Should Pastoral Fulani Sedentarize? A Literature Review and Theoretical Framework on Policy Issues in the Socioeconomic Transformation of the Pastoral Fulani of Nigeria


Ismail Iro, Ph.D.





Other discussions

a. Abstract and Introduction

b. Should Pastoral Fulani Sedentarize?

c. Characteristics of the Fulani

d. Fulani Herding System

e. Traditionalism Vs. Modernism: A Look at Fulani Methods of Livestock Disease Management

f.  Scarcity of Water as an Impediment to Pastoral Fulani Development

hNomadic Education and Education for Nomadic Fulani


This section reviews the literature on pastoral development constraints and public policy issues in Nigeria. The section also presents the theoretical underpinning of pastoral problems. Two broad themes under which these problems can be discussed are identified. The first theme deals with issues of aridity, vegetation scarcity, and disease devastation. The second theme looks at the question about the appropriateness and effectiveness of public policies.

In discussing development and public policy constraints on nomadic or pastoral enterprise, three publications are important in the literature. The most comprehensive discussion on the subject is contained in Galaty, Aronson, and Salzman (1980), The Future of Pastoral People. The publication touches on a wide range of pastoral dilemmas ranging from human to environmental concerns. The second major work on the subject is Galaty and Salzman (1981), Change and Development in Nomadic and Pastoral Societies. The publication looks at the broad theme of socioeconomic change in pastoral areas. The third publication consist of papers presented at two proceedings. The first, is Fadahunsi, Awogbade, and Kolawale (1985), Proceedings of a Seminar held in Zaria, Nigeria. The second, is von Kaufmann, Chater, and Blench (1986), Proceedings of the Second I.L.C.A./N.A.P.R.I. Symposium Held in Kaduna, Nigeria. The proceedings examine the effects of government intervention in pastoral system in Nigeria and the environmental limitations on livestock production.

The literature on Nigeria's pastoral development suggests that the major environmental limitations to Fulani pastoralism are water and grass shortages (Stenning 1971; Fricke 1979; Awogbade 1983; Adefolalu 1986; von Kaufmann 1986). The link between rainfall and livestock production is adequately referenced in the literature (Matthewman 1977; Cohen 1980; Michael and others 1991; Bekure 1993; and Bonfiglioli 1993). A World Bank publication claims that almost universally, the pastoralists depend on natural forage to raise livestock. The success of the livestock enterprise is tied to the availability of moisture and vegetation in the right time, place, quantity, and quality.

Climatic limitations

Geographers and meteorologists have observed that climatic elements directly or indirectly influence the quality, quantity, and distribution of livestock in Nigeria (Moretimore 1989). Otchere (1986) explains in a paper titled "Traditional Cattle Production in the Subhumid Zone of Nigeria" that the rhythm of mobility and the latitudinal oscillation of pastoral Fulani correspond to the vacillations in moisture and forage conditions. The gross seasonal climatic shifts, spottiness of rains, high ambient temperature, and the unpredictable micro-climatic changes necessitate movement (Shaw and Colvile 1950; Brokensha, Horowitz, and Scudder 1977; Adholls-Migot and Little 1980; and Grayzel 1986; Salzman 1980b).

Drought and water scarcity

Pastoralists have experienced debilitating and recurring droughts (de St Croix 1945; Dahl 1976; Frantz 1978; Salzman 1980a; Shanmugaratman 1992; and Bonfiglioli 1993). An inspection of the transition zone between the Sahel and the Guinea Savannas reveals that incessant drought leads to crop failures and water scarcities (Perrings 1993). Periodic droughts take a heavy toll on the animals. During droughts, animals die from thirst, hunger, and exhaustion (Stenning 1959; Vengroff 1980; and Niamir 1990). In an article in the National Geographic titled "An Age-Old Challenge Grow," Gore (1979) writes that in 1968 alone, the Sahelian drought claimed a quarter million people and a million animals.

Drought causes social and economic ruins. Hunger, poverty, diseases, and destitution leave the pastoralists at the mercy of the sedentary society (Konczacki 1978; and Jacobs 1980). In his article "Mechanisms to Enhance Effective Popular Participation" in Francoiz Falloux and Aleki Mukendi (1990), Catterson says that drought displaces people and reduces them to beggars, who become overly dependent on international relief handouts. Droughts make rain-fed farmers to expand their farms into cultivable sylo-pastoral land (Catterson 1990), thus displacing the pastoralists. Frequent droughts have forced the Fulani to move into the southern tsetse infested region. As drought sweeps away pastureland, pastoralists abandon herding and switch to farming or full- or part-time wage laboring (Cisse 1980; and Dahl 1980).

During droughts, farmers in Niger have changed from monocropping to multicropping, while herders have kept goats and drought-tolerant animals in place of cows (Swinton 1987; and Shanmugaratman and others 1992). Despite steps by the pastoralists against human and natural disasters, drought and desertification continue engulfing pasture tracts. Pastoralists who are incapable of coping with drought-related stresses or who are unable to absorb the effects of localized catastrophes 'bottom out' to become urban migrants looking for tertiary occupations (Brokensha, Horowitz, and Scudder 1977; and Swindler 1980).

