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




Ismail Iro, Ph.D.







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The national herd is afflicted by a variety of ailments caused by microorganisms. Pests, insects, rodents, reptiles, and mammals act as hosts of these organisms. They cause widespread infections on livestock and human beings. The devastation of biotic organisms is more serious in livestock, accounting for the largest percentage of fatalities among the animals. Combined with meteorological adversities, livestock illnesses impair the qualitative and quantitative expansion of the Fulani herds.

Any effort to improve the living condition of the Fulani must first address the issue of veterinary health. By preventing and eradicating animal sicknesses, beef and milk from Fulani cows can be increased. An improvement in the health status of the animals will, therefore, produce better herds and will change the stocking pattern. To improve the quality of the Fulani herds, modern and traditional methods of curing and preventing livestock indisposition must be expanded.

The section that follows looks at some of the difficulties in curtailing the menace of insects and other livestock maladies. It examines the methods of control: vector, chemical, and biological. The negative effects of tsetse eradication is also discussed, followed by a review of the traditional method of avoiding insects peril. The section mentions the impact of bush burning in fighting the insects.

Problems of Fighting the Tsetse Flies

For centuries, the tsetse peril has devastated human and livestock population in Nigeria. The fight against insects is high on government's agenda. In Nigeria, this fight is carried out by many agencies. The most important agency is the Nigerian Institute for Trypanosomiasis Research (N.I.T.R.). The government has mandated the institute to research on the transmission, eradication, immunology, and reproduction of trypanosome pathogens. The institute is studying drug resistance and the effects of drug deposits on animal tissues at dozens of entomological, pathological, parasitological, epidemiological, chemotherapeutical, and statistical data laboratories and fields at Vom and Kaduna. Using sterile insect control technique (S.I.T.), the Vom site has produced the sterile insect hybrid for infertile insect offspring. By eradicating the tsetse, the Veterinary Department hopes to boost the population of herds in the grass-rich Middle-Belt.

As a result of the campaign against the insect, vast grazing areas of Nigeria are rid of the tsetse, and the Fulani are moving and grazing year round in these areas. Cattle tax returns show that the Fulani are spending longer grazing period in Lafia and Maria Districts that have been reporting fewer insects. Once freed of the insects, an area becomes a gold mine for farmers and grazers.

However, the more-difficult-to-control forest species, G palpalis and G tachnoides, continue to plague the bush and the swamp environment. The absence of wildlife in the forest makes animals and human beings the primary prey of the tsetse fly (Bourn and Wint 1986).

Farming, hunting, logging, building, bush burning, and palm-wine tapping help in obliterating some tsetse habitat in the forest zone (Bourn and Wint 1986, 87-88). Since, however, these activities also impoverish the land, they are not the recommended method of insect eradication. The FDL & PCS adopts three methods of tsetse control: physical, chemical, and biological. Each method has some implications for livestock development in Nigeria.

Physical or Vector Control.

This method breaks the man-fly contact by clearing the vegetation or changing the species of the insects in the riverine areas. Where a variety of insect species exists, changing the habitat of one species may create a favorable breeding ground for another species. Re-growth and re-infestation of under-used or de-vegetated land are the main problems in habitat destruction. The mobility of the pastoralists and their lack of bush-clearing skills exclude the Fulani from extensive vector control. Physical control is labor-intensive and it conflicts with some of the goals of the Forestry Department.

The Chemical or Curative Drug Control

This method is based on the spray of DDT and Dieldrin, and the treatment of livestock victims with trypanocide drugs. The procedure also includes contact spray on the animals (pour-on method) and blanket spray of the savanna. Re-infestation is common because spraying is not done completely in Nigeria. Aerial spraying of persistent insecticides like organochlorine and organophosphate using Bell Helicopters with booms and nozzles is costly. It succeeds only if chemicals and helicopters are available. The supply of equipment and chemicals is interrupted because their production has been stopped abroad, or because new products are incompatible with the old sprayers being used in Nigeria.

As efforts to combat the tsetse fly continue, it becomes obvious that physical and chemical methods are inadequate in fighting insect menace. Chemical control is largely a government's affair. Less than three percent of the pastoral Fulani interviewed in this research use chemical spray. Workers who do the spraying are non-pastoralists and, therefore, have little understanding of the Fulani migratory routes. The inadequacies in these methods necessitate biological control of the tsetse fly.

