IKWIRIRI, Tanzania (AlertNet) - Deadly conflicts are erupting in Tanzania’s southeastern Rufiji valley, as farmers clash with pastoralists who are being pushed into the area by drought, seeking land and water for their animals.
Hundreds of herdsmen from the nearby regions of Iringa and Morogoro are streaming towards the Pwani (Coast) Region’s Rufiji Delta with thousands of their cattle, officials say.
This movement is causing tensions between the livestock keepers, who are desperately searching for new pasture, and local settled farmers - resulting in fighting, injuries and even several deaths.
Rufiji farmers accuse the pastoralists of destroying their livelihood as herds of cattle eat and trample on crops, including paddy rice and maize.
District authorities say the pastoralists have been forced to head to the Rufiji Delta because much of their traditional grazing land has been decimated by persistent drought in recent years.
Some 2,630 pastoralists, accompanied by 272,800 cows, 51,160 goats and 20,120 sheep, have arrived in the district since April 2010, according to statistics from the Rufiji District Commission.
Sauda Mtondoo, the district commissioner, estimates that around 4,500 hectares of arable farmland have been invaded and destroyed by cattle-keepers.
Farmers in Rufiji told AlertNet they blame the government for failing to resolve disputes triggered by what they describe as intruders.
"They come here to cause chaos on our land. We are fed up, and this problem must come to an end," said Josia Mwakitwanga. “We have often reported these incidents to the authorities, but not a single action has been taken," the farmer complained.
Visits to several villages in Rufiji District revealed that pastoralists are flocking to the river valley in large numbers. They are attracted by vegetation growing in the delta area where most poor farmers earn their living.
Farmer Kulwa Ngozwi said pastoralists from the Sukuma tribe are damaging crops by letting their animals loose in local fields.
"We are suffering like anybody else, but I think the government has to stop these people from coming and destroying our livelihood," he said.
The pastoralists also believe that the responsibility lies with the government, accusing officials of lacking effective policies for the livestock sector, despite knowing its importance to the economy.
"We are being treated as refugees in our own country - the only sin we seem to commit is to look for pastures and water to feed our animals," said Julius Massanja, a cattle-keeper from Mvomero in Morogoro.
DROUGHT HERE TO STAY
Officials say the pastoralists’ movements are prompted by changing weather patterns that have caused sustained drought in their home areas.
Agnes Kijazi, head of the Tanzania Meteorological Agency, told AlertNet the country has experienced recurring drought in recent years, which has affected many regions known for livestock rearing.
She attributed the country’s changing climate patterns to a complex mix of factors, including man-made global warming caused by human factors. The East African region will have to learn to deal with the trend of shorter rainy seasons, which is likely to continue in the near future, she added.
"Pastoral societies find it increasingly difficult to cope with dwindling water supplies in their traditional areas, yet they cannot wait and watch their animals die," said Ludger Sijaona, an official with the Livestock Development Ministry.
In Ikwiriri ward in Rufiji, about 250km from the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, a 60-year- old farmer, Shamte Seif, died last month in an assault by belligerent herdsmen after he denied them access to his paddy farm, according to Pwani Region Police Commander Ernest Mangu.
Mangu said the incident caused uproar among villagers who vowed to chase off the alleged killers in revenge. He confirmed that five people died and scores were injured in the ensuing skirmishes.
According to local media reports, the angry villagers - armed with swords, bows, arrows and clubs - disrupted economic activity along a busy highway linking Dar es Salaam with the southern regions of Lindi and Mtwara.
Conflict between farmers and pastoralists in the Pwani Region is nothing new. But the region’s commissioner, Mwantumu Mahiza, says the violence has intensified in the past five years as the country has experienced prolonged drought caused by poor rains.
"We have reached a point where we say ‘enough is enough’ - we can no longer allow pastoralists into this region," she said.
She called on the minister responsible for livestock development and fisheries, David Mathayo, to issue a decree prohibiting herdsmen from sneaking into agricultural zones.
LAND ADMINISTRATION ISSUES
In May, Mathayo - who is new in the job - gave orders to Rufiji district authorities to earmark areas for herdsmen so they did not intrude on farms. But he said he had not fully understood at the time that this would be difficult given that parts of Rufiji are a protected natural reserve.
Ismaili Sultani, a ward leader in Ikwiriri, said the directive could not be followed because there is no spare land to give to pastoralists.
Yefred Mnyenzi, an expert on land issues who runs a land rights NGO called Haki Ardhi, said disputes between farmers and pastoralists are on the rise largely due to a poor system of land administration.
"These conflicts are multi-faceted,” he said. “Farmers want the land for agriculture; business people want it for investment; pastoralists want to graze their animals, (and) a lack of clear-cut policies makes it difficult to resolve the disputes amicably."
In 2007, the government evicted pastoralists from Mbarali District in Mbeya Region to pave the way for commercial rice farming.
Land ownership in Tanzania is governed by two major laws - the Land Act and the Village Land Act of 1999. All land belongs to the state, but it grants rights of occupancy for short- and long-term periods.
The Village Land Act bestows such ownership on inhabitants of certain areas who have established settlements, as in Rufiji.
The Tanzanian constitution, on the other hand, allows freedom of movement for people and their property.
Local media reports indicate that conflicts over land and water are still simmering in Rufiji and other places. Some pastoralists have even abandoned their livestock as they try to escape the wrath of furious farmers.
“I am talking to you from a bush where I have taken refuge,” one pastoralist, who declined to be named for safety reasons, told the Citizen newspaper last month. “The situation here is bad and we fear for our lives. The government should assist us immediately; it should send more law enforcers to contain the farmers.”
Kizito Makoye is an independent journalist based in Dar es Salaam.