09 December 2015
SIID Research Exchange
By Hannah Dickinson (GLOSS Administrator)
Over lunch time today, a small group of academics, University staff and postgraduate students who are part of the Sheffield Institute for International development (SIID), were privy to an insight from Kemal Shaheen and David Drew, about some of the fascinating projects and research which is pursued by local NGO Village Aid. Village Aid and SIDshare have a well-established partnership and have been working together on joint ventures for a number of years now. As the new GLOSS Administrator (and thus Administrator of SIDshare) I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity for me to get to know more about an organisation who has been so supportive of the development of SIDshare and facilitating access for Sheffield University students into the International Development sector; and also for me to feedback to SIDshare in greater detail about some of the work which Village Aid do on the ground and beyond their UK base in the Peak District countryside.
Village Aid works in Sierra Leone, Ghana, The Gambia and Cameroon, focusing upon impoverished and disadvantaged communities in remote rural areas in these countries. Working in partnership with local organisations within these communities, Village Aid seeks to support and empower rural communities in finding their own practical solutions to the problems they face, and to challenges which they must overcome in order to flourish.
The focus of the session today was about Village Aid’s work in Cameroon; specifically their involvement in conflict resolution between Mbororo cattle herders and local crop farmers. Traditionally, the cattle herders were confined to the upper reaches of the land, and crop farmers worked on lower lying, more fertile ground. However, it is increasingly becoming the case that crop farmers are exhausting land on lower altitudes and are being forced upwards; whilst cattle herders are moving to lower altitudes to secure better grazing land for their herds. Thus, the two groups are meeting in the middle and chaos ensues.
The issue in Cameroon between Mbororo cattle herders and local crop farmers has multivariate causal factors: poverty, climate change, scarcity of water and land tenure. The meeting of the two groups has created manifold problems which include cattle destroying crops and farm lands which aren’t fenced off or demarcated, and farmers blocking access to grazing herds being able to reach water sources. The situation is coalescing to cause significant hostility and conflict in these rural communities – indeed data collected by Village Aid suggests that 75% of respondents from both cattle herding and crop growing communities stated that they had been involved in conflict with the other group over the past 3 years. Such conflict has led to legal cases between neighbours, and in the most extreme situations the quarrels have resulted in cattle being targeted and harmed, and even murder between farmers and herders.
To help to resolve these ongoing disputes between Mbororo cattle herders and crop farmers, Village Aid have worked with MBOSCUDA (Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association of Cameroon), a local human rights organisation, to implement strategies to improve community relations. Together Village Aid and MBOSCUDA have set up Dialogue Platforms which have proved revolutionary in facilitating positive and peaceful dialogue between cattle herding and crop farming communities. The platforms have ensured a minimisation of spiralling conflicts, as now individuals can bring their complaints to a Dialogue Platform, where they can be settled peacefully between both parties.
Aside from the Dialogue Platforms, Village Aid have also pursued a number of ‘agricultural interventions’ such as an ‘Alliance Farming’ project. This innovative project sees cattle herders and crop farmers sharing the patches of land which they so often quarrel over. The project is mutually beneficial, as cattle herders are given access to crop farmers land after the growing season, and engage in ‘night paddocking’ whereby their cattle are enclosed in the patch of land overnight. This prevents the cattle from damaging other farmers land by free roaming, and ensures that the cattle get to eat the highly nutritious material left over in the farmers’ fields, thus improving their health and fertility. Benefits also accrue for the farmers, as the cattle urine and manure acts as a natural fertiliser which helps to increase the yields of their crops such as cocoyam and sweet potatoes.
I found the presentation of Village Aid’s work in Cameroon really inspiring; particularly as the outlined project is so effective in combating community conflict, and establishing new pathways for community collaboration. A quote from a video which they played for us will continue to stick with me for a long time: “Conflicts are sometimes a source of motivation to think differently,” – something which I think is applicable to many aspects of work in International Development.
Many thanks to SIID for organising this Research Exchange and also to Kemal and David for giving such a great presentation – I look forward to hearing about the ongoing progression of Village Aid’s work in Cameroon and beyond.