Biological Control Method

Although expensive, biological control is becoming popular among entomologists and veterinarians. The method first sprays chemicals to scale down the tsetse population to a manageable level, then, sterile males (laboratory gamma-radiated male insects) are released to breed with female species and produce infertile progeny. Biological Control of Tsetse (BICOT) introduces parasites or larvae-eating insects into the habitat of tsetse. The method, which systematically annihilates the larvae, pupae, and imagoes, is successful in the laboratory but less successful in the field.

The Negative Impact of Tsetse Eradication

Tsetse eradication has a long-term ecological ramifications that can hurt the bovine population. The extensive use of broad spectrum insecticides can remove beneficial vectors from the food chain (Baker 1975). The depopulation of the tsetse may boost the bovine population beyond the carrying capacity of the land. Farmers and grazers who degrade the land through overgrazing and over-cultivation have always quickly invaded areas freed of insects.

Problems of Fighting Livestock Diseases

In addition to avoiding afflicted areas, the Fulani have two main approaches to fighting livestock malaise. The first approach is through the annual vaccination that involves scheduled visits of targeted camp-sites and vaccinating the animals. This process also includes emergency immunization campaigns to stop an epidemic. The second approach is the use of herbal mixtures to treat livestock diseases.

Vaccination Campaign

To control the spread of bovine, ovine, and caprine diseases, local, state, and federal governments in Nigeria mobilize their veterinary staff for mass immunization of herds in disease-prone areas. The government has built immunization centers in high-density livestock areas. These centers provide prophylactic treatment to the animals. At these centers, the veterinarians also teach the pastoral Fulani clinical procedures such as dressing wounds and giving injections. The vaccination centers help in linking the Fulani and the government (Sandford 1982; and Awogbade 1983).

Besides annual vaccinations that have become the most popular veterinary activity in Nigeria, an outbreak is met with instantaneous immunization drive using heat-stable vaccines made by the National Veterinary Research Institute at Vom. Because vaccination is free or subsidized, more than eighty-five percent of the Fulani in this sample are taking their animals to the vaccination posts. The removal of the Jangali has reduced the worry of the Fulani about their herd counts being known to government officials during regular immunization.

Traditional Method

Before the introduction of modern veterinary services, the Fulani use traditional methods, including avoidance and bush burning, to cure or protect their animals. For instance, to immunize herds against C.B.P.P., the Fulani will incise the inside nostrils of a healthy cow and graft them with a piece of flesh or skin from an infected animal (de St Croix 1945). The Fulani also de-tick, deworm, and tattoo their animals. They control ectoparasite, treat foot and limb rot, and perform surgical and orthopedic operations. Sometimes, the Fulani treat animal disorders such as streptothricosis with herbaceous and foliaceous concoctions (de St Croix 1945).

The Fulani use herbal remedies to supplement veterinary drugs that are grossly inadequate and expensive (Awogbade 1983; and Ibrahim 1986). When orthodox treatment is beyond the reach of the herders, they go to the native healers. Some of the medicinal extracts used by the native doctors come from the same sources as those used by pharmaceutical laboratories. Although local medications are cheaper, effective, and readily available, the Fulani still prefer to avoid potentially dangerous areas. One of the primary cause of movement among the pastoral Fulani is staying away from areas with livestock diseases, and the Fulani will do anything to warn other pastoralists of endangered areas.


The Fulani pastoralists alert one another to the presence of a contagion in their herd. They arrange with neighbors on where to graze or to water the animals when they see or suspect a disease. The Fulani avoid sites of infection for at least ten days, and re-enter them only when the rains have washed off the disease. Locales infected with hendu, blackquarter, or anthrax are not grazed by the Fulani for two years, unless with the use of protective charms (laya). For major diseases such as C.B.P.P., the Fulani leave the area for at least two months. If a herd dies as a result of the disease, the pastoralists burn the site.

Bush Burning

Bush burning is the commonest traditional method of combating insects. All of the cattle-raising Fulani who have been interviewed say they habitually use moderate, localized fires to fight off ticks, insects, and harmful pests from the homes and kraals. When the Fulani set fire, their intention is not to generate heat but to send out dense smoke that repels the ants, bugs, bees, locusts, rodents, and reptiles.

Despite its widely acclaimed advantages, the long-term effects of fires are devastating. Burning can lead to an uncontrollable spread that engulfs acres of grass land within hours. Because such fires deprive the animals of their important source of food and dietary supplements, the Fulani and the government officials object to burning, even though the Fulani use the fires.

Government policy on burning

Not only the Fulani, but also veterinary workers and range officials condemn any range use involving burning. Large-scale fires shrink the radii of the grazing land, thereby exacerbating the stressful conditions under which the animals live. In Kano and Katsina States for example, the authorities have outlawed burning and have instituted steep penalties of heavy monetary fines on violators.

