The Fulani Milk Maid and Problems of Dairying in Nigeria


Ismail Iro, Ph.D.


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  11. The Fulani Milk Maid and Problems of Dairying in Nigeria

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.

Milk, the "...most nutritious food known to man." (Michael and others 1991, 88-89) is important in the diet and culture of the Fulani. Fresh, boiled, or curdled, milk is consumed by the Fulani and by the rural population. The Fulani women monopolize the local dairy production in Nigeria, although they own only a few of the family's cattle (Adholla-Migot and Little 1980). Pastoral women, whose liking for milk ranges from mild to excessive, sell milk and cooked millet balls called Fura in northern Nigeria and southern Nigeria largely settled by the Hausawa. Every Fulani man must give his wife or wives enough cows to milk, or risk his marriage (de St Croix 1945; and Waters-Bayer 1986a). The Fulani milk the cows twice a day in the wet-season, collecting about 1.5 liters of milk per cow (Vengroff 1980). In the dry season, milking is suspended or reduced to just once a day.

Milk women keep the proceed from dairy sales, which they use to buy grains, seasonings, flavorings, beverages, vegetables, food utensils, cooking oils, and other household goods. However, women's purchase of such items for the family is voluntary. The Fulani men do not count on the Fulani women's contribution in family upkeep for fear of being reproached as failing household providers.

Since women control the income from milk sales, men, who own the herds and do most of the herding tasks, frown on women for over-milking the cows. The men are concerned that if much milk is extracted from a cow, the calves will be under-nourished and prone to diseases (Helleiner 1972). Thus, men are indifferent at best to innovations that lead to increasing milk offtake. Any dairy policy that ignores the concern of the Fulani men about milk production is likely to fail. 

The Nature of Supply, Demand, and Consumption of Milk

Milk is the most frequently used cattle product, however, many families cannot get enough milk for daily nourishment. Although traditional dairying in Nigeria starts centuries ago, industrial dairying is recent. In 1945, the last colonial Chief Veterinary Officer of Nigeria, Mr. H.H. Wells, reported to the Home Office in London that Her Majesty's Empire in Nigeria had developed much interest in dairying and was supplying cheese and butter to Allied Forces in Morocco (Interview with N.L.P.D. staff, July 1992).

Reports indicate that Nigeria has the potential of being a major milk producer in Africa. Using improved methods of storing, processing, packaging, and transporting, milk output can be raised substantially for internal use and for export. Nigeria is the largest milk producer in West Africa and the third largest producer of cow milk in Africa, thanks to our nomadic and semi-nomadic Fulani. Africa contributes just over two percent of the World's milk supply. Milk accounts for twenty to twenty-five percent of the agricultural sector in Sub-Sahara, two percent of its calories, thirty-three percent of its calcium, and four percent of protein for its people. By value, livestock products make up eleven percent of the food (Michael and others 1991). Table 1, below, summarizes milk production in Sub-Sahara

Table 1: Milk Production in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1988 (X 100 metric tons)

African Regions Cow Milk Sheep Milk Goat Milk Sub-total Camel Milk
Eastern 4,959 1,053 1,410 7,422 2,276
Western 1,071 141 294 1,506 402
Southern 720 .... 13 733 ....
Central 311 3 22 336 ...
Total 7,061 1,197 1,739 9,997 2,678

Western Africa

African Regions Cow Milk Sheep Milk Goat Milk Sub-total Camel Milk
Benin 15 .... 5 20 ....
B/Faso 81 .... 16 97 1
Chad 110 8 13 131 102
Gambia 5 .... .... 5 ....
Ghana 11 .... .... 11 1
Guinea 42 1 4 47 ....
G/Bissau 10 1 2 13 ....
C/Ivoire 19 .... .... 19 ....
Liberia 1 1 1 3 ....
Mali 95 28 33 156 48
Mauritania 96 74 78 248 162
Niger 106 13 130 249 83
Nigeria 360 .... .... 360 4
Senegal 94 15 12 121 2
S/Leone 17 .... .... 17 ....
Togo 9 .... .... 9 1

Source: Michael and others (1991, 85-86)

Between 1970-80, the dairy sector in Africa grew at just 2.5 percent a year, a rate that was 0.5 percent less that the population growth. The annual consumption of milk for the same period was 2.1 percent, while the supply of milk showed marked fluctuations (Michael and others 1991). With eight percent urbanization and three percent population growth, the supply of milk was clearly insufficient.

