West Africa – From Desertification, to Migration, to Conflict

West Africa – From Desertification, to Migration, to Conflict

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January 4, 2007

From Desertification, to Migration, to Conflict
Fulgence Zamblé, www.ipsnews.net
January 4, 2007

TABOU — It has been three years since Brahima Ouédraogo, a small-scale farmer from Burkina Faso, arrived in a little village in the Tabou region of south-western Côte d`Ivoire with his family, in search of arable land.

Initially residents of Klotou gave the newcomers a warm welcome. But, this warmth has since died away; in fact, some would even like to see the Ouédraogo family leave.

“When you enter our forests, they are all being used by the immigrants with no concern for preservation of the environment,” says Marc Kallé, who lives in Klotou.
He complains that Burkinabé and other West African farmers set up camps in the forests and make fires to hunt animals: “In these conditions, there will probably be nothing left in a few years. There is no more land to share here. Come the right time, each one will be asked to go home.”

This type of anger and resentment has boiled over on previous occasions, giving rise to deadly clashes.

The most serious ever to take place in Côte d`Ivoire occurred in 1999, when about 50 people died in Tabou, and members of the Lobi and Dagaré ethnic groups from Burkina Faso were forced to flee by indigenous Kroumens. Similar confrontations took place in mid-2005 in the far western region of Duékoué, resulting in about ten deaths and displacing some 10,000 people.

In recent months the situation in Tabou has become tense once again, with the return of people not native to the area.

Tensions between indigenous inhabitants and immigrants in Duékoué have also been mounting over the past two months. Dozens have already been killed, several wounded and thousands displaced here, says Youssouf Omar: interim humanitarian co-ordinator for the United Nations in the economic hub of Abidjan, who has led a mission to the region.

“The main cause of these conflicts remains the problem of land to farm,” Omar told IPS.

U.N. forces currently help patrol a buffer zone between Côte d`Ivoire`s rebel-held north and government-controlled south, the country having been divided in the wake of a failed coup in September, 2002. Through the United Nations World Food Programme, the United Nations Children`s Fund and the like, the global body also undertakes humanitarian work in vulnerable communities — both amongst indigenous persons and immigrants.

For their part, migrants are trying to appease the situation.

“We are asking our Ivorian brothers to understand that we don`t have any more land to farm at home. The drought there is permanent, and the ground always dry. This is why we come south. Here, we have fertile land and good rainfall,” says Issouf Sawadogo, one of the leaders of the Burkinabé community of Tabou.

After a long day of hard labour, Ouédraogo, his body bathed in perspiration, rests in a cabin built in his field of cocoa.

“In the past year, with the regular rains, production has been beyond my expectations,” he told IPS. “I had 3.4 tonnes of cocoa a hectare, two tonnes of rice, and as many of maize — enough to pay for the schooling of my children and to feed my family for the whole year.”

Government statistics indicate that there are more than 200,000 West African immigrants living in south-western Côte d`Ivoire. “They mostly make a living from the farming of cocoa and food crops,” Bruno Yao Kouassi Essé, an official from Grand-Béréby, told IPS. About a hundred families are said to be arriving in this region each year.

According to the Ministry of the Environment, the forested area of this West African country decreased from 10 million to three million hectares between 1988 and 2005. Until 1984, the rate of deforestation in Côte d`Ivoire was about 2.5 percent per year; but following the start of widespread cocoa and coffee cultivation, it rose to 11 percent annually.

But, it is not only migration from elsewhere in the region that is to blame, notes the United Nations Environment Programme. According to this agency, the arrival of people from the north of Côte d`Ivoire accounts for a large part of the exploitation of forests.

Similar views come from `Friends of the Forest` (Amis de la forêt, AMIFOR). This non-governmental organisation, based in the capital of Yamoussoukro, says northern areas have become unproductive — and that the south will experience similar desertification if reforestation policies in this region are not intensified.

Etienne Guéhi, a specialist in environmental management and evaluation at the University of Abobo Adjamé in Abidjan, says people who are trying to survive have certain practices that aggravate desertification: they chop down trees to create fields, and plant the same crops on the same lands year after year, never giving fields time to recover.

But survival or no, if an end is not put to high rates of immigration and the destruction of forests, desertification will continue to gain ground in Côte d`Ivoire, observes Innocent Kra Kouadio, president of AMIFOR.

Fulgence Zamblé, IPS


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