Watermelons, melons, zucchinis and other fruits to avoid conflicts (Willem Van Cotthem)

Today, my attention went to the title of an article published in May 2008 at the IRIN website :

http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=78164

SUDAN: Watermelons, conflict and climate change

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Here are some particular paragraphs from this article :

1. EL OBEID, 13 May 2008 (IRIN) – Several hundred kilometres from the simmering conflicts between pastoralists and farmers [over natural resources] in Sudan’s Darfur region, the two communities in the village of Gereigikh in North Kordofan State have learnt to cool the tension with watermelons.

2. “Our farmers discovered that whenever the Kawahla tribe [traditionally pastoral] brought their livestock into the fields, the animal droppings helped improve production, so the members of the Gawamha [traditionally farmers] started planting watermelons to attract the livestock to the field,” recalled Ad-Dukhri Al-Sayed, a community leader in Gereigikh, about 100km northeast of the state capital, El Obeid. “The situation has improved so much. Now everyone lives in peace, we never have problems.”

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3. Historically, there has always been tension over land and grazing rights between nomads and farmers, according to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) conflict resolution project document . “But recently, some parts of the country have been caught in a complex tangle of severe droughts and dwindling resources.” As a result, the pressure on scarce resources like water and pasture has become the trigger of most conflicts, and climate change is set to exacerbate the situation.

Peaceful coexistence

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The risk of conflict

4. But the risk of a flare-up is always there, usually over animals grazing on cropland and sharing water points with the herders’ livestock. “So far they seem to have managed it well because the tribal system, where traditional leaders arbitrate conflicts, is very strong in the area,” said Zakieldin. The more serious disputes take place during the dry season, between pastoralists who migrate from South Kordofan and farmers in the north. “These pastoralists often have their own land in the south and merely migrate up to escape from the harsh environment – the pastoral corridors, also called transhumance routes, are the key site of conflicts in these instances,” said Eljack.

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More heat, less rain

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5. In a 2007 report, Sudan: Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said the “scale of historical climate change, as recorded in Northern Darfur, is almost unprecedented: the reduction in rainfall has turned millions of hectares of already marginal semi-desert grazing land into desert. The impact of climate change is considered to be directly related to the conflict in the region, as desertification has added significantly to the stress on the livelihoods of pastoralist societies, forcing them to move south to find pasture.”

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Takes more than watermelons

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6. Maintenance of the green cover in the transhumance corridors could also reduce the chances of conflict, as this would reduce the risk of the herders’ livestock wandering into cropland, said Zakieldin. “The communities need to strengthen their relationship of mutual benefit.” The strengthening of social ties by intermarriage has already helped: “It is almost difficult to tell a Kawahla from a Gawamha in some villages now,” said Hanafi. Besides, no one wants another Darfur or a Chad interrupting the communities’ daily rounds of tea.

jk/he/bp

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1994-07 : Young wood created in 1988 in Arbolle (North Burkina Faso) by the Committee Maastricht(NL)-Niou.  Six years old trees grown on originally barren soil under which a young pasture developed.  This could be a nice example for the maintenance of a green cover in the transhumance corridors (Photo WVC).
1994-07 : Young wood created in 1988 in Arbolle (North Burkina Faso) by the Committee Maastricht(NL)-Niou. Six years old trees grown on originally barren soil under which a young pasture developed. This could be a nice example for the maintenance of a green cover in transhumance corridors. Imagine that this can be an orchard with fruit trees ! (Photo WVC).

I retain from this reading that :

1. When pastoralists (herders) brought livestock into the fields, the animal droppings helped improve production, so that traditional farmers started planting watermelons to attract the livestock to the field.  As a result everyone was living in peace.

2. Maintenance of the green cover in the transhumance corridors could also reduce the chances of conflict, as this would reduce the risk of the herders’ livestock wandering into cropland.

This story leads me to the conclusion that our  “Seeds for Food”-action (www.seedsforfood.org) can be a very efficient contribution to peace in certain conflict regions.  Set up to bring fresh food to hungry people in the drylands, this action can as well be a nice factor for bringing peace.  Maybe we should all send seeds of watermelons, melons, zucchinis and other fruits to avoid conflicts or tensions between people living in those hostile areas. And planting fruit trees to maintain the green cover in the transhumance corridors could certainly serve two objectives : offer fresh foods to people and animals in those corridors and reduce tensions over livestock destroying cropland.

Isn’t this an interesting view ?  Please ask those tribes in Sudan what they think about it.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.