Livestock Transportation and Marketing in Nigeria




Ismail Iro, Ph.D.








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  10. Livestock Transportation and Marketing in Nigeria

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One of the primary reasons for Fulani movement is taking their animals to distant markets. A pattern of movement has emerged over the years where the Fulani transfer cattle from the producing areas in the north to the consuming areas in the south. The policy of the government on livestock transportation is noticed in the extension of roads that will link rural producers with urban consumers. Government policies are also visible in the provision of fences, scales, grains, freight facilities, feed lots, meat markets, retail sheds, fattening centers, cooperative societies, limited grazing spaces, and veterinary inspection at the livestock evacuation centers.

The Fulani have often been described as people without the need for automotive transportation. That claim is correct when applied to the slow and treacherous movement of animals from one grazing location to another. The claim is, however, incorrect when applied to the extensive use of trains and lorries to convey animals to the market. Table 1 shows the extent of Fulani's use of road transportation.

















Other places



No Response






*N in the sample are household heads.








00-01 km





02-05 km





06-10 km





more than 11 km










*N in the sample are household heads.

The Fulani are attaching importance to vehicular movement. Closeness to a road or railway line influences the location of a camp-site. Table 2 shows that more than half of the Fulani reside within a kilometer of the road.

Journeys on hooves have been the oldest and still the dominant method of transferring livestock to the south. Railway becomes important during the colonial era, but falls to road in post-independence period. Today, the Fulani are using all the three means of surface freightage: hooves, road, and railway.

Hooves Conveyance

Most bovines are conveyed to the coastal market by the long, risky journeys on the hooves. There are two chief trade cattle-routes to the southern markets. The first begins from Sokoto in the northwest and ends in Lagos in the southwest through Jebba. The second route starts from Maiduguri in northeast and ends in Calabar in southeast going through Kano and Zaria. Seventy-five percent of the animals follow these fixed routes. The trek from Sokoto to Lagos takes twenty-four to twenty-seven days. The journey from Maiduguri to Calabar lasts fifty to fifty-four days (Shaw and Colvile 1950).

Problems of hooves transportation

The draconian overland drovage results in frequent thefts, strays, accidents, offtakes, and transit mortalities. During the journey, the Fulani whip, traumatize, and subject the animals to walking up to twenty-five kilometers a day. With little time to graze or drink water, animals arrive at Jebba Bridge (half way in the journey) in a very poor state. Many of them are too weak to cross the bridge and have to be slaughtered. A crude estimate shows that cattle lose up to forty percent of their weight in the 1,288 kilometer journey from northern Nigeria to southern Nigeria.

Railway Carriage

The potential for profit in cattle trade between the north and the south was first realized in 1912 when the Shehu of Borno, with the help of the then British Resident, exported cattle and sheep to Lagos by the then newly completed rail line. A report said the Shehu made a ninety percent profit. Since then, interest in livestock trade between the two regions of the country grew steadily (Dunbur 1970).

The Fulani are using the railway as an alternative means of transportation, but poor rail connection and shortage of wagon spaces undermine the capacity of trains to haul goods. Railway officials who capitalize on these shortages exhort excess fees from the Fulani at the rail heads.

Problems of rail transportation

The railway greatly eases the hardship of merchantable animals going to the south. The rail, however, has its share of problems. First, the rail lines do not reach the remote cattle producing areas. Second, railway services do not provide for sufficient stock feeds, water sources, resting places, veterinary facilities, or housing for livestock freighters at the termini. Third, cattle trains and wagons are grossly inadequate, resulting in delays, overloading, and the spread of diseases among animals waiting to be evacuated.

Railway officials and veterinary inspectors engage in unscrupulous deals. They demand bribes from herd-owners before allocating wagon spaces. Apart from choosing the herds of people who offer gratification, officials promote chaos in livestock carriage by selecting healthier herds first, while the condition of the frail animals deteriorates at the railway stations. These malpractices undermine the effectiveness of rail services and cause needless suffering of herds on the waiting lists. As a result of these hardships, the railway is less popular than the road. Roads have replaced railways as the primary means of transferring animals in Nigeria.

