Competition over water and pasture – typically between herders or between nomadic herders and sedentary farmers – and resulting conflicts go back centuries (see section 1). But whereas competition often had a symbiotic component to it, today competition leads to violent conflict. Generally, these conflicts can be classified into conflicts over damaged crops, conflicts over the use of watering points, conflicts over cattle rustling, land disputes and conflicts over blocked transhumance corridors.
There are a number of reasons why violent resource competition is growing in Burkina Faso. In recent years, the effects of climate change, demographic growth, processes of farmland expansion at the expense of pasturelands and the privatisation of land have all deteriorated pastureland and increased the general pressure on natural resources. This section however argues that it is not these factors but rather the increasingly failing and exclusive (local) governance structures that lie at the heart of the problem.
Competition between resource users is present in every community, but it was usually ‘amicably’ resolved as resource governance systems matched the local political economy. As a result, for years there was an effective mechanism for conflict management that was moreover resilient in the face of new pressures. Currently, violent conflict is erupting especially due to shortcomings in these governance systems and failing conflict resolution mechanisms, meant to regulate access to natural resources.
The implication is that our research suggests no direct correlation between the presence (or scarcity) of natural resources and violent conflict. Scarcity, access to and control over natural resources are often put forward as key drivers of the farmer-herder conflict, which is too often reduced to issues relating to the rights of access to and the privatisation of pastureland. In fact, inequality between farmers and pastoralists has less to do with unequal access rights and competition over resources, than with the power relations that shape it. We find that pastoralists in Burkina Faso compete with farmers on an unequal playing field and are structurally marginalized, which leads to grievances regarding their access to land and resources.
The approach we take in this section is to start from a rural political economy analysis. Hence, we employ an economic understanding of how pastoral and agropastoral communities use rangelands and watering points. From that, we subsequently explore the specific role of land governance and (feelings of) the structural exclusion of the pastoralist community. For this reason, this section analyses the main policies and laws governing pastoral land and resource use in Burkina Faso, followed by an analysis of how this is translated into governance at the community level and how the mechanisms of conflict mediation that are in place cope with the new dynamics.
We find that there is a latent set of underlying intercommunal conflicts encapsulated in land-use rights. Latent conflicts are present in structural inequalities in the legal definitions of land ownership and resource use. This has resulted in some user groups being consistently excluded from participating in natural resource management. As new pressures have resulted in further changes in the social and political space, greater conflict over these underlying grievances has started to materialize.
In this section we first paint the legal landscape governing land and natural resources in Burkina Faso, indicating how pastoralists have been largely excluded from political decision-making processes and are underrepresented both at the national and local level. The net effect is that pastoralists have been losing out on the current arrangements. We then discuss what lies at the heart of pastoral grievances, namely the fact that the wider political marginalisation of mobile groups is unequally impacting pastoralists in competition over natural resources. Finally, we explore how conflicts between farmers and pastoralists as a consequence of these dynamics are mediated at the local level and when these conflicts risk escalating into violence.
Local customary rights and overarching institutional regimes govern how actors appropriate resources and restrict the access rights of others. In Burkina Faso, colonial-era laws and policies have been inimical to pastoral livelihoods and set up land tenure regimes that excluded pastoralists. These laws already confined pastoralists to the margins of the law. This trend has continued throughout the post-colonial era, despite major land tenure and rural land planning reforms throughout the 1980s and 1990s. For example, in Burkina Faso no legislation explicitly mentioned pastureland. Uncultivated spaces – that is to say often pastureland – were de facto regarded as belonging to the state.
Whereas, for decades, no significant steps were taken to secure these spaces for pastoralists’ activities and mobility, the pastoral law of 2002, ‘Loi d’orientation relative au pastoralisme 2009-034’ (LORP), was the first framework law on pastoralism ever to be adopted in the country. The law formalized several types of pastoral areas, including village grazing land, forests, fallow fields, fields after harvest and stock routes. Local sedentary communities were responsible for the protection of these resources. The law established herd mobility as a fundamental right, which was a crucial step forward.
