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How do you build peace, and dams, in a fragile environment?

By Andrew Heath On 18.02.2020 Climate changeFood & agricultureResilienceBlog

Pastoralists and farmers working together, Margoba.


Climate change throws up complex problems requiring multiple solutions and approaches to solve them.

For example, how do you get representatives of people who are killing and attacking each other to sit down and create agreements over what rules they should abide by, how to police themselves and what the consequences should be of breaking the rules?

The answer, is stunningly simple: create a situation where they’re eating together.

Of course, the reality of making it happen is much more difficult and nuanced.

60-year-old Abdelbage Hassan Abdallah is a farmer from Margoba Village near Kepkabiya – about an hour’s helicopter ride from El Fasher. He was one of the key players in bringing the two sides together and told me:

“We had to move from the village to Kepkabiya and live in the camps. We needed food assistance and that wasn’t really enough so we wanted to move back to our original village.

Farmers and pastoralists. Abdallah on the left.

“But to do that we had to negotiate with the people who made us move in the first place.

“Practical Action asked us to be part of a peace building committee. We told them this was impossible, but they just asked us to try.

“When they first brought us to the room each group was just sitting on different sides of the table. No-one would even look at the other side, let alone mix.

“It was really difficult. In the first workshops we were separate and we would hear about how you had to accept that in order to reach agreement you couldn’t get everything 100% your way.

“We had meeting after meeting and we would eat in the same room. In both groups our culture is to share and eat together so we would be encouraged to talk and to pass the food.

“Finally we got to talk and accept that we were together in one place.

“Before the negotiations we had been forced to give 1/3 of our harvest just to farm land, which we didn’t even own anymore.

“But then we sat down and if there were any issues or problems we worked through them. After a while we got back 70 per cent of our lands and we still have the agreement of giving them 1/3 of the harvest.

“Before this we had to live in Kabkabiya and we would only leave the camps and go to the farms in the rainy season. Now we can be there all year round.

“At the beginning we were really afraid. The training helped us plan how to negotiate, problem solve and discover the root cause of problems.

“We were put in groups and then after that we would find one of the pastoralists would be with us when we were having breakfasts and when we were eating together we found we were talking.

“It went from there.”

“Eventually we built trust. And when some farmers were kidnapped by pastoralists we contacted their leaders. They went after the people who did it and sorted it out. After that there were only smaller incidents.

“Now we even have pastoralists in our houses. The first time they came the neighbours were afraid that they might be there to cause problems or do something wrong but then they got to know they are friends.

“At first it was only members of the peace committees that were connecting but now we can go to their village and they can come here even when we are not around.

“Without this work it would be like a hell. We were afraid to walk from Kabkabiya to our farms because we might get in an argument with one person. We could harvest our crops and then lose everything. But because of the work Practical Action we will now get protected by them. If any incidents happen then we just call committee members and they will help sort it out.”

The committee members also decide which areas should be open to animals and which should be strictly farmland. Once agreement is reached, concrete posts, coloured according to the level of freedom of movement for cattle are placed in key positions on traditional routes, providing security for farmers and pastoralists alike at a cost of a few pounds.

What the current peacebuilding workshops look like

Peace building workshop

As the workshops and committees become more established and trusted, Practical Action staff find that attendees arrive with less fear and more of an open mind than in those early days.

Now run by a trainer from North Darfur’s University of El Fashir Centre for Peace, they are run for three days and include representatives from up to 10 communities at a time. Following a similar pattern of acknowledgement that any one side cannot get 100% of what they want, representatives are then split into groups to discuss issues that cause conflict, and asked to identify the best methods of solving them. They take breakfast and lunch together.

Day two sees more group work, this time looking at particular issues that have been identified and people are asked for more specific ways in which they could be solved.

Finally, the groups are asked to come together and look at how conflict resolution could be brought about both at the village level and at a larger scale – asking people to think about natural resource management, the relationships between people and resources and long-term sustainability of lifestyles.


Find out more about our future plans in Darfur