Nigeria's response on drought and famine includes giving food relief, although the Fulani seldom benefit from such aid. To minimize the negative effects of the drought, the authorities in Nigeria have built dams and boreholes. In some places, they have planted protective windbreaks to retard desert advancement (Awogbade 1980; and Abalu 1985). The Fulani use any strategy, including prayers to God, as defense against droughts, diseases, and disasters.


Strategies for coping with the drought.

Hjort (1981) explains that the pastoralists have used different responses to drought-associated stresses, including culling, selling, sharing, lending, borrowing, diversifying, gift-giving, and herd splitting. To counter natural and artificial disasters, the pastoralists engage in frequent movement, resource circulation, social cooperation, and pre- and post-drought herd enlargement when vegetation conditions are splendid (Brokensha, Horowitz, and Scudder 1977; Dahl 1980; Sandford 1982; Cossins 1983a; and Swinton 1987).


Vegetation Limitations

The proceedings of the second I.L.C.A./N.A.P.R.I. symposium held in Kaduna provides excellent references to the vegetation limitation in livestock development in Nigeria. In their contribution to that symposium, Ibrahim (1986), von Kaufmann (1986), and Maina (1986) discuss the effects of tsetse on livestock-raising. They observe that in the humid areas, vegetation is the source of food for the animals as well as the habitat of predatory insects that devastate mobile or sedentary population.

Insects cause morbidity and mortality among wild and domestic animals (Bourn and Wint 1986). Because of its tolerance to high temperatures and low humidity, the tsetse fly plagues the Forest and the Guinea Savanna (Fricke 1979; and Ibrahim 1986). As a result of the prevalence of the tsetse in the sub-humid region, most of the goats, cattle, and almost all camels, donkey, and horses are raised in the tsetse-free savanna (Stenning 1957; Apeldoorn 1981; and Moretimore 1989).

Insects Limitations

The tsetse is a vector for most African trypanosomiasis, an enervating disease among dogs, pigs, goats, sheep, camels, cattle, horses, and chickens. In human beings, the tsetse causes a debilitating and frequently fatal condition known as sleeping sickness. Fricke (1979) says that for decades the endemicity of Glossina and Trypanosomiasis has severely crippled the grazing potential of Nigeria. Figure 4 shows the map of Tsetse Distribution in Nigeria and in Africa.


The map shows that the tsetse menace impedes forty-six percent of Sub-Sahara from livestock development. Three species of pathological significance, Trypanosoma congolenses, T. vivax, T. brucei, are especially obnoxious. In West Africa, the species T. vivax causes the most virulent infection in cattle (Barnes 1976). Eighty percent (737,034 square kilometers) of Nigeria's 928,000 square kilometers is invaded by eleven of the twenty-two species of tsetse fly (N.I.T.R. record 1992). Four species, Glossina morsitans submorsitans, Glossina palpalis palpalis, Glossina tachinoides, and Glossina Longipalpalis, are of economic significance.

The tsetse pandemic in Nigeria occurs south of twenty-one degrees parallel (Awogbade 1980). It covers about 280,000 square kilometers of grazing land, or a third of Northern Nigeria. Tsetse prevent the expansion of commercial ranching in Nigeria (Dunbar 1970; Maina 1986; Bourn and Wint 1986; and Mohammed-Saleem 1986a). It is estimated that the tsetse flies deny more land to the Fulani than aridity, farmers' encroachment, and inaccessibility, combined (Stenning 1971).

Diseases Limitations

Diseases are threatening the production of livestock in Nigeria. Apart from trypanosomiasis, the most common infectious diseases are anthrax, blackleg, rinderpest, lumpy skin, brucellosis, papillomatosis, keratoconjunctivitis, foot-and-mouth diseases, and contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (Vengroff 1980; de Haan and Nissen 1985; and Maina 1986). Also present are parasitic tapeworms, roundworms, caecal worms, gizzard worms, lung worms, kidney worms, whip worms, and globular stock worms. The virulent rinderpest accounts for the largest bovine catastrophe in the Sudan Savanna (Shaw and Colvile 1950; Fricke 1979; and Ibrahim 1986).


The rinderpest was the most dreadful bovine virus in West Africa (Fricke 1979). During the 1887-1891 rinderpest epidemic, which spread from Darfur to much of today's Northern States of Nigeria, the Fulani lost eighty to ninety percent of their cattle (Maina 1986). de St Croix (1945) elaborates that hundreds of Fulani victims committed suicide as a result of the loss. After the devastation, the scarcity of foundation stock slowed the rebuilding of the herd. The demand for breeding cattle was so high that the Fulani made down payments for the un-borne calves. The Fulani claimed that they were yet to reach their pre-1887 herd size.

