Méma is situated at a pastoral crossroads between the Malian regions of Segou, Mopti, Timbuktu and the Mauritanian border that welcomes hundreds of herders at the beginning of rainy season every year. As climate change reduces arable land in the region, there have been increasing tensions over resources.
When pastoralists from different regions of Mali and the Mauritanian border such as Fassala and Bassikounou meet, “there is often disorder. There are pastoralists who meet together, there are those who stay in the same place. They are sometimes disturbed by the pastoralists because they disturb their herd, and that creates tensions sometimes,” says Mahmad Ag Mohamed Ali, chief of the village of N’ya.
In the event of a problem, community elders intervene to ease tensions. “Regarding misunderstandings, there are always elders like religious leaders, community chiefs, village chiefs, and counselors who meet to help ease the tension between communities, bring people together and discuss access to pasture, water and pastoral routes,” says Mahmad Ag Mohamed Ali.He added that when “problems are resolved in the absence of the state, they are resolved for good. If it’s resolved with the state or the justice system, it is a problem that will be repeated, because the justice system will favor the person with more financial means and declare him the winner. Whereas when we settle the problems ourselves, it is the families themselves who argue their cases in front of the elders, the chiefs, their cousins.”
Community mediators also intervene in the identification and search for lost or stolen herds. “The first task of the network is to collect all the marks of the animals of all the pastoralists concerned, Peulh, Tamasheq. When a herd with such a mark is lost or stolen and not found, immediately, the network alerts each other. There is someone who specializes in animal markings and can tell Tuareg marks, Arab marks, or Peulh marks. He is called to say that such and such a mark from such and such a herd has been located in such and such a place. Once informed, the network will alert the owner of the marks and immediately the animals are found and recovered. Herds have been found this way several times. Most recently, 315 sheep lost north of Goundam were found next to Bassikounou,” explained the chief of N’ya village.
Cilmate change causes conflict
Every year, after flooding from the rainy season in the central delta, between June and July, the Fulani herding communities leave the Macina to go to the non-flooded zones, notably the Karei, inhabited mainly by Bambara communities (farmers), the Méma, inhabited by Tuareg communities (sedentary and nomadic herders) and Nampalari, inhabited by Fulani communities (semi-sedentary herders and farmers).
Since the outbreak of the 2012 political and security crisis, community relations in central Mali and conflicts related to agro-pastoral activities have undergone several changes. Climate change has dried up more fertile areas, causing conflict over land tenure, while the state as well as some of the security forces have abandoned the region, leaving jihadists to roam freely. This situation has created competition and rivalry between communities over resources. These rivalries are accentuated from one area to another depending on the communities’ ties to the armed groups in their area
In Tabakat, south of N’ya in the Méma, Fago Yattara, a farmer, pleaded for “a consensus with the herders to prevent herds from invading the fields,” he said. “The herds have left their usual route, leaving Macina, passing through Nampala and continuing to Fassala (Mauritania) and passing through our village. During the pastoral march, we find ourselves on their route. We manage to prevent some animals from looting the fields, others go unnoticed. After the cool months, on their return, the animals plunder the fields. When we complain to the farmers, some of them recognize it and apologize,” he says.
Lack of infrastructure
According to the breeder Albarka Ag Mokha, there’s an urgent need to address the diminishing pastoral space and a lack of basic infrastructure, which hampers their work. “During (former Malian president) Moussa Traoré’s time, water reservoirs were built to allow herds to remain in the area. These spaces no longer exist today because of silting,” he regrets.
The rainy season is therefore a good time for herders to make their annual pastoral journey, “but afterwards, there are not enough water points for all the herds. Some leave and others stay, even the remaining herds don’t have enough water. The wells are not enough to make up for the lack of water. They can’t support the water needs of all the herds, and this is what creates difficulties,” Albarka Ag Mokha added.
In Méma, the various community actors are always on alert to intervene in case of a problem. Unfortunately, this is not the case for other flash points where community relations have deteriorated since the crisis broke out in 2012 in Mali.
*Reporting supported by the IMS Sahel Program, funded by DANIDA.
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