Problems of Dairy Production in Nigeria

Modern dairying is declining in Nigeria, and the per capita consumption of milk is dropping. In the last twenty years, average milk intake has dropped from 40 to 27 kilograms. The production and consumption of milk are not adequately documented in the country. These figures, therefore, should be treated with caution, since only about ten percent of the milk consumed in Nigeria goes through the market.

Among the problems identified in milk production in Nigeria are low milk output of Fulani cows, poor grass quality that leads to low milk yield, and lack of storage and processing equipment. Unsanitary methods of milk handling, breakdown of processing plants, and inefficient milk collection also impede the performance of the milk industries in Nigeria. Competition between itinerant milk collectors and official milk collectors, faulty pricing and management policies, and lack of economic incentives from the government hamper the expansion of Nigeria's dairy industry.

The local cow genotype (Bos indicus) that contributes about sixty-five percent of the milk in Nigeria is multipurpose. Yielding only about 0.7 liters of milk per day, the local breed is not, therefore, a good milker. Genetic improvement of the local variety relies on natural cross-breeding. Less than three percent of the stock has been artificially inseminated (Michael and others 1991). High calf mortality (20-25 percent) and long calving interval (20-26 months), slow maturation, and low productivity of the local breed of Nigeria's cattle add to these problems.

With the exception of farm residue, the natural grass upon which the bovine depend is low in protein and indigestible roughage. Animals feeding on this grass have poor nutrition and low milk harvest. The calves compete with human beings for the limited output of milk (Konczacki 1978; and Waters-Bayer 1986a). A pastoralist must ration his milk in such a way that the well-being of the calf is not jeopardized by a disproportionate consumption of milk by human beings (Western and Finch 1987). Improving the pasture resource by de-lignifications of high fiber roughage is uncommon in Nigeria. In most pastoral systems, the use of human-grown feed has proven cost- and supply-ineffective.

Most rural residents drink milk, but the average household expenditure on milk rarely exceeds two percent of the income. In the urban areas milk (powdered, condensed, or evaporated) is a luxury item. Peak and Carnation brands are the popular creamers and tea whiteners in Nigeria. The use of powdered milk has increased sharply in Nigeria after the Europeans and the North Americans donated non-fat milk to schools and hospitals in 1960.

The dairy industry in Nigeria is faced with logistical problems too. The inefficient method of collection and distribution of milk hinder dairy development. Milk producing areas are in the hinterland, where vehicles cannot reach easily. The lack of access roads and specialized vehicles necessitate the delivery of milk by foot or by donkeys. Transportation by foot or on the hooves is obvious slow, and in the milk marketing, it may spell the difference between business success and business failure. The Fulani cannot deliver the milk to the processing centers within the critical four hours after milking. More than half of the milk spoil before reaching  the final consumer.

Since liquid, wholesome milk is unstable under heat, delays render it insipid and unsaleable (Michael and others 1991). Pastoralists do not refrigerate or preserve their milk, therefore, the shelf-life of fresh milk is short, usually less than three hours. The Fulani do not boil the milk either, although boiling will kill the pathogen and increase the self-life of milk to eight hours.

Rural inhabitants who do not have refrigerators ferment their milk. More than seventy percent of the milk is converted into sour milk; thirteen percent is drunk fresh; and seven percent is used to make ghee, cheese, and butter. Fresh, liquid milk can only be used by urban residents who use refrigerators. Milk producers cannot sell fresh, wholesome milk except by request. Even then, the milk must be delivered in the morning to avoid the afternoon heat that can render the milk sully (Awogbade 1983).