The second major episode of rinderpest happened between 1913-14. Up to sixty percent of the cattle perished in the disaster (de Croix 1945). The third rinderpest attack occurred in 1919-1920, and almost wiped out the entire Fulani herds. Between 1920 and 1962 several minor rinderpest outbreaks took place (Stenning 1971). From 1953-62, for example, rinderpest claimed 37,000 animals (Fricke 1979).


Anthrax bacterium is a disabling and often a fatal illness among bovine and people. A person who eats the meat of an animal with anthrax will catch and die of the disease within hours if untreated. In 1972, a severe outbreak around Kachia killed dozens of people (N.L.P.D. 1992).

Other livestock diseases

Other livestock diseases include ticks (kaska), which the Fulani remove by visual inspection. They lower the fertility, skin quality, and milk and meat yields of the animals. Modern methods of treatment using acaricide, pour-on preparation, slow-release implants, and premunization are viable, though only on a small scale. Cost, scarcity, and difficulty of application that requires some literacy prevent the pastoral Fulani from using these methods (N.I.T.R. record 1992).

Ruminants and poultry stocks are afflicted by a range of diseases such as peste des petits ruminants (PPR), contagious caprine pleuropneumonia, heartwater, sheep fox, sarcoptic mange, helminths, coccidiosis, eye infection, stress pneumonia, caseous lymphadenitis, and brucellosis. Dermatophiliasis is a serious disease that attacks and damages the skins and hides. The disease, which is caused by lesions from thorns and insect bites, leads to loss of productivity and death among the animals. The Red Sokoto goat, producing the famous Moroccan leather, is destroyed by this disease. No effective therapeutic remedies have been developed. Poultry diseases like fowl fox and Newcastle disease are widespread and equally devastating.

As limiting as drought and diseases are, the Fulani have been able to ascribe pastoral habits to ecological realities (Frantz 1980). The success of the Fulani in adapting to their environmental adversities follows centuries of experiment with nature (Frantz 1978, 1980). Past success comes with little government intervention. The direct or indirect involvement of the government in the affairs of the Fulani has added a new dimension in the development of Nigerian pastoralists. While some policies have decreased the problems of the Fulani, others have increased the problems (Awogbade 1983).


Concerned about the plight of the pastoral Fulani, the government of Nigeria has ventured into several policy areas on nomadic pastoralism. It has made some plans aimed at improving the well-being of the Fulani and those of their animals. These policies are based on a development model and assumptions. The successes or failures of this model and these assumptions are debatable. The major development model is that of modernization that seeks to change traditional pastoralism.

The Development Model

Before independence, the dominant development thinking in Nigeria was "modernization" based on import substitution industrialization and an "urban bias" to development. The overriding view across the intellectual communities in Nigeria was equating development with modernization. Assumed also was that rapid social and economic changes could modify values and institutions. The prevailing thinking among developers who supported this theory was that modernization would alter the traditional form and economic frame, and achieve what "natural evolution" could not accomplished in decades (Galaty 1980a, 285). Development in Nigeria was, thus, linked to its ability to export minerals and agricultural goods. Many early policy-makers in Nigeria measured growth by the increase in GNP and GDP from exports to capitalist Europe and North America.

Although the export goods were produced in the rural areas, planners concentrated development activities in the urban nodes, hoping that development would trickle to the villages (Famoriyo 1985). Emphasis was placed on the construction of dams and roads to help remove the chronic isolation of the producing areas. The modernization of the agricultural sector and the reformation and commercialization of the pastoral sector were the major development thrusts since independence.

An assessment of growth in the past two decades in Nigeria, however, shows that the model has not worked, especially in the pastoral sector where foreign and government interventions have failed miserably. Michael and others (1991) cites a World Bank publication that states nearly half of its audited projects between 1965-1986 have failed in Africa. Seventy-one percent of such projects have scored less than ten percent of the expected returns (Mcintire, Bourzat, and Pingali 1992). Judging from the literature, the pastoral sector in Nigeria has no effective short- or long-term panacea. Dismayed foreign agencies have responded to this frustration by abandoning their projects and moving out of the country.

The Nigerian government has, nonetheless, continued to find political and economic interests in experimenting with different development options in the pastoral sector. The desire to change the Fulani has presented special problems in education and infrastructure development. There is also the difficulty of reaching out to the Fulani or involving them in development efforts. The future of the Fulani depends upon government's approach to solving these problems.


The development literature has raised some questions about the goals and strategies of livestock development. Who should do what--the government, the community, or the individual Fulani? How should the community be organized--statically or dynamically? Should livestock production be specialized or multi-purpose? Who should be responsible for the environment? What resource management style is to be followed--collective or private? What model of governance should be applied--authoritarian or participatory? (Sandford 1982).

The solution to pastoral dilemmas is shrouded in misunderstanding that results in the remedy of the symptoms. Improvisation and ad hoc planning govern policy-making in pastoral societies. There is an overt emphasis by state agents on technocratic solutions. Government's livestock policies are frequently random and poorly coordinated. The government does not distinguish between the goals of pastoral development and the development of pastoralists.