However, unlike Niger’s 1993 Rural Code which elevated customary systems to the same legal status as statutory land property and substantially strengthened pastoralists’ control of resources in their home territory, Burkina Faso opted for a more technocratic approach. It focused on integrated land-use planning that included provisions for the establishment of pastoral grazing reserves. Yet the state largely failed to apply this law. Its implementing decrees were only adopted in 2007 thereby creating delay and confusion in clearly delimiting protected pastoral areas, which were progressively encroached by agriculture over that 5-year period. By the time the law was adopted, many open access pasturelands had already been encroached by farmers, an ongoing process since the 1990s.
Apart from the absence of decrees, the law was also not implemented at the level of conflict mediation, creating impunity when it came to acting against encroachments into pastoral grazing reserves by farmers. Grievances against this violation of pastoral zones in their community without any reaction from any authority are high among pastoralists. In practice, they claim, when a case of damaged crops is brought to court, the question of whether the damaged field is located in a restricted pastureland or in a livestock corridor according to the 2002 law is never raised. The lack of statutory legislation until 2002 and the subsequent lack of enforcement and a failure to protect pastoral areas have created a permissive legal landscape in which farmers can claim property rights while mobile pastoralists can only obtain fleeting access rights to their ancestral territories.
Eventually, the 2002 law proved to be a double burden on pastoral communities. On the one hand, it limited their mobility and access to land and resources by law by imposing on them a farmer-centric and exclusive type of property regime. Granting pastoralists protected pastoral areas confines them to finite spaces and restrains their mobility by introducing compulsorily transhumance certificates to allow them to move around. On the other hand, these laws failed to protect areas and rights granted to pastoralists in the first place. As a result, the state assumes control over pastoralist mobility, but fails to protect them. This is in line with a wider push towards the sedentarization of pastoralism. While the value of pastoral mobility and the need to secure transhumance is affirmed in the LORP, this accomplishment is undermined by Article 2 of Decree No. 2007-416 – concerning the methods for identifying and securing special grazing areas and areas of land reserved for cattle grazing – where the focus is specifically placed on the promotion of the sedentarization and the eventual modernisation of traditional livestock farming. The measures put forward in this decree are intended to create the conditions for the gradual disappearance of transhumance.
In 2009 the Rural Land Tenure Law was passed formalizing different land tenure types in rural areas, which is to be applied on a municipal scale. However, also this law makes no provision for protecting regional stock routes and transhumance routes that supersede the municipal level. Under this law the development of local charters to regulate ownership tenure and access to land is promoted, with explicit mention being given to pastureland. These local charters are to be drawn up at community level, where community members come together to discuss norms and rules of natural resource management. In theory these rules are checked as to whether or not they contradict national law with the support of the Directorate General of Pastoral Spaces and Facilities (DGEACP). However, local elites with connections in Ouagadougou dominated the process and pastoralists rarely took part in drawing up charters.
The imposition of national priorities over pastoral interests has a longer history, as pastoralist communities have long been marginalized and excluded by institutions and policies that do not serve their interests or support their livelihoods. International policymakers have a long history of promoting sedenterization in sub-Saharan Africa. In the post-colonial context of the late 20th century, policies were supportive of sedentary agriculture, to the detriment of regional pastoral mobility practices. Policies were often aimed at pluri-activity for sedentary farmers, or involved attempts at forced semi-sedentarization through pastoral centres and herding areas. This continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with a third of all the funds spent on livestock between 1968 and 2010 being dedicated to creating sedentary ranches based on the American intensive model between 1968 and 1980.
These former projects failed to develop a sedentary livestock economy that could replace traditional and mobile systems to provide enough livestock, meat, and milk for the growing urban and international markets. In spite of this failure, present-day livestock policies in the Sahel maintain a sedentary bias. This can be traced back to the meagre representation of pastoralists and specifically the Fulani at the level of the policy-making institutions. In Burkina Faso, pastoralists’ political representation is weak or non-existent, making it a central aim for pastoral organisations in the country to give pastoralists a voice in civil society and politics, so that they can influence decision-making. When pastoralists are represented, these are usually elite and rich urban pastoralists who are not representative of the majority of impoverished, rural pastoralists.