Road Truckage

Roads have made the railways a nonentity in Nigeria. Unlike the government-run railways, road truckage is in private hands and, therefore, is more efficient. By road, it takes just two days to drive animals to the south from the north. The speed of road haulage has resulted in an over-supply of cattle in the southern markets, leading to a beef glut and a fall in meat price. The strongest advantage of road over rail, according to the cattle freighters, is the removal of government's monopoly in livestock transfer. The Fulani, who do not own the vehicles, rely on the middlemen to haul the herds. Important in distinguishing merchantable stock are transporters who may be more important than the primary producers in livestock marketing. The services offered by these freighters are inexpensive considering the huge cost of fuel, vehicles, and spare parts.

Problems of road haulage

Animals transferred by road face a number of difficulties. Throughout the journey, animals are kept standing, without food or water (Ademosun 1976). Most rural roads are seasonal and inoperable during the greater part of the year. Trucks are few and are operated for extended hours. Vehicles are prone to accidents because they are overloaded and travel on laterite. In the absence of livestock and freight insurance in Nigeria, some Fulani are reluctant to use road haulage for lack of safety.

Transportation is dearer by road than by rail, although if delays and risks of animals' catching diseases are added to the cost, the roads may be cheaper than the trains. In 1992, it costs about N15,000 to transport a truck-load of cattle from Kano to Lagos. The high cost of transportation is passed on to the consumer. The economic hardship in Nigeria has soured the cost of vehicles and is reflected in the exorbitant price of meat and livestock products in the country.

Livestock Marketing

The improved transportation system has helped Nigeria to increase the scope of its marketing operation. The numerous feeder roads in Nigeria ensure that weekly markets enjoy the patronage of the Fulani from satellite camps, although some perishable goods such as milk cannot be sold at distant market due to the lack of storage and refrigerants (Baker 1975). Sixty percent of the marketable cattle crossing national borders are destined to Nigeria (von Kaufmann 1986). Nigeria is the leading livestock market in West Africa. More than half of the cattle slaughtered in Nigeria come from neighboring Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. By building more roads, abattoirs, slaughter slabs, and cattle markets near the Fulani, the government has boosted livestock trading in Nigeria. These facilities also help in creating a demand and supply culture for merchantable goods and services between the Fulani and non-Fulani.

Government Policy on Livestock Marketing

The government sees the commercialization of the pastoral sector as a promising means of social and economic transformation of the pastoral Fulani. The government has two broad policy goals in this area. First, it wants to raise the offtakes of livestock, thereby breaking the chronic herd retention among the Fulani. Second, it seeks to incorporate the Fulani into the national economy, thus, reducing the long-standing social and economic isolation of the Fulani from the rest of the country. Although the second goal is succeeding, the first goal is failing.

Effects of Governments Policy

On the issue of market integration, the government's livestock marketing strategies are yielding the desired result. The numerous livestock markets (Zango) located in large settlements are bringing the Fulani closer to the community. For example, the Fulani are exchanging livestock with horticultural produce and hardware. The markets are important avenue where the Fulani and the farmers are sharing information about pastoral and agricultural innovations. Markets have also become the place for learning about governmental policies. The Fulani are using markets for social interaction such as conducting meetings, arranging marriages, and settling disputes.

On its goal of increasing the sales of livestock, however, the government only partially succeeded. Offtakes of cows in Nigeria stands at about five percent. The policy-makers thought that increased market outlets and demands for meat would make the Fulani to sell more animals. The prevailing assumption was that by reducing the herd size, better quality stock would emerge from the Fulani livestock. In a few cases this had happened, but in most cases, the Fulani replaced the animals as fast as they sold them. In some cases, the Fulani even enlarged their herd size in anticipation of the offtakes.