Development in Nigeria tends to be resource- rather than people-centered, as development planners try to convert private pastoral wealth into national fiscal asset. The government is concerned about the welfare of people with resource endowments (Stenning 1959; and Aronson 1980). In pastoral societies, the livestock gets a higher investment priority than the Fulani people in the national economic inventory.

Because the emphasis is on capital accumulation, social benefits receive less of the governments' attention, although in fairness to the authorities it should be pointed out that there were some attempts to help the Fulani. Economists with their "merit wants" overshadow anthropologists in pastoral development (Helleiner 1972). Serving as advisers to administrators, the economists treat the pastoralists as economic beings, despite their non-market orientation (Galaty 1980c). In formulating policies at macro- and micro-levels, the circumstances of the urban dwellers override those of the rural Fulani.

When the veterinary department was introduced, there was no long-range planning. The government was concerned mainly with disease control. Disease control officers rather than livestock planners became the major policy-makers in pastoral development. Thus, livestock planning in Nigeria became veterinary biased. These policy-makers achieved some good results in curtailing livestock disease, and the livestock population grew steadily from less than one percent to two percent (Dunbar 1970). The expansion of livestock population, however, brought an unprecedented demand for grazing land.

Post-independence policies in the livestock sector originated in 1954 with the I.B.R.D.'s recommendation that resulted in the "Fulani Amenities Proposal." The proposal mandated the government to develop stockponds, supplementary feeds, and grazing reserves (Awogbade 1983). The Federal Government channeled its activities through the ministries of rural development and, later, the ministry of agriculture and natural resources (Famoriyo 1985).

From 1965, the World Bank, U.S.A.I.D., E.E.C., and other foreign financiers joined in pastoral development in Africa (Sandford 1983a). In Nigeria, large sums of money went into the construction of dams, boreholes, and irrigation schemes. The Europeans encouraged the building of commercial ranches and dairy industries. Most of the policies, however, failed to harmonize environmental aspects with the veterinary programs, or to incorporate traditional goals with economic objectives (Horowitz 1980).

Nigeria's renewed interest in pastoral producers followed the more recent trends such as the effects of the widely publicized Sahelian drought. The scarcity of meat in the market, the escalation of skirmishes between the Fulani and the farmers, and the need to develop the rangeland resources also drew government's attention (Awogbade 1980). National and international attention on pastoral Fulani was pronounced in the aftermath of 1970-76 droughts of the past twenty years (Galaty 1980c). The problems of the Fulani and their livestock, however, continued to the present day.

The Problems of Livestock Development

Experts attribute the root of pastoral problems to lack of anthropological advise. Decisions are made without feasibility studies and impact analyses of the target beneficiaries. As a result, the Fulani reject the recommendations of the planners. Despite obvious failures in the past, mistakes still recur. As Hjort (1980, 50) explains, it is as if the planners are not learning any lessons:

Programs that have been roundedly condemned by planners elsewhere because there has been no systematic evaluation of what has gone before, and anthropologists' criticisms of their effects are brushed aside as merely reflecting the vagaries of the natives.

Where feasibility studies are done, they are conducted by foreign advisers who believe in capital- and technology- intensive intervention. With a one-sided view, developers and aid donors arrive in Nigeria with development decisions already made in their home countries about what they will do for the indigenous societies. As soon as they arrive, they start uprooting the traditional mores and practices or adapting them to Western standards (Catterson 1990). Consciously or unconsciously, these expatriates introduce programs that antagonize rather than encourage village-level participants (Nkinyangi 1980).

The management of resources is left in the hands of these foreign experts with the scrappiest data and understanding of how the host societies operate. Yet, some of the social, economic, and environmental crises of Africa are blamed on having fewer resources at the disposal of the indigenous population (Konczacki 1978; and Sandford 1983a. Decades after Nigeria's independence, foreign specialists guide the preparation of the country's Development Plans.

Despite the obvious ineffectiveness of the foreign experts, Nigeria looks to them for the so-called missing-link in its development efforts. These experts respond by rushing loans, loaded with recommendations for the use of foreign staff and machinery. In some places they even suggest the substitution of locally available raw materials with imported ones. As sound as these recommendations are, they come from a different historical setting, suitable perhaps in the home countries of the proposers, but having no semblance or relevance to the local producers (Sandford 1982). For example, the recommendation for Fulani resettlement to allow development to take place is often the major inhibitor of their progress.

Resettlement policy

The debate on sedentarization of nomadic pastoralists has, perhaps, attracted the interest of economist, geographers, demographers, and anthropologists more than any other issue in pastoral nomadism. So much has been written. The publication, The Future of Pastoral People, mentioned earlier, discusses the positive and negative aspects of sedentarization. Salzman (1980b), When the Nomads Settle, also contains extensive analysis on the consequences of sedentarization.

The discussions have generated two opposite views on Fulani resettlement. One view points to the lack of benefit in stopping the movement of the Fulani. The other view shows the advantages, if not the necessity, to settle the Fulani in order to improve their living condition. The debate continues among scholars as they count the merits and demerits of involuntary settlement of the Fulani.

