Drought sharpens Moroccan nomads-farmers dispute

A nomadic herder walks near tents in the Moroccan Tiznit province in the region of Souss-Massa, which has drawn in nomadic herders for decades. (AFP)
Updated 19 May 2019

Drought sharpens Moroccan nomads-farmers dispute

  • A law has been adopted by the central government that seeks to regulate nomadic herding and allow “a rational exploitation of vegetation”

TIZNIT, MOROCCO: “We refuse to be confined to a cage,” declares nomadic herder Mouloud, asserting the rights and customs of his kin as they graze livestock in Morocco’s southern expanses.
But the herders’ determination to roam freely has brought them into dispute with crop farmers in the region of Souss-Massa.
In the village of Arbaa Sahel, arable farmer Hmad and many of his peers are enraged by herds stomping through wheat and corn fields.
Drought has turned parts of these plateaus arid, and when water becomes scarce, tensions rise — several clashes have been reported by local media in recent months, as the herders seek pasture.
The battle is also playing out on social networks. Videos show hooded men presented as nomadic herders, equipped with sticks and swords, attacking villagers.
Some villagers have even uploaded images of what are purported to be camel-mounted attacks on their almond groves.
A few residents have fought back by poisoning water supplies and pastures used by nomads, according to testimony on the ground.
“All these lands that belong to locals, (to) fathers and sons — they’re not grazing areas,” said 35-year-old Hmad, clad in leather jacket and trainers.
Exasperated, he points to wheat fields “trampled by sheep” around Arbaa Sahel, near the city of Tiznit.
The region has drawn in nomadic herders for decades — the verdant landscape a major attraction, compared to arid lands to the east.
There has been a “significant rise in the arrival of flocks, due to drought” over the last couple of years, said nomad Mouloud, sporting sunglasses and a blue turban. This has stoked tensions.
A local land organization has recorded 18 cases of aggression by nomadic herders against farmers in Arbaa Sahel alone since December, according to Hassan, who sits on this committee. But Moroccan authorities say only 15 cases have been recorded in the entire Souss-Massa region. The tensions are not limited to farmland — there has been a spike in incidents in the region’s forests, which cover 1.2 million hectares.
Villagers consider these forests to be their property, in line with ancestral customs. But the nomadic culture, and the right to roam freely, form “part of the Moroccan identity,” said Mouloud.
Clutching his smart phone, he discusses the recent tensions with his nomadic friends, who erect large tents when they set up camp during their search for pasture.
In one such tent, women prepare food for the group — a metal tray full of grilled livers and other meat.
Abu Bakr, crouching next to Mouloud and sipping a glass of goat’s milk, has dropped his studies in favor of the nomadic lifestyle.
There are currently some 40,000 nomadic shepherds in the country, according to official statistics.
They move in all-terrain cars to escape the drought — their tents and herds packed into lorries.
When rains are rare, the nomads are constantly on the move, but their movement is more limited when rain is abundant.
“Schooling of children has pushed nomads to opt for stability,” said Abu Bakr.
For Mustapha Naimi, professor of Sahara studies at the University of Mohamed V in Rabat, “nomadism is very old in Morocco, but it has been reduced in recent decades by urbanization.”
Nomadic roaming by entire families has gradually given way to smaller scale pastoralism by shepherds, Naimi explained.
At the same time, “an increase in the number of herds, with 3.15 million heads of livestock... has contributed to conflict,” according to the agriculture ministry.
Land committee member Hassan recalls when shepherds would request “permission from residents” ahead of arriving with flocks.
A law has been adopted by the central government that seeks to regulate nomadic herding and allow “a rational exploitation of vegetation.”
The legislation only allows grazing of flocks in certain zones and along pre-defined routes. And nomads have to obtain a permit, or face penalties.
But this law has been rejected by both camps.
“We hold to our freedom to roam,” said herder Mouloud.
On the other side of the fence, the farmers’ land committee firmly opposes government-designated grazing on land that belongs to local residents.


US accuses Turkey of war crimes in Syria

Updated 8 min 21 sec ago

US accuses Turkey of war crimes in Syria

  • Trump’s envoy demands explanation from Ankara of possible use of illegal white phosphorus munitions during the Turkish invasion
  • Envoy also expresses concerns about anti-Assad fighters backed by Turkish forces.

JEDDAH: The US demanded an explanation from Ankara on Wednesday for what it described as “war crimes” committed during Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria.

President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, said there were concerns about anti-Assad fighters backed by Turkish forces.

“Many people fled because they’re very concerned about these Turkish-supported Syrian opposition forces, as we are. We’ve seen several incidents which we consider war crimes,” the envoy told a House of Representatives hearing.

He said the US was also investigating the possible use of illegal white phosphorus munitions during the Turkish invasion, and wanted an explanation from Turkey’s government “at a high level.”

Jeffrey described Turkey’s invasion to drive Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters out of the border area as “a tragic disaster for northeast Syria.”

Meanwhile Russian military police began patrols on the Syrian border on Wednesday, following an agreement on Tuesday between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Kremlin told Kurdish fighters to pull back or face being attacked again by Turkish forces.

“It’s quite obvious that if the Kurdish units don’t withdraw with their weapons then Syrian border guards and Russian military police will have to step back. And the remaining Kurdish units will be steamrolled by the Turkish army,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

In Washington, Trump said a US-negotiated cease-fire between Turkey and the Kurds would be permanent, and he lifted US sanctions on Ankara. “We’ve saved the lives of many, many Kurds,” he said.

Turkey considers the YPG terrorists because of their links to PKK insurgents in Turkey. It has demanded they retreat from the entire border region, creating a 30-km-deep “safe zone” where Turkey could also settle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees on its soil.

The new agreement allows Turkey to control that area. On Wednesday, Turkish-backed Syrian fighters in Ras Al-Ain unfurled their flag on top of the Kurdish fighters’ former HQ.