Grazing Reserve Development: A Panacea to the Intractable Strife Between Farmers and Herders




Ismail Iro, Ph.D.








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Grazing land and stock-routes top the list of Fulani's demands from the government. All the leading presidential aspirants in the previous elections who were seeking the votes of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (M.A.C.B.A.N.) had sent letters to the association assuring the Fulani of enough grazing land and stock-paths if elected.  Discussions among government officials, traditional rulers, and Fulani leaders on the welfare of the pastoralists have always centered on requests and pledges for protecting grazing spaces and cattle passages. It has become evident that the political party that ignores the Fulani demand for grazing land would during an election attract a voter revenge.

The Growing pressure from Ardo'en (the Fulani community leaders) for the salvation of what is left of the customary grazing land has made some state governments with large population of herders to include in their development plans the reactivation and preservation of grazing reserves. Quick to grasp the desperation of cattle-keepers for land, the administrators have instituted a Grazing Reserve Committee to find a lasting solution to the rapid depletion of grazing land resources in Nigeria.

The Fulani believe that the expansion of the grazing reserves will boost livestock population, will lessen the difficulty of herding, will reduce seasonal migration, and will enhance the interaction among farmers, pastoralists, and rural dwellers. Despite these expectations, grazing reserves are not within the reach of about three-quarters of the Fulani. Most reserves, either by sheer distance from settlements or by lack of market facilities, tend to isolate the Fulani from the desired social and economic interdependence with the rest of the rural community. About sixty percent of migrant pastoralists who use the grazing reserves keep to the same reserves every year. The number and the distribution of the grazing reserves in Nigeria range from insufficient to severely insufficient for Fulani livestock.

The Extent of Land Scarcity

Moretimore and Wilson (1965) have observed that as early as the 1960s the farmers in northern Nigeria have cultivated up to 83.5 percent of the land. Moretimore (1971) shows that around Katsina, with 119 people per 135 square kilometers, farmers plow 66-75 percent of the land, while the remaining bushland is extensively grazed, if grass grows. In the outlying areas of Kano City, where the population density reaches 235 per square kilometer--a density comparable to that of Southeast Asia--farmers have occupied most of the vacant lands.

A research has shown that for all classes of land use, except uncultivated land, grazing has intensified in Nigeria. For the uncultivated land, primary grazing-sites are diminishing because sedentary farmers inhabit the land. With an increase in population, grazing changes from surplus, to subsistence, and to survival methods of land exploitation (Awogbade 1980).

The Effects of Dwindling Pasture Resources on Pastoral Fulani

Most grazing reserves are situated on impoverished land, with little agronomic potential (Goldschmidt 1980). An inspection of the sites and edaphic properties shows that the grazing reserves have inferior fodder, consisting of low-protein Andropogon, Brachiarria, and Loudetia. For example, in Borno State, which has the largest population of livestock in Nigeria, there is hardly enough grass for year-round grazing. In the early dry-season, herds in this state browse on tree leaves, branches, and farm leftovers. At the climax of the dry-season, animals eat anything green, including their own feces and the so-called poisonous grass (de St Croix 1945). The Fulani adapt to these shortages by using more farm residue or by grazing in urban areas. Productivity as low as 2,250 kg/ha has been reported on the grazing lands (Fricke 1979). Animals feeding on such herbage suffer hypo-proteinemia and subcutaneous oedema (Bekure 1983). The required 7.5 percent crude protein, if not consumed by fires, is available to ruminant for only a third of the year (de St Croix 1945).

While it is believed that the chronic scarcity of pasture is the primary cause of nomadic pastoralism, the same scarcity is causing the Fulani to take their herds to the uncontested forage in the outskirts of towns and large villages. Roaming cows, sheep, and goats scavenging around school playgrounds, golf courses, government residential areas, street shoulders, and railway sidings are a common sight in the cities. These beasts obstruct traffic flow, endanger street users, and accentuate urban congestion. In addition to annoying riders and drivers, animals litter the ground and bring flies and stench.