Contrary to expectations, over ninety percent of the Fulani in this sample refuse to trade their marketable animals for fear of reducing the stock size. The increase in marketing facilities escalate the sale of milk rather than beef, thus, defeating the goals of increasing meat sales. Field data show that many Fulani visiting the markets are milk-maids selling dairy products. The refusal of the Fulani to sell their cows affects the demand and the supply of beef throughout Nigeria.

Nature of the Demand and Supply of Meat

In spite of the claim (Anadu, Elamah, and Oates 1988, 208) that "Nigerians are not by nature a meat-eating people," the demand for beef is high in the metropolis. The demand is even greater in the southern cities, where at least twenty species of bushmeat are eaten (Ademosun 1976; and Anadu, Elamah, and Oates 1988). Since the closure of the Nigerian Livestock and Meat Authority, which kept sales and slaughter records of indigenous and imported animals, Nigeria is unable to furnish current and accurate data on livestock transaction. In 1991, the output of bone, flesh, skin, organ, and tissue from Nigeria's abattoirs and slaughter slabs stood at about 135,000 kilograms, just about half of the meat consumed annually in the country (N.L.P.D. record 1992).

Sheep and goats supply eleven percent and twenty percent respectively of the meat demand in Nigeria (Waters-Bayer 1986). In the rural areas, they supply three times more consumable beef than large animals do. In part because of the lack of demand for beef that will warrant the slaughter of a large beast. In the cities, however, ruminants furnish just a quarter of the meat eaten (Waters-Bayer 1986).

The seasonal availability of herds, the prevailing environmental condition, the demand for cash, and the price of stock affect the quantity of animals the Fulani take to the markets. Animals reach their highest prices during the rainy season, when they are fattest. Livestock sales peak during droughts, epidemics, or dry-seasons when selling becomes as much a way of getting rid of sick stock as it is of balancing herd size with water and pasture availability. Livestock dealers report the influx of sick and impoverished animals during famines or epidemics, resulting in beef glut.

Problems of Beef Supply in Nigeria

The demand for meat rose in the seventies due the oil boom that increased the income of Nigerian workers especially after the Udoji salary increase. The government responded to the demand by importing live animals, canned meat, and frozen fish. Two main aims influenced Nigeria's import policy; first, to reduce beef demand in the urban areas; and second, to avoid the social and political consequences of failing to provide inexpensive beef to metropolitan residents.

The government, aware of such consequences, keeps the price of beef low through subsidies on imported meat. Massive meat imports not only kill the incentives of local producers but they also encourage corruption among officials responsible for the import (Bashir 1986). Table 3 shows that even with these subsidies, the price of fresh, red meat has climbed steadily because of urbanization, rapid population expansion, and the Structural Adjustment Program that depreciated the naira.


Year Beef Mutton Goat Meat Pork Frozen Chicken Came Meat
1984 6.70 5.55 5.96 7.02 .... ....
1985 6.75 5.52 6.40 6.84 8.90 5.11
1986 9.08 8.91 7.61 8.07 9.68 8.19
1987 10.57 9.24 9.23 9.28 10.35 8.38
1988 12.75 11.75 12.06 10.53 13.86 10.00
1989 19.55 20.07 19.66 17.21 21.55 16.12
1990 22.00 21.00 20.50 20.00 25.00 17.52

SOURCE: (FDL & PCS record 1992).

Cattle dealers (dillalai), who suffocate the market by overcharging the consumers and underpaying the producers, also influence the price of beef. The value of an animal is determined by visual and tactile examination. Scales are seldom used. The sellers and the buyers prefer appraising the animal by their physical appearance. Combining their business acumen and extortion, these cattle traders have become wealthier and more influential than the primary producers. These mediators, most of them non-Fulani, maintain a large network of representatives. They have chains of markets within and beyond Nigeria. The middlemen, who receive three to five percent sales commission (la'ada), perform the important task of transporting the animals to the market, protecting the herds from bandits, and ensuring that contractual obligations between the sellers and the buyers are fulfilled. At the village level, the cattle producers take the herds to the brokers. Sometimes, however, the brokers themselves go to the encampments to buy the animals directly from the Fulani. An animal may change hands up to seven times before reaching the slaughter slab. Through trading, good relationships based on trust have developed between the Fulani and the cattle brokers, despite the exploitation of the former by the latter.

