Armed herders hinder farming, the return of refugees in Kajo-Keji
The presence of armed cattle keepers roaming several villages of Kajo-Keji County of Central Equatoria State is hindering the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and frustrating farming activities in the area.
Speaking to Radio Tamazuj on Tuesday, Samuel Duku, a resident of Kangapo Payam said the presence of cattle roaming farmlands in his village and destroying crops is putting farmers and the pastoralists on a collision course.
“As we speak now, they are in my compound and they have destroyed all that I have and they destroyed my field crops and the armed herders are also collecting cassava from our farmers without any permission,” Duku lamented. “We have tried to resolve this issue several times but the government failed to direct the cattle herders to return to their areas and as farmers, we are stranded and we don’t have anywhere to go.”
Simon Lubang, another farmer in Limi Boma of Liwolo Payam, said a huge number of cattle, guarded by armed pastoralists have invaded people’s farms and that the herders threaten farmers from accessing their gardens.
“These pastoralists and their cows have been feeding on our harvest and crops and the government could not intervene on the issue of the roaming cattle. Also, many people could not return to their villages because of the armed pastoralists,” Lubang said.
A recent returnee, Charles Lubang, said that his newly erected grass-thatched hut and vegetable crops have been destroyed by the cattle.
“We have been living in grass-thatched houses here since our return and our vegetable crops have been eaten up by the animals. The pastoralists are threatening us with their guns and our relationship is bad because we are living in fear and many people returning to resettle here have fled back because of the armed men. Many of us however want to stay here in South Sudan and engage in agricultural activities,” Lubang said.
For his part, the Kajo-Keji County Executive Director, Ezibon Taban, said that the presence of armed cattle herders will affect farming and voluntary return to Kajo-Keji County this year.
“The cattle are very many in various parts of Kajo-Keji County and it is now approaching the rainy season and we expected the pastoralists to move away from civilian villages so that they don’t affect farming activities,” according to Taban. “If they also stay in civilian areas, it will prevent the returnees from coming back home because their lands have been occupied and we don’t want problems here.”
The local official said they have been holding several meetings involving the cattle keepers, farmers, and community leaders and resolved in one of their recent meetings that the herders move away from civilian centers in vain.
According to Taban, the armed pastoralists crossed over from Jonglei State and Terekeka County of Central Equatoria. He said that he is waiting for the arrival of the newly appointed county commissioner to resolve the matter between the farmers and the pastoralists peacefully.