NIAMEY (Niger), Dec 5 — They are one of the last great nomadic peoples of the planet, a community of some 35 million people scattered across 15 countries in West Africa, from the dusty Sahel down to the lush rainforests.
The Fulani are pastoral herders who migrate with their cattle, following the pendulum swing of the seasons.
But their age-old way of life is under threat.
Booming populations have intensified conflicts for land, religious extremism has shattered social bonds and climate change is driving them on an ever more desperate search for pasture.
While they are well used to the extreme conditions of this often inhospitable region, today they face threats from longer and more severe droughts to greater rain and flooding.
Niger, a country in which more than 80 per cent of population lives off agriculture, is at the forefront of the climate emergency.
The Fulanis there have seen their herds decimated by droughts and hunger in recent decades — and this decline is gaining speed.
Every year an area of over 1,000 square kilometers (380 square miles) is lost to the spreading desert and soil erosion.
The sixth poorest nation in the world also has the highest birth rates with women on average bearing seven children.
This fuels a vicious spiral that has seen demographic pressures and the struggle for resources intensify competition with farmers for land.
Many Fulani have had to abandon herding and settle down in towns in bid to feed their families.
They have become security guards or petty traders as huge numbers of people have flowed to Niamey and other capitals in West Africa.
It is no surprise in this context that community elders speak of a “curse”.
Cows represent far more to the Fulanis than just a source of revenue: They are a symbol of freedom and a way of life to be defended ferociously. — AFP