Herdsmen: Dilemma of a nomadic lot

Herdsmen, let us appreciate, are perhaps humanity’s earliest known tourists. They must be taught however that there is a culture of settlement, and learn to seek accommodation with settled hosts wherever encountered. —Wole Soyinka


There was a quiet despondency in his gaze. It was long, frail. His words were few and far-between, revealing a depressing nostalgia. Tanko Ali, 45, had a most memorable childhood. He was raised in Kwambai, Bauchi State. He knew no other life than that of a herdsman. He intoned that, as a boy, he would move the cattle to graze from a “mere shouting distance” from his village. But his narrative took an aching trajectory when he lamented that the grazing lands were no longer there, only long stretches of grassless plains, imposed by a rapidly growing desertification. With no pasture, Tanko resorts to grazing even outside the immediate boundaries of Nigeria.

“We know no other life than the life that we share with our animals; when they are fat, our joy knows no bound. Again, when they are ill, we have no reason to be happy. When I was a boy, the grass that surrounds our village used to be tall as human beings. There was enough and even surplus for our cattle. But it is no longer the same—no grass, no water. We lose our cattle to hunger and thirst,” he said, dispelling a hurting sigh.

Tanko’s dismal narrative is not a personal tragedy as it is shared by a huge chunk of cattle rearers who had plied their craft through the years in the northern part of Nigeria. This unnerving challenge is due to the growing advancement of the desert into areas and plains that had one time or the other being fertile for grazing cattle and farming.

Today, a large part of Nigeria’s North has been taken over by desertification due to the area’s Sahelian and arid topography. With the years of such painful realisation, the herdsmen, with a pressing duty to affirm the survival of their cattle, have continuously pushed their way down south in search of water and vegetation for their cattle. The fight for space and the limited arable land resources have left trails of sadness and tears in the wake of herdsmen/farmers’ conflict.


Desertification, grazing lands and El Nino

Musa Ibrahim, in his 30s, is another herdsman from Borno State, who traces the problem of search for grazing lands to an occurrence that dates back to many years.

According to him, “Unlike what we had when growing up when the grass was lush and plentiful, and water was not a problem, things are changing. I just hope people would understand. We have no choice but to find better pasture for the cows. In fact, it is not new to find herdsmen venturing far from home, as far as the South and the West because the problem with the desert dates back to over 30 years ago. We have not only lost homes, but farmlands and even means of livelihood.”

Ibrahim probably refers to the Great Drought in the Sahel region which took place between 1968 and 1973 and which had far-reaching negative effects on parts of northern Nigeria. The situation affecting Nigeria’s northern region as stated by Ibrahim above is typical of the El Nino occurrence in Southern and Eastern Africa, which is reflective of drought and rising temperature levels, with the World Food Programme warning that “More than 40 million rural and 9 million poor urban people are at risk due to the impacts of El Nino’s related drought and erratic rainfall.”

In fact, Ngozi Thelma Mohammed, in her study entitled “Desertification in Northern Nigeria: Causes and Implications for National Food Security,” published in the Peak Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities in March 2015 reveals that “Desertification is one of the most glaring of environmental hazards and the phenomenon has affected some states in the northern part of Nigeria, but the impact has been more glaring since the famine of 1971-1973 in this part of the country. By location, Northern Nigeria is situated in the semi arid areas with average annual rainfall or less than 600 mm bordering on the Sahara desert which is considered as the hottest and longest desert in the world. The soil in this area face a lot of threat ranging from deforestation for domestic fuel, overgrazing by livestock and agricultural practices that fail to conserve soils such pollution from the improper use of agricultural pesticides, herbicides and chemical spills from both liquid and solid fertilizers.

“Generally, desertification affects eleven (11) northern states of Nigeria referred to as the frontline states, these include: Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Bauchi and Gombe. These states are agricultural producing areas and are affected by desert encroachment that is fast moving southwards. Desertification is attributed to loss of the lands biological productivity in arid, semi arid and dry sub humid areas. The impact is significant in developing countries especially Africa which is the most affected because its economy is predominantly agrarian, rain fed and fundamentally dependent on the vagaries of weather.”

She further posits that “Most conflicts in Northern Nigeria are environmentally based, a large number of which is overgrazing, farmland and water. The conflicts are mainly between farmers and cattle herdsmen. The struggle for the remaining farm land has degenerated to communal clashes and also, when cattle herdsmen move downwards in search of grazing land for their cattle, they encroach on people’s farms and this usually leads to crisis. The conflict between the Agatu people and Fulani’s in Benue State, Biroms and Hausas in Plateau are good examples. A lot of these conflicts go on in Nigeria, some with large scale killing and property destruction.”