Proponents of Resettlement. The proponents of sedentarization usually base their arguments on four considerations. First, movement is difficult and taxing to the Fulani and their livestock. Second, movement brings conflicts between farming and grazing communities. Third, the government finds it difficult to reach the nomadic Fulani and to provide essential amenities to them. Fourth, uncontrolled movement of the Fulani across national boundaries threatens national security (Frantz 1978; Salzman 1980a; Salzman 1980b; Frantz 1980; Fahim 1980; Khogali 1980; and Awogbade 1982).

Advocates of resettlement view movement as costly, difficult, and hazardous. For example, in the dry-season, animals loose weight and die, not from thirst or hunger, but from hazardous treks and heat exhaustion. A whole life is spent moving in adverse biotic and climatic conditions that limit the full exploration of the human potential, restrict the use of social services, and prevent the growth of human population. Movement takes away the energy that should go into reproduction and body-building in animals (Khogali 1980; and Waters-Bayer and Taylor-Powell 1986).

Farmers complain about animals wandering on the cropland at critical growth periods. Trampling compacts the soil and makes tillage in the next planting season difficult. Where farmers and grazers live in the same geographic space, violent clashes have occurred over trespassing. The sedentary people also report that a migrating herd brings unwanted birds and biting flies that destroy food-crops (Sandford 1982; and Meir 1987). Transhumant herds re-infest areas freed of insects and endemic diseases (Baxter 1975; Moss 1977; Smith 1978; and Krummel, O'Neil, and Mankin 1986).

Defenders of sedentarization claim that movement denies the pastoralists access to educational and social welfare amenities. The migration of the Fulani disrupts school attendance. Since many development plans require a population threshold and some degree of sedentariness, the government believes that development must follow sedentarization (Haferkamp 1982).

Protagonists of sedentarization say movement threatens the national security. Governments are wary about migrating populations, particularly those crossing international borders (Sandford 1982, 32-37). Border clashes between farmers and herders sometimes draw nations into military confrontation. Mauritania and Senegal almost fought a full-scale war along their river borderline when Mauritanian pastoralists entered the farms of the Senegalese farmers and destroyed some crops (Waters-Bayer 1986; Mackenzie 1983; and Ruiz 1989).


Opponents of Sedentarization. The antagonists of sedentarization observe that almost universally, the government's resettlement policies are adverse. The opponents express four concerns: First, raising livestock under sessile conditions leads to a waste of marginal land resources. Second, pastoralists experience more veterinary health problems after settling down. Third, the adjustment to a sedentary lifestyle is traumatic for the pastoralists and costly and burdensome on the government. Fourth, the quality of life of nomadic pastoralists drops after they sedentarize (Konczacki 1978; Aronson 1980; Salzman 1980; Awogbade 1980; Riches 1976; and Khazanov 1984).

Barth (1962) working with pastoral nomads in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan alleges that sedentariness devastates rather than promotes the socioeconomic status of the nomads. Swift (1984) shows that the Twareg are better off as nomadic pastoralists than as sedentary farmers, industrial laborers, or service sector workers. Cole (1981, 130) concludes that the prolonged sedentariness of the Baton nomads "does not lead to the increased production of anything beyond bare necessity."

While sedentarization breaches the traditional social relations, it also deprives the pastoralists of their main line of defence. Sedentariness brings unpleasant social, psychological, and physiological adjustments (Chatly 1980; and Cisse 1980). The transition from nomadic to sedentary life is stressful and perturbing (Fahim 1980). The Halfans nomads have yet to fully adjust and feel at home nine years after they ceased moving (Fahim 1980). The rise in fertility following settling down leads to an increased demand for water, grains, markets, and clinics.

Many governments are caught unprepared by the high demand for educational programs among settled people (Ezeomah 1987). Most policies on sedentarization go side-by-side with literacy programs. The relationship between education and sedentarization varies. In some communities, education is the primary vehicle for successful resettlement. In other communities, the success in educational programs requires sedentarization. Educational policies are, therefore, critical in achieving a successful transformation of the pastoral population.

Educational policy

The importance of education has been adequately documented in the literature (Ezeomah 1987; Nkinyangi 1980; Aleyidieno 1985). Education serves as the spring board for social and economic changes. "All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empire depends on the education of youth" (Wennergreen, Antholt, and Whitaker 1984, 34). A nation looking for a lasting economic success must raise the literacy of its citizens. Problems that plague the delivery of education to pastoral Fulani also retard their socioeconomic growth. These problems fall within three broad areas: the goals, curricula, and the effects of formal education in Africa (Fafunwa 1974; Aleyidieno 1985; Ezeomah 1987).

From the beginning, the colonial officers in Nigeria did not have a high regard for jobs involving the use of the hand. Indeed, the respect for these officers came from their depiction as office workers and touring supervisors (Aleyidieno 1985). Thus, the colonial education bred sitting workers who disliked manual labor. Nkinyangi (1980, 50) explains:

As a result of the narrow literacy type of curriculum and the unfortunate image that our colonial masters have created, the school system for many years produced people with relatively homogeneous backgrounds, fostering attitudes which were prone to liking office jobs only.