As a result, and within the framework of decentralization, in Burkina Faso policymakers plan to delimit new pastoral territories under the control of local authorities. The main goal is to increase the number of pastoral territories from 24 in 2013 to 120 in 2025. These territories are envisioned as development centres for intensive production on fattening farms using fodder and the genetic improvement of cattle breeds. Sedentary livestock production in confined village territories with limited available resources is proving difficult, requiring either high quantities of purchased fodder or entrusting the herds to pastoralist herders to guide them to greener pastures. As such, livestock policies have not only jeopardized traditional pastoralism, but sedentary livestock production as well, forcing farmers to incorporate their animals in pastoralists’ transhumant herds.
National law, however, is not the only land regime that governs pastoralists. At the local level, customary systems are similarly to the detriment of pastoralists. Competition between formal and traditional governance systems is a legacy of changing land governance systems in Burkina Faso. Before the 1970s land management was largely left to customary institutions and was governed according to customary law. This approach was reversed under Thomas Sankara’s regime (1983-1987) and in 1984 all land and management rights were vested in the state and the legitimacy and even the recognition of customary land rights were denied. After 1987 there has been a gradual change in the opposite direction and in 2012 a revision legally divided the national domain in land held by the state, by municipalities (local collectives) and by private actors. The land tenure regime complements the country’s ongoing initiative to decentralize a broad array of political and administrative responsibilities. Even though the 2009 Rural Land Tenure Law and the 2012 RAF give the mandate to formalize different tenure types, most of the land remains under the governance of customary and informal rules. This history has created confusion amongst local land users.
In all research locations, answers as to who governed and managed local natural resources differed and some would even wonder whether there was any mechanism in place. Generally speaking, the Village development councils (CVD), the Chief and the Chef de terre were identified. Customary chiefs are traditionally the ones entitled to distribute and allocate community land and are responsible for the enforcement customary rules that accord with state policy. Land is allocated through donations, loans and successions administered by the chief, and when outsiders want to settle in the community land is allocated subject to the condition that they abide by local customs. A major concern is that customary authorities tend to be exclusionary in their methods of allocating land parcels, discriminating against pastoralists – who are perceived as outsiders – women and young people.
In Burkina Faso chiefs are not formal agents of the state and do not receive salaries or public funds, and their re-won powers risk turning into opportunities for rent-seeking behaviour and corruption. The Tengsoaba (Mossi for maître de terre) is another important traditional figure with nominal power over land succession rights who cooperates alongside the institutionalised figure of the village chief. He encapsulates the physical link with the ancestry in his succession whilst also representing a decisive judicial personality for the transfer of property in localised communities. Local customs are shaped by the interests of farming communities, often promoting the exclusive occupation of land by farming.
Village development councils (CVD), which are responsible for conceiving formal policies regarding land-use planning, are the action space for sedentary farmers. Pastoralists who depended on flexible and seasonal resources rather than territorial control have long avoided village politics. Farmers, on the contrary, take advantage of the social prestige represented by their wealth and landholdings to occupy most seats on the municipal councils and CVDs. In virtually all of the municipalities where we conducted interviews, except Gayeri, farmers are better represented than pastoralists in the CVDs. Therefore, land planning is governed by a body dominated by farmers, tasked with governing the conditions of resource competition with those who they see as outsiders. CVDs often fail to set up pastoral areas in their locality despite the presence of pastoralist populations and the fact that this is their prerogative. Pastoralists have a clear dissatisfaction with the functioning of local CVDs stating that they are often not functional and biased in terms of access to resources. The one exception we came across in our research is Gayeri, where both farmers and pastoralists claim to be equally represented in the CVD, accounting for the highest level of satisfaction with resource management. Interestingly enough, this is also the only CVD with women being represented and having fair access to resources, suggesting that inclusive governance for farmers includes inertia in including all historically marginalized groups.