As development spills from the urban core to the rural hinterland, farmers escalate their incursions on the dry-season grazing land (Hurumi), the rainy-season grazing land (Mashekari), and the cattle-route (Burtali). These incursions prevent the government from acquiring large parcels of grazing land. The disappearance of natural grazing areas under the hoe, the fencing of farmyards, and the blocking of cattle-routes are causing more conflicts between the farmers and the grazers.

To stop farmers' encroachment on the grazing land and the ensuing conflicts, the authorities in 1965 passed the Grazing Reserve Law, which carved out some grounds for the exclusive use of pastoral Fulani. This law became the first major attempt of the government to incorporate the interests of the grazers in national development. The law, at least in the books, protects herders against intimidation and deprivation by sedentary cultivators, cattle-ranchers, and commercial intruders. The evolution of grazing reserves in Nigeria, discussed below, shows a history of problems in the grazing land development. The lack of legal validation or legislation on stockroutes, for example, makes blocking the routes a non-punishable offence. The absence of enforceable penalties discourages herders from suing farmers who extend farms into the cattle thoroughfare.

Evolution of Grazing Reserves in Nigeria

Grazing reserves in Nigeria started during the pre-colonial era (Bako and Ingawa 1988). Although formally introduced by the British, grazing reserves were demarcated by the Fulani who conquered and ruled Northern Nigeria. The attempt by the British in 1940 to separate the grazing land from the farm land, however, faltered because the Europeans imposed land use controls divorced from economic and demographic dynamics in the pastoral system (Frantz 1981).

Formal grazing reserves in Nigeria started accidentally in the 1950s when Hamisu Kano, working with pastoralists on livestock vaccination, foresaw the shortages of grazing land in Northern Nigeria. Supported by the government, he initiated the grazing reserve scheme from the abandoned government resettlement schemes (Fulani Settlement Scheme). The resettlement schemes collapsed because the government had neither the financial nor the managerial ability to continue with the financially burdensome scheme, and the best alternative use of the land, the government thought, was to convert it into grazing reserves that were less financially committed. Grazing reserve hatched in 1954 after a study of the Fulani production system contained in the "Fulani Amenities Proposal." The proposal suggested the creation of grazing reserves, the improvement of Fulani welfare, and the transformation of the herd management system. By 1964, the government had gazetted about 6.4 million hectares of the forest reserve, ninety-eight percent in the savanna. Sokoto Province had twenty-one percent of the land, followed by Kabba, Bauchi, Zaria, Ilorin, and Katsina, with 11-15 percent each (Awogbade 1982). The Wase, Zamfara, and Udubo reserves followed in succession.

In 1965, the Northern Nigerian Government incorporated the Fulani Amenities Proposal into the Grazing Reserve Law. Before the enactment of the Grazing Reserve Law of the Northern Nigeria, the pastoral Fulani relied on the goodwill of the farmers, who conferred upon themselves the lordliness of occupied and unoccupied land. Because interpersonal and kinship affiliations governed the dispensation of land, the Fulani worried about being evicted from the land when their relationship with the hosts become strained (Waters-Bayer and Taylor-Powell 1986). The planners, however, applied a top-down approach that excluded the Fulani from formulating and implementing this well-intentioned program. Accordingly, the Fulani gave less than the expected cooperation in the scheme (Laven 1991).

In 1976, the Survey Department finished the survey for most of the land earmarked for grazing. The United States Agency for International Development gave the technical assistance. By 1980, Nigeria had established 2.3 million hectares of grazing reserves, although this figure represented only eleven percent of the planned size (Omaliko and others 1984; and Bako and Ingawa 1988). The government acquired less than five percent of the ten million hectares proposed as grazing land (N.L.P.D. record 1992). Of the forty-five planned dams, twenty-four have been completed. Five borehole have been sunk. Of the expected 722 roads, 150 have been built, showing a huge deficit.

At the close of 1992, the government has identified over 300 areas with twenty-eight million hectares for grazing reserve development. About forty-five of these areas, covering some 600,000 hectares, have been gazetted. Eight of these reserves, totaling 225,000 hectares, are fully established. Already, 350 of the projected 950 pastoral families and 11,600 of the planned 46,000 cattle are using these reserves (N.L.P.D. record 1992). Apart from acquiring the land, the government regulates how the Fulani should use the grazing reserves. 

