Cattle herding has long been a process of moving cattle across a country for the main purpose of accessing crops and feeds that grow under favorable weather conditions. This practice was common across the world but has been replaced by more modernized methods. Surely in this day and age, and with rapid advancement in agricultural and livestock production, nomadic cattle herding practices would have evolved and been replaced by cost effective (though cost intensive) ranching systems; unfortunately, this is not the case for the Fulani Bororoje people of Northern Nigeria. Why is this still happening?
From time immemorial, the nomadic Fulani’s have been the forerunners of cattle rearing and herding in the North of Nigeria. It has been their way of life and main source of their livelihood, where they drive their cattle across the country in search of favorable grazing grounds during periods of intense heat. The dryness of the North due to its proximity to the Sahara Desert does not sustain vegetation, is not favorable for rearing and feeding large livestock as the rains are either insufficient to enable a healthy growth of their feed, or the weather is too hot and prevents crop from yielding bountiful harvest for long. Limited grazing land in the North
They travel down south (during the dry season and return back north during the rains) with their cattle in search of pastures carelessly trampling through fields, farmlands, rivers and rugged terrain in search of grazing grounds without limits, to the annoyance of communities along their path. This region regularly experiences drought, or low rainfall (3 – 5 months), high temperatures and intense heat all through the year, making it unsuitable to rear cattle and sustain vegetation on a large scale; unlike areas south of the country which experience rainfall throughout the year and have an abundance of grass and herbs to feed their cattle. The damage to farmlands has resulted in so much conflict between farmers and the herdsmen.
Ranching on the other hand, is an economically viable system of raising cattle and crops within an enclosed land and is widely practiced across the world especially in the United States of America, Australia, Uruguay, New Zealand, Argentina, Paraguay etc. within this enclosed settlement, cattle are able to graze, vegetation is grown, and other added services like wool gathering, milk production, and meat processing are carried out within.
With ranching, the vegetation used to feed the cattle are grown within, and in cases of drought or insufficient yield, fodder is purchased from other regions or countries to meet the demand of the growing cattle. Here, cattle are allowed to roam within the enclosure or demarcation of the ranch lands, and a rigorous process is used to keep them safe, free from attacks from wild animals, diseases, and cattle rustlers.
The owners of these ranches take time out to cultivate the right crop for their various cattle year in year out, while making provision to purchase additional foliage should the weather prove unfavorable. Overlooking the benefits of ranching, the Fulani’s continue to migrate their cattle hundreds of kilometers to the south and back again over rugged terrain, trampling and utterly destroying the farmlands of subsistence farmers. When barred from accessing these farmlands, they retaliate by carrying out gruesome acts on their fellow humans including but not limited to slaughtering innocent families, raping the young and elderly, burning homes and farmlands, and wiping out entire communities all in the name of retaliation.
Causes of Conflict between Herders and Farmers
Open grazing is not only destructive to subsistence farmers but is damaging to the environment as well. Herdsmen accuse farmers and communities of cattle rustling and killing of their men. Farmers accuse herdsmen of damaging their crop, farmlands, poisoning their rivers and watering holes, and spreading diseases in their wake. These disagreements heighten the tensions woes of local communities, as the Fulani’s retaliate by killing, maiming, raping, kidnapping the locals as payback for preventing them thoroughfare. States that have faced the brunt of Fulani attacks in Nigeria are Taraba, Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, Delta, Gombe, Ekiti, Abia, Edo, and Imo State among others. So many lives have been lost, people displaced, properties destroyed with little hope for a permanent solution.
The conflict and tensions between the herdsmen and local communities has always existed, however, the situation worsened from 2011 till date. The uncontrolled carnage by cattle on farmlands is so extreme that it cannot be quantified in monetary terms, as farmers not only lose out on harvests and their investments of time and money, but their families would have to suffer food shortage as a result.
Consequences of Unchecked Herding
Destruction of Produce: As mentioned earlier, these roaming cattle eat up and trample upon the crops of farmers, sometimes to the extent that the farmers lose out completely on the hopes of any harvest. They also muddy up local watering spots and water sources by drinking and walking directly through them.
Substandard Quality: this practice of migrating across the country is strenuous on the cattle. It reduces the quality and quality of the milk (and dairy byproducts) and meat that is produced, and most of these animals fall prey to diseases and bacterial infections, accidents, theft, predators, natural disasters like floods and thunder storms compared to cattle reared within ranches.
Environmental Degradation: These cattle are responsible for rapid desertification and spread diseases and bacteria in their wake. They also contribute to land degradation, air pollution, water pollution, and global warming (through the production of gases like hydrogen sulphide, ammonia and methane).
Open grazing is destructive. The time has come for cattle herders in Nigeria to get on board with modern facilities that are cost effective and improve efficiency in the long run. Ranching would eradicate all the problems inherent to driving cattle, and result in healthier cattle that are well protected from all the dangers on the open road. With ranching, these nomadic pastoralists can evolve from subsistence production to one on a greater commercial scale that will contribute to the GDP of the country.
It would put an end to all the conflict with farmers complaining about the destruction of their produce, and the encroachment of herdsmen into their land. To understand how this can work in the North of Nigeria, Saudi Arabi offers the best example, as they have a similar topography and weather pattern like that of Northern Nigeria. The country boasts of one of the largest cattle ranches in the world, and exports dairy products to neighboring countries. Facing drought, irregular rainfall, high temperatures and intense heat, the cattle herders in Saudi Arabia augment their vegetation during times of poor yield and shortage by importing fodder from other countries like America and Sudan, as opposed to forcing their cattle to endure long rigorous treks in search of greener pastures. The Fulani’s can take a page from this example and make things happen. They can embark on ranching practices for the betterment of their cattle, and the entire country as a whole.
The refusal to change and adapt to modern techniques of cattle rearing will continue to cause harm and tear the nation apart. This is no longer acceptable!
“A government that cannot guarantee security has no business being in government.”