This unlevel playing field for natural resource management is often turning out to be disadvantageous for pastoralists. They cannot fall back on national laws governing the rural space including Burkina Faso’s 2002 Pastoral Policy Act to protect their access, as these are hardly enforced and suffer from a lack of implementation due to the absence of decrees. In addition, while these fair policy frameworks for natural resource management may be in place, they might be ignored or perverted in their implementation at the local level. For example, pastoral zones and corridors that are delineated at the national level are not protected. A difference in the nature and scope of farmers’ and herders’ rights explains part of the power imbalance. Access to water and pasturelands is based on open access and not ownership rights. This property regime is still a widespread conception among pastoralists since it fits the pastoralists’ mobile lifestyle. Open access is weakened as it is subject to farmers’ power to change land use from pastoral to agricultural. The expansion of agriculture is leading to the extension of exclusive rights and a symmetrical decline in open property for pastoralists.
What are the effects of these formal and customary land regimes on the perceptions of pastoralists? To this end, we conducted a number of interviews to explore these perceptions. While both farmers and pastoralists hold grievances regarding access to natural resources and land, farmers are mostly satisfied with the current distribution of resources while pastoralists feel overwhelmingly dissatisfied. Some 95 per cent of interviewed farmers across the 3 regions stated that they were satisfied with their current access to resources, while only 41 per cent of all interviewed pastoralists said they were satisfied (see figure 2 below).
Pastoralists’ main grievances revolve around depleted resources, poor access rights to water points and land, and the occupation of pastureland and cattle tracks by cash crops and farmland. These grievances are interconnected, as the obstruction of corridors have ripple effects and constrain their access to water points or pastureland. The intensity of these problems fluctuates in time and space depending on how advanced the agricultural season is and where they are in the territory. During the planting and harvesting period, protected pastoral areas and cattle tracks are occupied by farmers, and it becomes difficult for pastoralists to access resources without sparking conflicts with these actors. In addition, because an increasing number of farmers are expanding their activities to livestock production, they often keep the crop residues they used to share with pastoralists for their own herds. This is a major new point of discontent among pastoralists, for whom crop residues are crucial to fatten their own animals. In dealing with these challenges, pastoralists indicate that they regret the lack of support from the state in protecting pastoral zones from agricultural encroachment. They see themselves “at a clear disadvantage compared to farmers” in terms of access to resources, especially when it comes to farmers illegally occupying restricted pastoral areas without repercussion from the authorities.
Farmers also recognize that due to demographic growth and prolonged droughts, competition over land and water is increasing, but scarcity does not seem to translate into reduced access to resources for them. Most of them explain that “as farmers, [they] do not face any major difficulties in accessing natural resources.” They understand resource management as “equal” and “fair” and are satisfied with it. Some farmers seem to be generally oblivious to the dynamics of exclusion and refute grievances from pastoralists and blame pastoralists for being anarchic, incapable of using resources sustainably and destroying their fields with their herds. Overall, farmers’ grievances have less to do with poor access than with competing resource use by other actors who are challenging the status quo. For example, they also see the arrival of internally displaced people or gold miners in their communities as threats.
Conflicts arising from mutual transgressions by both farmers and herders are an inherent part of negotiations on access to resources. For example, just as much as farmers claim land tenure by physically clearing the land and planting crops, damaging crops with their herds is one of the few tools left to pastoralists who want to make use of their access rights over the land. Pastoralists intentionally enter fields and destroy crops to protest against land encroachment and reclaim the area. A case in point occurred in August 2009 where, despite the pastureland being made a protected zone by the 2002 law, pastoralists were convicted and were forced to pay a fine to the farmer in question. As in other fields with political dimensions, those actors with the greatest access to power are also best able to control and influence natural resource decisions in their favour. While pastoralists complain about unequal access rights to open resources, farmers point to competing resource use – practices they see as challenging their rights over these resources.
Open conflicts between farmers and pastoralists are the visible manifestation of power relations concerning access rights and illustrate and uncover the fragile relational dynamics governing the sharing of natural resources between competing groups. Historically, customary justice systems have been decisive in settling domestic issues and intra-group clashes, particularly in rural areas where the state has limited reach. For conflicts between pastoralists and other resource users, it is often local traditional leaders who are the first responders to everyday resource disputes and can play a key role in both mediating conflicts and preventing their escalation.