The authorities, however, cannot track down some offenders. As a result of this inability, innocent people are sometimes punished for crimes that they have not committed. Frustrated about frequent unauthorized fire incidence, forestry officials have ordered that if it is unavoidable, burning should be done only at the beginning of the dry-season when the grass is still damp, to reduce the intensity of the flame.

The fight against insects presents special problems to the Fulani and government officials. The commonest obstacle to meeting individual and governmental goals in fighting viral, fungal, bacterial, protozoan, and allergic ailments in animals is the mobility of the Fulani. The government's stringent disease control measures have discouraged the Fulani from reporting the outbreak of some diseases to the veterinary staff. Lack of money disallows the provision of qualified staff and the purchase of hardware and pharmacological drugs. The shortage of funds forces the government to impose veterinary fees, which the Fulani oppose.

Problems of Mobility

Veterinary staff have cited the mobile Fulani as the primary agents of disease transmission among the animals. The influx of cattle from neighboring countries that do not follow strict immunization schedules leads to re-infection of Nigeria's herds. The government issues certificate of entry into Nigeria only to healthy herds, but the vastness and porousness of the country's borders preclude thorough checks on migrating herd. The scrutiny of the animals is harder during an epidemic, drought, disease, or dry-season when Nigeria witnesses the largest inflow of herds from adjacent countries.

With Nigeria as the region's main cattle market, the frequency of border crossing continues despite the quarantines built along the borders in 1982. In spite of the help from the European Economic Community and the Pan-African Rinderpest Control, West Africa fails to halt the spread of infection. Re-infection is common because some participating countries do not have the resources to conduct the required serological monitoring of the animals to find the type and immune status of the animals.

Problems of Stringent Disease Control Measures

Even if the government can identify the causes of diseases, the Fulani are reluctant to cooperate if the cure or prevention of the ailment demands the slaughter of the herds. The law requires that animals, sick or healthy, be destroyed where potentially serious diseases such as C.B.P.P. appear. The Fulani are not only objecting to comply with this law, they are refusing to report such outbreaks to save their animals from being exterminated. The authorities do not pay the pastoralists for the lost of their herds. Even if the authorities pay, the Fulani will not give in to the annihilation of an entire herd that has taken generations to build. The material symbolism and the emotional attachment prohibit the Fulani from participating in the destruction of their animals.

Problems of Lack of Funds

Veterinary services are limited in Nigeria. More than half of the nation's herds spend their lives without ever having a veterinary therapy. The worsening of the country's economy reduces the government's ability to procure equipment and therapeutic drugs. Pharmacotherapy is available only to a few commercial ranches and livestock research centers (Ibrahim 1986).

The hardware and the infrastructure to fight contagious infections are scarce. Electricity to power the refrigerators used to preserve the heat-unstable vaccines are inadequate in the rural areas. Electric generators face severe scarcities of fuel and spare parts. Vehicles to convey staff and drugs to the sites of epidemic are few or inoperable. The shortage of qualified and dedicated staff leads to poor management of the drugs and equipment. Inventory of medicines in the warehouse are poorly maintained. As a result, drugs expire without being noticed, and sensitive equipment rust away in the stores without ever being used.

To overcome the fiscal deficit for veterinary care, the government is passing full or partial cost to the Fulani. The Fulani dislike paying veterinary fees, not because of the financial burden, but because of the inefficient and unsatisfactory process of getting veterinary drugs and treatment. The Fulani prefer paying even higher charges to unscrupulous veterinary employees who dispense the drugs illegally but efficiently. Under this sub-rosa practice, however, the Fulani enjoy the choice of going to a person who gives the best service (Stenning 1959).

Not limited to insect eradication and disease prevention, lack of funds, especially with the decline in the value of the naira, hampers the creation of water sources and the reactivation and expansion of grazing land. Fiscal constraint, as the section that follows discusses, also limits the provision of infrastructure and amenities near water holes and grazing reserves.


The failure to eradicate infections among the herds has restricted the qualitative and quantitative expansion of the Fulani herds. Diseases continue to plague the grazing reserves and stock-routes in the humid areas of Nigeria. The promise which these areas have shown in relieving demographic and livestock pressures in the semi-arid region is crippled by dangerous insects. The development of water, grazing lands, and stock-routes lies in the ability of the government to control these insects and to open up areas that are unreachable by animals due to disease afflictions.



Ismail Iro works as a Programmer/Data Analyst in Washington, D.C. USA