Every year, thousands of herders living in Africa’s arid Sahelian region, cross over to Mauritania or Mali during the lean season, seeking greener pastures for their livestock.
"During this period, there is plenty of green grass on the Malian side. Mauritanian herders used to go there, but the closing of the borders has disrupted the flow. The Mauritanian government offers feed to livestock farmers, but it is not enough,” said Babiyé Ould Balemine, who participated in the IOM survey.
“This year, due to the COVID-19 afflicted border closures, decreed by Western and Central African governments, herders and cattle are stranded in the border areas between Mauritania and Mali, without any resources to feed their livestock. Since they are no longer able to travel to Mali, they are stranded and deprived. A large concentration of herders and their herds have been reported in the commune of Adel Bagrou, on the border with Mali,” revealed Aliou Hamadi Kane, coordinator of the Groupement National des Associations Pastorales (GNAP), a Mauritanian herders association.
“The presence of thousands of herders along the small border areas has led to the mixing of livestock and creating tensions between them, especially at water points,” he added. The impact of this situation on livelihoods and cattle health is considerable.
These tensions are compounded by health risks which COVID-19 poses. “Many Malian and Mauritanian herders do not distinguish the territories on which their cattle graze. These are roads people have travelled for years and years,” Babiye explains.
The IOM and Groupement National des Associations Pastorales (GNAP), whose teams have been working on understanding the transhumance corridors in Africa, since February 2019, conducted a flow monitoring survey, between May and June 2020, where 16 per cent of herders were unaware of any of the COVID-19’s preventive measures. As a remedy, IOM launched an awareness campaign to combat the spread, and installed hand-washing facilities in the areas where the stranded herders are living. Their campaign reached more than 1,200 people in the region.
The IOM project was funded by the Government of Japan and the European Union, through the EU-IOM joint initiative, for Migrant Protection and Reintegration and Strengthening Border Management in Mauritania.