In the different resource locations smaller disputes are usually settled amicably between the actors involved. These involve chiefs, religious leaders, or other intermediaries such as the Rouga. Traditional authorities may serve as a credible first line of defence to mediate disputes or help to regulate the community use of resources, before turning to state authorities when enforcement is beyond their capacity. Depending on the gravity of the issue or in case a settlement cannot be reached the case is brought before the Chef, the CVD, the prefecture or is taken up the ladder of the formal justice system. Pastoralists generally prefer more informal mechanisms, which they claim they trust more than formal mechanisms which they often consider to be dysfunctional or to their disadvantage. Likewise, farmers express more trust in traditional mechanisms that can promote good inter-community relations.
While customary solutions have often resulted in amicable resolutions of localised conflicts, our research highlights a key bottleneck: legal pluralism/overlapping jurisdiction between state and customary law. Many pastoral and farming communities operate within legally plural administrative systems, in which multiple sources of authority (including state and traditional authorities) exercise political power. Legal pluralism can be a particular risk of conflict when local authorities choose to manipulate or exploit conflict resolution mechanisms for their own gain. It may give rise to political splintering and “forum shopping,” in which each aggrieved party seeks favour through competing centres of authority (e.g., a traditional chief, mayor, the police and the gendarmery).
The effect is that pastoralists and farmers will often resort to different authorities to have their problem heard. Since the CVDs, tasked with governing land disputes at the local level, massively favour farmers as presented in the previous section, pastoralists will often prefer to seek the help of other customary authorities. In similar ways, as happens for example in Boucle du Mouhoun, the chief can allow pastoralists to enter the community – drawn in to herd his cattle – without the agreement of the farmers. The farmers will bypass the authorities or mechanisms for conflict resolution and will go straight to the police, because they do not trust the authorities to be neutral. By having recourse to modern legal proceedings, they anticipate that the judge’s ruling will be based on national law, which tends to be biased towards farmers. This accentuates another important limitation of the traditional system, since at the national level there is no law that recognises local rules of conflict mediation. If someone disagrees with the way a dispute has been settled locally, that person can take it up the formal justice system because there is no legal ground for the local ruling.
Forum shopping can reinforce the cycle of everyday corruption and conflict escalation that erodes local legitimacy. The efficacy of local leaders in mediating conflict can be diminished when they engage in blatant partisanship or self-serving behaviour. Local and district authorities often profit financially from their role in conflict mediation (e.g., through bribery), which can transform everyday disputes into examples of state-sanctioned injustice. Since chiefs are the main actors in the distribution of land in the community under the traditional system, they might become involved in private land sales to community outsiders, which has been reported throughout the region. As rural economies evolve and the demand for land or animal products increases, there are new opportunities for enrichment that may break down traditional institutions. A 2020 analysis by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization of the Liptako-Gourma region highlighted land sales and property speculation as a principal reason why traditional conflict resolution mechanisms have broken down in the area.
Despite these trends, both pastoralists and farmers explain that most people dislike having to turn to state authorities outside of their community in fear of having to pay some type of bribe or not being listened to. If they call the police or the gendarmery, they will have to pay for their fuel to turn up which is very costly. Their case will be taken on by non-native prefects who are often unaware of local dynamics. These formal processes take a long time and both actors are rarely satisfied therewith. However, in locations where more new actors such as local authorities and farmers have become cattle owners, farmers have indicated that recently more people have resorted to filing complaints with the police in order for the procedure to end up before the judge who will rule on the basis of national law.
This section has demonstrated how pastoralists in Burkina Faso compete with farmers on an unequal playing field regarding access to land and resources, since policies and attitudes affecting pastoral resources have been largely exclusionary. As a result, while conflicts between resource users are present in every community in varying degrees, the discrepancy between national law and local implementation and enforcement to protect pastoralists’ access rights has contributed to violent escalations of grievances and conflicts between competing groups.
Traditional justice mechanisms were the preferred way of solving existing tensions and conflicts but, faced with new pressures, these mechanisms seem to breakdown. As these mechanisms are no longer able to prevent the increased escalation of these natural resource conflicts, they negatively affect the nature of farmer-pastoralist relations. When other actors such as self-defence or vigilante groups step into an emerging justice vacuum, further escalating intercommunal conflicts, this creates a fertile breeding ground for the intrusion of radical armed groups.