The political ecology of territoriality: territorialities in farmer–herder relationships in Northern Ghana


Fulani herder and farmer relationships in West Africa have always been troublesome as a result of farmers’ fundamental rejection of the herders’ inroads into their areas and also because of increased competition for available resources. In countries such as Ghana, local and even national campaigns have been launched to expel the herders but they persist. This case-study which utilised interviews and group discussions involving farmers and herders, sought to understand the dynamics and subtleties of herders’ resilience in an environment where natural resource access and use rights are tied to common property principles and where herders have no enshrined land and resource rights. Using territoriality as the analytical capsule, we found that the herders’ persistence is related to mainly non-territoriality where the goal is to influence relationships and resource access but not control area. Categorising their non-territorial expression into persuasive and aggressive forms, we provide a new platform for deconstructing farmer-herder relationships in the West African sub-region.

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Fig. 1
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Fig. 3


  1. 1.

    The Chief is counted in the Digare sample; the assembly member, who represents all four villages in the district assembly, is in the Datoko sample because he lives there.

  2. 2.

    In Northern Ghana, villages are ruled by enskinned chiefs. When chiefs die, regents, who do not command the authority of substantive chiefs rule until a new chief is enskinned.

  3. 3.

    It says herders pay the compensation but actually cattle owners do.

  4. 4.

    We confirmed with the district assembly that herders do not pay cattle rates.

  5. 5.

    Gurunis are ethically linked to Tallensis and Nabdams.

  6. 6.

    Coined to illustrate how the herders move into the area.

  7. 7.

    The period of establishing roots (about one herding year) is used to observe, network and decide whether settling for longer is worthwhile. Herders inquire from compatriots about settlement security and herding contracts. They also bring their families, establish farms, and ‘reveal’ themselves to the farming population by patronizing market days to buy salt, kerosene or tobacco and make the acquaintance of liberal-leaning farmers.


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Thanks to the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa for an IDRC Doctoral Award. And also the research team and respondents who made this research happen. This paper is dedicated to one respondent and two respondents’ children who died after fieldwork was completed. Finally, to the two anonymous reviewers whose comments helped in the fine-tuning to this paper.

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Correspondence to Rita Yembilah.

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Yembilah, R., Grant, M. The political ecology of territoriality: territorialities in farmer–herder relationships in Northern Ghana. GeoJournal 79, 385–400 (2014).

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  • Fulani herders
  • Farmers
  • Conflict
  • Territoriality
  • Resource access
  • Ghana