Niger: Climate change and armed conflict threaten the livelihoods of nomadic herders

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In Niger, as in many other countries in the Sahel,* livestock herders face a double threat to their way of life. Pastureland is shrinking at an alarming rate as temperatures rise and rainfall decreases due to climate change. At the same time, the presence of armed groups along traditional transhumance routes has made it dangerous to roam in search of greener pastures.

Boubacar Moukaila is a herder who has settled in Tillabéri. “There never used to be any security problems. We herders went wherever we liked. It was rare to see animals die of hunger. Now the pastures are cut off from us.”

Those herders who are still able to migrate with their livestock must do it earlier and earlier in the year and for longer periods as they search for remaining pastureland. Farmers, too, are struggling to harvest enough grain and vegetables from their fields.

Increasingly scarce resources, a lack of economic prospects and an ever-growing population have pitted farmers and herders against each other, giving rise to tensions that sometimes degenerate into violent clashes between the two groups.

For herders who have given up a nomadic lifestyle, being cut off from their usual pastures means that their herds are in danger. “What with climate change, there isn’t enough fodder,” said Hassoumou Diallo, head of Niger’s pastoral associations. Often, there is no choice but to let sick and healthy animals graze on the same land. “And that’s a real problem,” Diallo said.

In the Sahel region, a total of more than nine million animals will soon be vaccinated in an immunization campaign that should bolster the resilience of 1.5 million people. “In times of conflict or crisis, where [animal] health services are lacking, the ICRC provides support by immunizing the livestock of the most vulnerable herders,” Alioune Soumano, an ICRC veterinarian, explained.

Some herders, such as Maina Bodo, have been forced to give up their traditional way of life. Half of Bodo’s herd was stolen, and the other half died of various diseases. “I live in fear. I have no animals, no home. If I find some farmland, I’ll start farming. I have no choice. I’m no one without my animals.”

Others are faced with even more difficult alternatives, such as risking the dangerous path of migration or joining an armed group.

The humanitarian and security situation in Niger continues to be a source of grave concern as armed conflict and violence rage on in the Lake Chad basin and Liptako-Gourma region.

The fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people from both within and outside the country. Many end up in the border areas of Diffa in the southeast and Tillabéri in the southwest, where displaced people live in particularly difficult conditions.

  • According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there were nearly 198,000 internally displaced people and 221,000 refugees in Niger as of January 2020. In Diffa and Tillabéri, the influx has put pressure on basic services, including health care and the drinking water supply.

  • It is increasingly difficult for humanitarian organizations to access these areas as the security situation deteriorates.

  • Between 100,000 and 120,000 hectares of arable land that could be used by farmers and herders is lost to soil erosion and desertification in Niger each year.

  • 80 per cent of Niger’s population earn a living from either farming or herding.

  • According to the United Nations, nearly five million people will likely experience food insecurity in the central Sahel during the lean season from June to August 2020.

*The Sahel is a region in western Africa that covers all or parts of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The area is sometimes referred to as the “western Sahel”.

Media contacts:

Halimatou Amadou, public relations officer, ICRC Dakar. Contact: +221781864687,

Kadidia Abdou Djabarma, communications officer, ICRC Niamey. Contact: +22792199196,