Allie Kamara is a 45-year-old farmer who lives in Kombayendeh, Lei Chiefdom, Kono District in Sierra Leone’s Eastern Province with his wife and three children. He supports his family by growing rice and vegetables on a three-and-a-half acre farm a mile from the family home.
For two decades, Kono District has been blighted by tension between crop farmers and cattle herders as the number of cattle ranches began to increase in Lei Chiefdom. The two groups were mainly coming into conflict whenever livestock wandered onto farmland in search of water or pasture.
Cows regularly destroyed valuable harvests, badly impacting the amount of food farmers had to eat and sell; Allie’s included.
“The cattle rearer didn’t control his cows. The cows ate the rice I planted,” Allie says.
Since 2017, Christian Aid’s local partner Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD), with support from Irish Aid, has worked to reduce tensions by carrying out dispute mediation and conflict resolution sessions between individuals from both communities.
In 2019, in an attempt to reduce the number of disputes arising between crop farmers and cattle herders, NMJD lobbied for the local council in Kono District in Sierra Leone’s Eastern Province to pass bye-laws to regulate the relationship between both groups.
The new bye-laws set out specific times of year for farmers to plant and sow their crops (May-January) and for cattle herders to be able to graze their animals (February-June). Cattle-herders were also made responsible for controlling their livestock to ensure they cannot trespass onto crop farms during the farming period, including by fencing in their animals where needed.
Additionally, the bye-laws outline a set of procedures for how to properly set up a new cattle ranch and state that a reasonable distance be established between cattle ranches and crop farms. The bye-laws also outline a series of penalties for those who fail to abide by the rules.
Community Action Groups (CAGS) were also to be set up in every cattle-settlement community to manage the relationship between crop-farmers and cattle-herders. Through these local committees, farmers and herders can report any issues and the committees will work to resolve disputes between the two sides.
“My life has improved because before there was nowhere to complain if a cow eats our rice. Now we have somewhere to report issues and they respond quickly to settle it. I was compensated.”
The new bye-laws also greatly benefited cattle herders. Salieu Bah is a 32-year-old cattle herder who lives with his wife and two children along with his brother on a farm in Yambayor village in Lei Chiefdom, around five miles from Allie’s village.
Salieu keeps a herd of 40 cows as well as goats, sheep and chickens. However, disputes with local farmers upset with his herd getting on their land had resulted in retaliatory attacks, in some cases with traps set to deliberately wound their animals.
“There are some villages that I don’t even go to because if the people I have issues with see me it becomes a problem,” Salieu explains.
Salieu also notes how the bye-laws have helped to bring about change between cattle herders and crop farmers in Kono District.
“The bye-laws have brought peace between us. Now, farmers will grow crops and know when to cultivate the land and we know when to let go of our animals or to keep them. The law helped us. Everyone knows his or her responsibility. NMJD was able to make peace win,” he adds.
Allie is hopeful that one day, bye-laws like those introduced in Kono District with the help of NMJD will be introduced elsewhere in the country to help other farmers and cattle herders experiencing the same difficulties they had to be able to peacefully resolve their disputes.
“I would like to see other people benefit from this. I want them to continue with this project, not only in Kono District but across Sierra Leone as so many places are suffering from these same conflicts between cattle rearers and farmers, which is now one of the biggest problems in the country,” Allie says.