The Fulani use unsanitary methods of milking. They use bare hands and unsterilized containers for processing. The cow's breast is not bathed before milking and flies can be seen jumping into the milk calabash. Often also the Fulani milk sick cows. The Fulani use dirty water from rivers and streams to dilute the milk. The lapses in hygienic practices result in milk-borne diseases, especially among urban residents who drink fresh milk from the Fulani cow. Milk-borne zoonoses are, however, rare in the rural areas because the milk is fermented and the lactic acid produced by fermentation helps destroy the harmful coliform and salmonella. Products from dairy plants often contain impermissible amounts of residues of chemical acaricides, herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics. Milk from cows that have had intensive veterinary care may contain high doses of veterinary drugs, especially after immunization. Unfortunately, Nigeria seldom tests for drugs or inspects dairy products from local herds and dairy plants. Traces of these chemicals, therefore, may he high enough to pose potential dangers to human health. The Kenyan experience where dioxthion in milk reaches 0.35 ppm, 0.15 ppm above the permissible level, should be a lesson to Nigeria to legislate against contamination and misuse of chemicals. The government should enforce these regulations not only in commercial dairy industries but also among the local milk producers.

Competition with imported milk, breakdown of the cooling system, erratic supply of pasteurized milk by the Fulani producers, adverse markets, and bad management hamper the performance of the dairy firms (Awogbade 1983). Most of these firms cannot get the minimum one thousand liters of wholesome, liquid milk per day. Many dairy firms, like the one at Vom, have liquidated voluntarily or have privatized because they cannot overcome these obstacles. To supplement periodic shortages of milk and to keep the plants running, some dairy industries import powdered milk and use it in processing. Some plants even breed their own high-yielding milk cows. The cost per liter of the milk from these firms is however so high that the industries operate at a loss. The industries fold up frequently because they cannot compete in a price-sensitive marketplace.

Although the Fulani can raise their output of milk, the dairies cannot reach the scattered producers in the rural areas. The spatial deployment of the herds makes it difficult to realize the benefits of the economy of scale. The dairy firms in Nigeria are not equipped for door-to-door milk collection or distribution. While the firms have started sending their staff hundreds of kilometers to buy milk from the Fulani, ironically many milk-maids wait in long queues with calabashes of milk for sale at the official milk collection centers. In Ruma-Kukar-Jangarai, for example, milk collectors go into the reserve only twice a week, buying milk along the access roads. Sometimes the milk collectors do not show up, causing the Fulani to throw away the milk which they cannot sell to others or convert into temperature-stable products such as ghee, cheese, butter, and sour milk (nono).

Although the Fulani have formed the Federation of Milk Producers Association (F.M.P.A.) to ease milk collection, the association cannot guarantee the supply or the demand for the milk. An examination of the activities of the association indicates that it is more active in controlling price and imposing standards than in coordinating milk sales. The association operates mainly near urban areas where it targets the elite producers and commercial ranchers. Most Fulani in the rural areas are not even aware of the existence of the association.

Itinerant dealers from surrounding villages compete with official milk buyers. These dealers pay higher prices for the milk and go from camp to camp to meet the producers. Between the dealers and the official buyers the price per liter of milk is determined (Awogbade 1982). Although the unofficial buyers are efficient collectors, they ruin the dairy market by overcharging the consumers.

Pricing policy that puts the retail price of milk below the producer price depresses the government's incentives to milk producers. Bad management policy places the dairy sector under the wrong department or parastatals. Michael and others (1991, 24) explains some of the problems:

It was argued that the skills and management capabilities needed for successful dairying could be replaced or developed under a parastatals structure, but it is now clear that this approach was mistaken. The problems experienced by dairy parastatals are similar to those experienced by all parastatals--inadequate management, political interfererance (e.g. concerning milk prices), low productivity and poor financial performance.

But the real cause of the failure of state-owned dairy farms is that the government's goal is not in tandem with commercial objectives. In other words, governments objective may not necessary be profit-making. Like most government ventures, state-managed dairy plants in Nigeria are set up as service industries to create jobs, silent political agitation, or impress a constituency for future voter reward. Since in the long-run economic success more than anything else determines the survival of business investments, these dairy industries that have no profit goals fall by the wayside even if they succeed politically.

The government has now realized the importance of small, backyard dairy firms who use family labor in sustainable and affordable milk production in Nigeria. These cottage producers are using local skills and less energy-dependent methods. In the second livestock development program, the government plans to make these small-scale industries the center of dairy production in Nigeria. To this effect, the government is privatizing the remaining dairy ventures and encouraging commercial ranches to supply the mile. However, the persistent failure of the ranching schemes may not help in realizing the objective or raising milk produced from ranches.



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