In the Sahel region, pastoral and agricultural communities live from the natural resources they share. Their way of life is now threatened by the increasing scarcity of resources due to demographic pressure, climate change, desertification and insecurity.

The survival of farmers relies on their increasingly difficult access to agricultural land. As for pastoralists, their ability to move around to feed their herds, whether seasonally or as natural resources become available, is paramount. However, the surge of armed conflicts in the region causes border closures, disrupts transhumance cycles and foments distrust among communities.

Forced to cope with agricultural and social development strategies not adapted to their way of life, pastoralist communities are left to their own devices. It is in this context that competition between farmers, fisherfolk and pastoralist communities for access to water points and pastures has been politicised by the interplay of alliances with rival armed groups throughout the Sahel region.

Meanwhile, military operations between jihadist groups, self-defence militias and security forces erode social cohesion, promote population displacement and stunt economic activity. Finally, the growing gap between governments and the governed, amid a lack of improvement in the socio-political and security crises in recent years, further limits the possibilities of resolving local conflicts.

In 2015, faced with the prospect of increasing militarisation of agro-pastoral conflicts, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) proposed a project to the states of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso to mediate between nomadic and sedentary communities in the tri-border area. Having been given a mandate by the three states, HD then leveraged community leaders and traditional mediation techniques to ensure local
ownership and sustainability of its efforts.

This approach proved its relevance during the first phase of the project between 2016 and 2019. Through negotiated agreements, nearly half of the 759 conflicts identified by HD mediators in 2016 were resolved and more than 1,500 stolen or lost cattle were returned to their owners.

The project has contributed to peace in the tri-border area by re-establishing trust between communities regardless of political hazards or conflicts. Based on the results in the tri-border areas, in 2019 the project was extended to the states of Chad and Mauritania and now covers the border areas of all five countries.

Through this publication, and without forgetting the limits of its activities, HD intends to share its experience of agro-pastoral mediation in the Sahel for the benefit of a wider audience.