African educators blame the content of European-style literacy for the lack of interest in education among the pastoralists. Scholars attribute the widespread failure of education in Africa to the pedagogy, which is especially unsuitable to the needs and circumstances of the nomadic Fulani. Instead of teaching pastoral procedures (Khogali 1980), formal schools spend too much time on teaching history and culture of societies the pastoralists least know or want to know about. Conventional education ignores the desirability of the apprenticeship model, thereby closing a vital channel of skill transfer (Aleyidieno 1985). The content of the educational type introduced to Nigeria for example is not geared toward what Ezeomah (1987) describes as work- and life-oriented literacy.

Because the colonialists randomly transplanted Euro-centric education that scowls at African customs, the products of this education system, the so-called "cultural hybrids," tend to alienate and reject the mainstream community (Nkinyangi 1980). The products shy away from rural life, refuse to join ranks with fellow villagers, and instead go to cities looking for an easy life where the end view is a salaried job in the public or private sector (Nkinyangi 1980; and Bray 1981). Aleyidieno (1985, 23) adds:

The cadre who formed the bureaucracy were trained under Western educational system, indeed many were trained in Western universities. This led to a greater understanding of Western values and concepts, but at the expense of creating an alienation with their own rural population.


Decades after independence, Nigeria continues to follow the content and structure of British education despite its lack of attenuation to national aspiration (Fafunwa 1974). The curricula make it difficult for the students to re-enter the pastoral life after graduation. For example, the first seven recipients of nomadic education in Nigeria have studied medicine, accounting, pharmacy, or education. None of the students has returned to nomadic pastoralism. Khagoli (1980, 307) observes that in three schools in Sudan, Dar Ilum, Dar Rezeigat, and Dar Kababi, "the few nomads who receive an education and become teachers refuse to work in nomadic areas even if the schools are stationary."

Furthermore, the conventional school system creates a taste and an appreciation for Western goods and lifestyle. The Fulani worry about what will become of their children when they finish school. Nkinyangi (1980, 51) quotes a Fulani leader's comment in a meeting on curriculum development:

'We are not opposed to the idea of getting our children to schools, but we fear that at the end of their schooling they will only be good at eating up cattle instead of tending and caring for them.'

Accepted as a force in changing values, Western education, pastoralist say, adulterates the traditional values. Older nomads worry that education will breed a generation susceptible to the thoughts of sedentarization. Nomads allege that education softens the youngsters, especially girls, and weakens their commitment to traditional values (Aleyidieno 1985; and Niamir 1990).

The development issues in pastoral nomadism can sometimes be understood better from a theoretical rather than from a practical standpoint. Most pastoral communities are affected by identical climatic and anthropogenic factors, and they respond to these factors in the same way. Thus, the experiences of one pastoral community can be inferred as the experiences of the entire pastoral society. On this assertion, the section that follows is devoted to a theoretical considerations of the limiting factors in pastoral system.


This section examines the theoretical underpinnings in the development literature of pastoral societies. It focuses on the issues of environment, herd management, and government policies. These issues are interrelated and they can be discussed under the general systems theory. Assuming that the Fulani society operates as an open system, each of the issues can be conceptualized as a sub-system comprising several interacting variables.

A steady state (equilibrium) is reached when the changes in one or more variables cause some or all of the elements within the systems to adjust. That is, what goes into the system as an input is being acted upon or acts upon the system's translators to produce an output. The Fulani society maintains an equilibrium through the interchange of material physical, biotic, and anthropogenic variables.

Environmental constraints are a sub-set of the overall problems of the Fulani. In analyzing the core of these problems, climate acts as the independent variable. Although land attributes such as water, soil, vegetation can be conserved, little can be done to improve rainfall, humidity, or temperature. Researchers believe that the state of the environment is not the making of the human beings. For example, even if core and peripheral grazing stop, the Sahelian and Chadian zones will remain barren. In this regard, therefore, the future of pastoralism in Nigeria is bleak

If ecological variables are constant, then development will center on land use and environmental adaptation. It will also be influenced by government policies in the pastoral system. Although regarded ecologically sound by the Fulani, traditional system of livestock production has been criticized for the deteriorating state of the land resources. The difficulties of the pastoral systems are blamed on two related concepts: the cattle complex and the tragedy of the commons.

The Cattle Complex

The cattle complex demonstrates the conceptual and the practical dilemmas of traditional herd management. Conservationists use this theory to explain how traditional methods of raising livestock damage the environment to the detriment of the pastoral societies. Since Herskovits (1926) coined the term, writers have been occupied with the cosmology of the cattle complex. They believe that traditional pastoral systems are counter productive because they are geared toward an infinite increase in the number of the livestock regardless of the carrying capacity of the land.