Lake Chad: Africa’s vanishing basin

Once spread across the far west of Chad and Nigeria’s northeast, the Lake Chad basin provided 90 per cent of the area’s water supply. Remarkably, it used to be Africa’s largest water reservoir. It is said to cover about 26,000 square kilometres, bigger than Israel or Kuwait, about the size of the US state of Maryland.

Painfully, things are different now. Those who live around the lake’s shoreline are strangely terrified by the speed with which the lake is vanishing. By 2001, the lake was said to cover less than one-fifth of the area. Abbas Mohammed, a climatologist at the University of Maiduguri, claims that it may even be worse now.

Vegetation and water which characterised the spread of the Lake Chad basin and provided for the needs of both farmers and herdsmen have diminished significantly. Today, the Lake Chad basin reflects despair and death. In its estimation, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) described the situation as an “ecological catastrophe.” It claimed that the lake could disappear this century.

In his remarks, the FAO Director of Land and Water, Parviz Koohafkan, stated that “the Lake Chad basin is one of the most important agricultural heritage sites in the world, providing a lifeline to nearly 30 million people in four countries – Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.”

With such uncomfortable recognition and ripple effects seen in job losses and the constant threat to human and animal existence, there is an expected migration en masse by herdsmen, thereby placing much pressure on the sparse land distribution down South of Nigeria.

Yet, it does not displace the fact that through the years, herdsmen have tended their cattle through many terrains of the southern corridor, albeit with very scanty herds.


Herdsmen and farmers don’t share same concept of space —Prof. Obono, sociologist

In his submission, Professor Oka Obono of the Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan, stated that “Conflicts occur between pastoralists and farmers because they do not share the same concept of space. The nomadic pastoralists have been using territories and spaces over long generations and have mentally appropriated them. And then suddenly one day, they may arrive in such appropriated territories and be confronted with new obstacles that prevent them from continuing their traditional modes of life.

“The southward migration of the Fulani attracts hostile reactions from host (usually farming) southern communities. The response of Nigerian pastoralists has been to maintain a sedentary base on the outskirts of communities, which can be swiftly dismantled to take advantage of grazing opportunities elsewhere or to avert attacks.

“Grazing lands are threatened by desertification and other environmental forces, intensified by climate change. The regular pastoralist response has been to migrate. Migration presents challenges that undermine the very reason for moving encounters with sedentary communities that may be hostile to cattle that destroy crops or compromise biodiversity.”


We have never had it this bad —Farmers

Since the renewed clashes between herdsmen and farmers, the devastation has been total. States like Benue, Enugu, Imo, Taraba, Adamawa, and others have been largely hit. A rather disturbing twist was witnessed when the herdsmen had bloody clashes with farmers in some parts of the South West. Quite prominent in the fight against the deadly clashes between farmers and herdsmen was the Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, after residents were killed by herdsmen. The governor placed a ban on cattle rearing in the state by herdsmen.

Speaking with Nigerian Tribune, Adeniyi Olubi, a farmer, bemoaned his lot. “We used to have just damages to our crops and farmlands in the past. What is disturbing to us is the murderous dimension that it has taken. Many of us nurse fear about visiting our farms. Nobody wants to die. Our farms are destroyed; our women are raped when they go to farm and we are targets. It is affecting us so much. The Federal Government should do something drastic about this.”

Sharing a similar temperament, John Gbemileke, another farmer, told Nigerian Tribune that providing grazing reserves was unwelcome. “We are farmers. South West is known for farming and education. Why can’t the Federal Government do something about this? It is wrong to convert our farms to grazing reserves. We have lost a lot since this madness started. Our people must be protected. We must be protected. Why can’t their governments provide grazing reserves for them in the North? We will not take this anymore. It is affecting our farm produce and means of livelihood,” he said.


