a N5tn a year business. The herdsmen roaming the wilds are employees in this vast business. There are many other players from financiers, owners, managers, security, governments and us the beef eaters.

If we discount the empire building conspiracy, it is easy to situate the conflict as arising from the herdsmen not knowing what thoroughfare is free for browsing or getting the wrong permissions, followed by the refusal or inability of the economic owners of the cattle to accept legitimate losses or to bear the real cost of obtaining genuine passage and paying for damages. In so far as these conditions persist, the clashes will continue and all the solutions arising from believing the conspiracy theories will make the clashes more deadly.

My proposed solution is that the economic owners of the cattle should be held economically and judicially responsible for the damage or trespass committed by the cattle and the rearers. Remember this is a N5tn a year business. The challenge becomes how. How do the owners get legitimate passage? How do they ensure their rearers stay within the passage and the grazing areas? How do we know who owns which herd? How do we identify the herdsmen and their track? How do we identify the allowable passage and the owners of the passage? How do we charge for the compensation? How do we claim the compensation and how do we get paid? The implementation of these solutions will depend on innovative technology and processes and I will try to detail some of them here.

Who owns the cattle? Who owns a car? Easy enough — the car is registered and the owner is indicated in the register of vehicles. So we register the cattle. Any cattle in Nigeria should be registered and the register available for online checks. Births, sales, assignments, slaughter and death are all registered. We can also keep track of immunizations and sickness as well as travel and ancestry. This is not rocket science and it is done anywhere where livestock is serious business and remember this is a N5tn a year business. It is a serious business. Each cow gets an identity that is branded on her skin or embedded in an RFID bolus she swallows or has a tracker under her skin or attached to her ear. Before being allowed to sell a cow or kill one or transport them by rail, truck or through the bush, each cow must be registered and the owner known. This single move will reduce rustling and improve traceability.

Now we can go on to register each herd and each herdsman. We register the handover of these cows to the herdsmen. Now we can account for who owns which cow and who is looking after the cow. Damage caused by a cow can be traced to the cow or the herd or the herdsman and to the owner. The owner will be compelled to pay for the damage. This requires us to put in a place another system for registering claims for such damages, arbitrating the claims and settling damages. This is not difficult — insurance companies have been doing it for ages. And by the way, to ensure the owners do not wriggle out, we compel them to pay an insurance premium for every cow in their holding. We already pay auto-insurance by law don’t we? So cow-insurance is not that far fetched.

The conflict is arising mostly as cows travel and graze through farmlands. There is damage to the farms. But really who owns the farm and the produce growing on it? Or can anyone just claim to own some land and drag us into conflict for some useless weeds? Let us sort this out with technology. Sorting it out with technology means having a national cadastral database that registers every piece of land belonging to anyone — government, corporate or individual. So now we know who owns what piece of land. And we can insist that each herd and registered herdsman carry tracking equipment. Lo and behold we can follow each cow and each herd as it moves across Nigeria. The owners can track them. The security men can track them. And the land owners can track them. The only missing part now is that land utilization will also have to be registered. So if you are going to use a piece of land as a farm, that has to be registered including what you planted and when. A national cadastral database covering every inch of Nigeria land will first be created allowing all land ownership to be identified so we know who owns which parcel of land. A cadastral database also goes a long way to making these dead real estate assets in the villages and wilderness real stores of wealth.

Tracking the actual farming activities will be a big boost to agriculture in Nigeria so we know what is being grown and where. The cadastral database with a little extension can fulfill this. Any one wishing to farm or utilize any piece of land will have to register both the intention and the actual activity. Now it becomes easy for owners of cattle to negotiate or trade cattle routes with the rightful owners of the land.

With this system we are in a good position to determine when a herd of cattle that belongs to someone destroys a farm. We can determine who owns the farm and make a reasonable estimate of the actual damage and we can get the owners or their insurers to pay for this damage. The owner of cattle can purchase passage rights and have his cattle be grazed safely.

While it looks a bit complicated, these are actually needed systems that serves so much more economic multiplier functions than just stopping herdsmen and farmers conflict. A cadastral database will allow our bankers accept farmlands as collateral which will release funds for farmers and others to invest. A proper cattle registration system will also allow us have proper beef tracking system that will become handy in improving the health and quality of our cattle with an eye on export. It will also drastically reduce rustling.

Of course this solution demands that we abandon the conspiracy theories and recognize the source of the conflicts for what it really is — a failing of our Nation to evolve systems that promote social cohesion and remove the frictions that arise when economic transactions collide. Technology can only help.

This article first appeared on my blog http://okwuiagada.blogpost.com

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