The notion of cattle complex has become a classical watershed for understanding the tendency for irrational, irresistible, and sometimes irreversible liking for animals among the pastoralists. Anthropologists claim that not only does this tendency destroy the environment, it also inhibits the development and prosperity of the herders. The notion of the cattle complex raises an important question: Is livestock an asset or a liability?

The answer to this question has generated two divergent views among pastoral scholars. The first view holds that traditional pastoralists rely on inefficient grazing treks, focus on milk rather beef production, and keep large number of animals beyond their economic and reproduction functions (Brokensha, Horowitz, and Scudder 1977; and Western and Finch 1987). For example, the Fulani are cited for keeping post-adolescent bulls just for their physical attractiveness. A production system devoted to the production of animals can lead to overstocking. A large number of herds in the field compact the soil, aggravate fluvial and eolian erosion, and turn palatable herbs and shrubs to non-palatable annuals.

A contrary view supports the rationale for traditional pastoralism. The view explains why the lives of the pastoralists revolves on livestock production, why the bovine is their major and often their only investment, and why their primary goal is herd maximization (Konczacki 1978). It makes trivial the previous argument that traditional systems of livestock production is inefficient. It also makes peripheral the issue that traditionalism hinders human and livestock development. The central argument in this view bears on the importance of animals to pastoralists. To see the rationale in traditional pastoralism, therefore, one has to understand the importance of animals among traditional pastoralists.

The importance of livestock

Animals satisfy a wide range of uses. Feder and others (1988, 78) quote Dyson-Hudson and Dyson-Hudson (1966):

Understanding the Karimojong herding operations means understanding that, to the Karimojong, cattle mean many things. Cattle are property, and accordingly they represent variable degrees of wealth, of social status and of community influence. They are a man's legacy to his sons. They can be exchanged to symbolize formal contracts of friendship and mutual assistance. The transfer of cattle from the groom's family to the bride's is needed to validate a marriage. The sacrifice of cattle is a vital feature of religious observances.

Writing on the importance of cattle to the Karimojong, Navile Dyson-Hudson (1966, 83) summarizes:

Milk and blood of cattle are drunk; their meat is eaten; their fat used as food and cosmetics; their urine as cleanser; their hides make sleeping-skins, shoulder capes, anklets; their horns and hooves provide snuffy holders, feather boxes, and food containers; bags are made from scrota; their intestines are used for prophecy, and their chyme for anointing; their droppings provide fertilizer.

Animals are prestige-makers, barter items or currency, insurance against disasters, and sources of food and labor (Henriksen 1974; Jacobs 1980; Goldschmidt 1980; Arhem 1989; and Bekure 1983). Having many herds is important for food stability in pastoral societies (Galaty 1980; Salzman 1980a; and Cossins 1983a)

Dahl and Hjort (1979) estimate that a typical nomadic family unit needs at least thirty-six heads of cattle for its annual subsistence. This quantity does not include animals used in social and economic exchange. An adult Masai requires between ten and fifteen animals for milk, blood, and occasional meat. A child needs four to six cattle for a year's milk supply. Taking ten as the average household size, a family therefore requires 100-150 cattle for nourishment. This quantity exceeds the median family herd size for traditional pastoral societies (Baker 1975; Livingstone and others 1981; and Grandin 1988).

As research reports show, the average annual earnings of a pastoral family with only fifty heads of cattle barely surpass those of a farming family of six. With fifty cattle, the life of a comparable nomadic family is barely comfortable (Konczacki 1978). Households with less than fifty cows may starve (Chiasson 1987). The loss of a cow in that household may threaten the welfare or survival of the members and may bring drastic family adjustments like divorce, separation, migration, and change of occupation.

In addition to the use of milk, herdsmen eat meat, "...almost every animal not sold ends its career in the pot" (Brokensha, Horowitz, and Scudder 1977, 25). In Niger, animals are raised primarily for auto-consumption, and "...only secondarily for milk" (Swinton 1988, 128). During birth, death, marriage, and circumcision rituals, the Fulani slaughter (the Masai suffocate) a goat, a sheep, or a barren cow. The meat is shared among guests, friends, relatives, and neighbors (Vengroff 1980; and Arhem 1989). Apart from killing of the beasts to grace ceremonies, or to entertain important guests, the Tamasheq eat red meat every two weeks for good health (Smith 1978).

Keeping a large number of herds is not only important for dietary sufficiency, it is also important as insurance against droughts, diseases, bushfires, livestock thefts, and wildlife attacks (Moretimore, 1989). Knowing the unpredictability of their region, Sahelian pastoralists overstock in favorable periods so as to have enough animals survive through bad times (Mackenzie 1983). Building herds to the largest extent conveys a greater margin of security and confers a safer access to more herds in post-disaster periods than maintaining small herd size (Dahl and Hjort 1979).