We are developing appropriate husbandry, feeding methods —Agric Minister

Speaking on the challenges thrown up by these realities, the Media Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture, Dr Olukayode Oyeleye, stated that “Nigeria has an estimated 15 million cattle, 34 million goats and 22 million sheep that need to be fed daily. Compare these statistics with Nigeria’s population of about 170 million and think of how many cows, sheep or goat per person. Considering the short duration of rainy season in most parts of the savannah regions of the middle belt and north of Nigeria where animal rearing is done mostly the traditional way, Nigeria has been glossing over some threats and opportunities. One of the threats to the existing system is that of climate. Uncontrolled grazing by animals is capable of exposing fragile land to erosion and land degradation. This is in addition to the well-known crisis and conflicts that have become associated with incursions of roaming animals into crop farms, leading to human fatalities. If there were enough grasses on the vast landscape, these conflicts would have been non-existent.

“The economics of nomadic animal production have been poorly documented. These are both causes and consequences of poor organisation of the sub-sector. The current status of dairy production in Nigeria shows that 85 per cent of cattle in Nigeria are managed by 12 million indigenous pastoralists who are essentially constantly on the move. The volume of milk produced by a cow in a single year averages just about 200kg in most areas. Compare this with the European cows producing an average of 6,500 kg per cow. Yet, milk production is not growing fast enough to satisfy Nigeria’s expanding milk appetite. Even the milk yield of traditional breeds of cows in Nigeria can be improved with better feeding. To meet the needs of Nigeria, with a population of over 170 million and an annual milk demand of roughly 1.5 billion litres, but less than five per cent of its milk produced locally, requires a new approach.

“Nigeria spends more than $200 million on milk imports from abroad every year. This makes no sense. Importation may bridge supply gap in the short term, but it is not sustainable in the long run. We need to develop appropriate husbandry and feeding methods that will boost our dairy production and supply chain, create business opportunities and reduce our dependence on importation.”

Many have repeatedly asked of the Northern governors’ involvement in addressing the challenge posed by this.


We have earmarked 30,000 hectares of land for grazing —Sokoto govt

Speaking on the Sokoto State’s government initiative in tackling the menace, the Media Adviser to the governor, Imam Imam, stated that “We are working with the Federal Government in addressing this challenge. As we speak, we have earmarked about 30,000 hectares of land where we expect to plant the grass that the Ministry of Agriculture is importing. We cut out the land from some local government areas in the state. We are expecting the grass from the Federal Government. It is expected to meet the nutritive demands of the herds and also their hide. We also want to improve their leather.

“As a state, we are working with some Chinese entrepreneurs and Argentine investors to see how best we can improve on the quality of the cattle in Sokoto. At the moment, we have contacts with the heads of the herdsmen. We are keying them into the wider plan to see how we can modernise the whole essence of cattle-rearing.

“As a state, we met a N2 billion agreement with some investors from Argentina on dairy farming. We met this on ground and we intend to follow through. We have expanded the negotiation with them. We want to use some Argentine technology to improve on the yield.”

Following similar lane as the Sokoto State government, Senator Abdul-aziz Nyako, representing Adamawa central senatorial district, is constructing water earth dams to address water shortage during dry season which often springs up clashes between herdsmen and farmers.

Joining in the campaign at stemming the challenge, FrieslandCampina WAMCO is partnering with the Federal Government on an ongoing multibillion naira dairy developments and expansion programme, including its work with over 2,500 local dairy farmers.

The objective is to raise raw milk quality and safety, increase farm productivity and support farmers in getting a market for their milk.

Managing Director/CEO, FrieslandCampina WAMCO, Rahul Colaco said: “On our part, we are committed to raising dairy farming to a higher level in Nigeria and making small scale entrepreneurs to have pride in agriculture. Through our dairy development programme, we develop local farmers in three ways: through practical knowledge transfer by local FrieslandCampina dairy development officers; expert training on feeding, breeding, hygiene, disease control and milk payment, and financing of local infrastructure such as milk collection centres, boreholes, and milk collection trucks.”


Ranched cattle produce better milk, meat —Vet. doctor

In his submission, Tope Odunsi, a veterinary doctor, University  of Ibadan stated that “the benefits of ranching are immense. There are countries in the world today like Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and the United States of America who have embraced ranching on a large scale. This has had multiplier benefits for their countries’ economies. Ranching helps to deploy the best of modern technology for animal husbandry.

“I must also say that ranching improves the milk quality gotten from the herd and even the quality of meat. Many people do not understand that cattle that are made to roam long distances do not produce the best of milk and meat. We must embrace ranching. It is inevitable.”

While the arguments go back and forth, the issues are in themselves germane. Drastic and more modern approach should be encouraged to harness the inherent benefits in animal husbandry and to quieten the tide of violence between herdsmen and farmers.