Central African Refugees Clash over Fields, Herds

Clarisse Larlombaye was nearly ruined when a herd of cows got into her rice field one night. The tiny 900-square-meter plot, outside the U.N.-run Gondje refugee camp in lush southern Chad is the sole source of income for Larlombaye and the two other Central African refugees she shares it with.
In recent years, Larlombaye and her co-farmers each have gotten an average of 225 kilogrammes of rice per year from their small plot. Larlombaye said she and her family usually eat two-thirds; the other third she sells for around $.75 per kilo at local markets. But the marauding cows left her with just 70 kilos last year, barely enough to feed her and her family.
Larlombaye’s brush with catastrophe is all too common in southern Chad, where 60,000 Central African refugees compete with local residents, and with each other, for land. The growing crisis parallels escalating tensions in eastern Chad between 250,000 Darfuri refugees and local residents over scarce water and firewood.
Ravenous cattle intruding on farmland is not a new problem in Chad. But incidents are becoming more frequent and contentious, especially in and around the southern refugee camps.
Despite the tension, the U.N. has heralded its four southern Chad camp complexes — which house refugees fleeing unrest in northern Central African Republic — as models of agricultural self-sufficiency, especially compared to camps in the east, which still rely heavily on food donations funneled through the U.N. World Food Program.
Southern Chad’s relative lushness compared to the arid east is key. “Southern Chad is not a Saharan area. It is a place where you can have agriculture,” said Serge Male, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative to Chad.
Male said that in the three years since the southern camps were established, U.N.-administered agriculture programs have reduced external food assistance to a minimum. In a camp complex near the town of Gore, 40 kilometres north of the Central African border, an estimated 4,300 refugee farmers and 1,700 herders feed around 24,000 other refugees.
Many of the farmers and herders even have enough left over to sell food and livestock on the open market, earning as much as $25 for a 100-kilogramme box of peanuts and $150 for a head of cattle, in a country where just $.25 buys a loaf of bread.
In the south, food assistance is reserved for the sick and elderly, single mothers and other “vulnerable populations.”
But the Central African refugees’ food self-sufficiency is threatened by land shortages… and by poor relations between farmers and herders inside and outside of the camps. Larlombaye’s rice plot isn’t the only one to be ravaged by herds in the past year. For many farmers in Gore, including non-refugee residents, it’s the number-one complaint.