As the pastoralist becomes increasingly money-minded, the significance of livestock as currency or barter items becomes obvious. Sheep, goats, and cattle represent the major and in some societies the only form of capital investment. Animals are a walking capital, a convenient way of storing wealth (Fricke 1979; Horowitz 1980; Schneider 1981; and Swinton 1988). They are the coins of social relations and stock friendship that are an important aspect of pastoral life (Frantz 1978; and Goldschmidt 1980). For the pastoralists, the cattle are more dependable trade items than national currencies. The Fulani will not trade cattle just for cash, the value of which fluctuates in a market where they have no control.

Not only do they serve as social and economic currencies, cattle are also prestige-makers in pastoral societies. The tendency to keep many animals comes from the high premium pastoralists attach to their herds. The respect and influence a Fulani man commands in his community increases with the increase in his livestock wealth. With enough herds, a person can participate in a wide range of social and economic activities (Western and Finch 1987). A man who has enough cattle have nothing else to worry about.

In the rural areas, the bovine provides the power for plowing, threshing grains, moving goods, and drawing water from the wells. The animals help convert energy stored in grass for human use (Sandford 1982). Bangladeshis use dung as home plastering and as fossil fuel for cooking (Wennergreen, Antholt, and Whitaker 1984). West African farmers use browsing animals to remove unwanted shrubs. The Food and Agriculture Organization (F.A.O.) has suggested the use of goats in clearing stubble in Nigeria's Guinea Savanna where hand and machine have become costly and ineffective in removing re-growth (Livingstone and Ord 1981, 224).

The importance of livestock explains the reason for overstocking among traditional pastoralists. The problem is not the custody of large number of animals, but the concentration of the animals and the inefficient use of limited resource land. In Nigeria, as in much of Africa, conservationists and forestry workers point to the ruins caused by excessive herd retention and communal land use. Experts associate the destructiveness of traditional pastoralism to the concept of the tragedy of the commons.

The Tragedy of the Commons

The growing reference to the tragedy of the commons in the literature adds a new dimension to the pastoral dilemma. Because of the wasting of the land resources through inefficient grazing, the state administrators find moral justification to intervene in the rural sector (Khogali 1980; and Sandford 1982). The tragedy of the commons states that where responsibility is not bestowed upon grazers using collective resources, and individual responsibility for herds is divorced from individual responsibility for the land, the pastoralists tend to be selfish about resource use. They overgraze the land for the immediate dividend regardless of the long-term consequences of their action on everyone else (Oxby, 1975; Barnes 1976; Galaty 1980; Sandford 1982; and Gefu 1986).

Since individual rather than collective decision forms a major part of the rangeland exploitation (Little 1985), the long-term gains of conservation, controlled grazing, and reduced stocking may conflict with temporary and periodic pasture loss during drought or dry-season. A herdsman who thinks that his animals are too few to meet his needs will not de-stock simply because the land resources will be overstretched (Livingstone and others 1981). Instead, he will build the herds to devastating levels until the fear of raid, predation, starvation, or shortage of workers forces him to de-stock (Dahl and Hjort 1979). When he de-stocks, he discards a few sick, aged, and barren animals while maintaining the potentially reproductive ruminants in his herds (Baker 1975).

It is irrational to ask the pastoralists to make sacrifices for long-term benefits (Grayzel 1986). The suggestion for temporary restraints involving the cessation of grazing and the adoption of rotational grazing makes little sense to pastoralists who can hardly find grass during the fallow period or the dry-season. Opinion differs, however, among the experts about the lack of conservation ethics among the pastoralists.

One view of the experts holds that it is not the lack of concern for the environment but the shortage of labor, hardware, management techniques, and social organization that prevent traditional pastoralists from plowing contour; building fences and terraces; using bush fallow; and applying herbicides and fungicides to improve the quality of the land. To say, therefore, that traditional pastoralists are non-responsive to the environment is to ignore the very principles on which nomadism thrives--preserving the marginal resources of the arid land by exploiting resources in different ecological zones.

Overstocking overpasses the carrying capacity of the land. Since traditional method of raising livestock is geared toward herd maximization, the present open range grazing in Nigeria will exceed its carrying capacity. If overstocking continues in Nigeria at the current pace, the country will face serious shortages of livestock feed. Overgrazing and overstocking will continue to convert the succulent grass into tough, unpalatable, and indigestible turf.

To recapitulate, drought, diseases, insect predation, and vegetation scarcity adversely affect the progress of the pastoral sector. Public policies also contribute to the demise of the pastoral people. Evidence of the negative effects of sedentarization is widespread in the literature, despite the contrary views among government officials about its positive aspects. The deviation between theory and practice is adequately demonstrated in the concepts of cattle complex and the tragedy of the commons. While the two concepts try to show the irrationality of herd maximization and range use, they fail to give practical alternatives to traditional pastoral system in arid or semi-arid region. An assessment of the characteristics of the Fulani, the theme of the next chapter, is necessary in understanding the constraints and the opportunities in pastoral development.

In the next section, I will discuss the characteristics of the Fulani and explain a number of factors behind their production and consumption mysteries.






Ismail Iro is the founder of He works as a Programmer/Data Analyst in Washington, D.C. USA