The process of relinquishing a cow by the Fulani takes a long time and involves many advisors from within and outside the household. The decision to relinquish a small beast may be reached by members at the lowest social level, but disposing of a large beast may require the approval of members in the highest social echelon, who may come from outside of the owner's immediate family (Dahl and Hjort 1979). The delay in selling the animals increases their average marketing age, which is about six years for a cow. The late sale of an animal means less profit for producers and high cost for consumers. The higher the selling age the fewer stock are sold. Veterinarians in Nigeria believe that one way to increase offtake and reduce herd retention among the Fulani is to lower the selling age of the stock. The marketing age of the cow may be reduced to four or three by improving the health and nutrition of the animals.

The Fulani view selling a cow as consuming one's capital. Because animals are a repository of wealth, the pastoralists find it difficult to part with their stock (Konczacki 1978). The decision to sell or slaughter an animal is met with the strongest resistance and condemnation. The killing or selling of an able-bodied, reproductive cow is a taboo and an abominable act that signifies poverty (Brokensha, Horowitz, and Scudder 1977; and Arhem 1989).

Even when conditions such as good markets favor the sale of the herds, pastoralists show what Horowitz (1980) refers to as a 'backward bending' supply curve or a 'perversive supply response', in which the better the prices, the fewer the number of animals the livestock owners are willing to sell. Even in hard times the Fulani try to resist selling their animals. Instead, the pastoralists try to keep the largest number of animals that can outlast the adversities.

Reasons for Sales and Uses of Sales Receipts

The Fulani sell animals to buy salt, cloth, food, and animal feed. They also sell to buy luxury goods such as radios, bicycles, motorcycles, and furniture. In some cases, the motive is to trade a bull to buy two or more calves, to marry, or to go to Mecca for pilgrimage. An urgent demand for cash may compel the marketing of an animal. The Fulani cattle-owners use sales proceeds to school fees, and fines for crop damage, and pay taxes at it were in the past. The purchase of household needs and the meeting of important social and religious commitments are strong reasons for a Fulani man to take his animals to the market (Fricke 1979; Vengroff 1980; Frantz 1981; and Awogbade 1982).

Unlike the selling of animals, the selling of dairy products is widespread among the Fulani. The traditional pastoral sector is noted for the production of milk. The vending of milk is the most important economic preoccupation of the Fulani. Milk selling, however, faces many challenges in Nigeria, as the section that follows explains.

It must be added that one of the recurring problems in livestock transfer in the frequent ethnic clashes involving the Fulani directly or their pathways. Recently, newspapers have reported disruption of livestock movement to the East as a result of the crisis in the middle section of the country. It is also obvious too that the escalation of animosity against the Fulani by southern tribes have forced a reduction in commercial beef production. At one time, for instance, the Fulani and the cattle brokers threaten to close the cattle market at Enugu and move it northward to Makurdi if attacks on the Fulani and their cattle continue in the east. 


The Fulani use road, rail and hooves to transport their cattle to the south. The problems of the rails is inadequate coaches and freight facilities suitable for the herds. Roads are faster and more convenient for the Fulani, but the cost is high and road networks in the rural areas inadequate or at best seasonal to meet the transportation need of the Fulani. Overland drovage is extraneous, time consuming, and often very risky. The solution is for the government to improve feeder roads especially in the rural areas and to ensure safety of the Fulani and their livestock enterprise.


Dr. Ismail Iro is a programmer and data analyst