The Concept of Grazing Reserve

A grazing reserve is a piece of land that the government acquires, develops, and releases to the pastoral Fulani. The state and the local governments have gazetted and obtained grazing land varying from fifty to one hundred hectares. The federal government shoulders seventy percent of the burden of developing the grazing reserves, the state governments shoulder twenty percent, and the local government carry ten percent (Sulaiman n.d.). The Hurumi system is intended to encourage investment in the land and to ensure that the land is conserved. Controlled grazing that limits the number of animals entering a grazing land, leads to efficient rangeland management. Under the Hurumi system, the government gives each settler on the reserve a piece of land. Depending on the herd size and the carrying capacity of the land, the settler pays an annual rent to the government. In the rainy-season the reserve opens to the animals. The reserve closes in the dry-season, when animals must go on sojourn pasture (Laven 1991). Pastoralist must also adjust to the seasonal and spatial tenurial arrangements

During severe shortages of feed, the government opens the communal grazing areas to the distressed herds. Livestock owners must apply to the Project Office for a grazing permit. The pastoralists must also agree to follow the government's guidelines for stocking rate. The ten hectares per herding unit is apportioned as follows: four hectares for grazing, two for settlement, two for farming of legumes, and two for fallow.

Aims of the Grazing Reserves

The aims of grazing reserves include getting and protecting pasture-space for the national herds, and removing discord between agronomists and pastoralists living in the same geographic area. By separating the herders from the cultivators, the government hopes to foster peaceful coexistence between them by making the grazing reserve a zone of no-conflict. Improving land use and herd management, providing social welfare amenities to the Fulani, and increasing national income are pivotal in grazing reserve development in Nigeria (Laven 1991). The government hopes the grazing reserves will become the center of agro-pastoral innovations, a guarantor of land security, a nucleus for nomadic Fulani settlement, a precinct for crop/livestock systems integration, and a place for small-scale rather than large-scale holder-oriented production (Bako and Ingawa 1988). Ademosun (1976) lists some of the gains from the grazing reserves as easing seasonal migration, improving the quality of herds, multiplying outlet for bovine product, and enhancing access to extension and social services. The grazing reserve also encourages the uniform deployment of the cattle.

The Implications of Land Use Act on Pastoral Fulani

The Hurumi system lacks the legal statute to stop farmers from alienating the grazing land. The ease with which these farmers take over the land makes the Hurumi an endangered treasure of the Fulani (Awogbade 1982). Lack of formally gazetted land, implying lack of tenurial security, prevents investment in land and discourages settlement on the reserves (Waters-Bayer 1986b).

Because they have aggressive means of accessing the land, stay permanent on the land, establish recency on occupied land, or show intent for uninterrupted use of the land, farmers have greater advantage of securing land than the mobile pastoralists. The Fulani understanding of land possession differs from the legal or bureaucratic definitions of ownership. Ownership among the Fulani means the de facto possession or the occupation of uncontested and unchallenged land (although absolutism or de jure ownership of land is becoming prevalent among the Fulani, particularly those living near major settlements). The Fulani man who clears a parcel of land and builds his hut on it may claim rights of that piece of land if nobody else objects. When the Fulani man leaves the area, he relinquishes the claim for that land. In other words, property rights are temporary, circumstantial, and require no formalities such as having title deeds of witnesses other than physical presence. In their claims for land, the Fulani respect and uphold the principles of first-come-first-serve. 

Individualize ownership of land around the homestead is not a serious land issue in Nigeria. For grazing reserve development, however, individual claims give way to collective claims. These claims are major concern because the land is extensive, boundless, and being used by pastoralists as well as non-pastoralists. The abrogation of traditional access to grazing territory by the Land Use Decree underscores the sociopolitical disruption in traditional pastoralism. The disruption increases rather than decreases land claims by non-pastoral users (Niamir 1990). Although the Land Use Act has abolished private possession of land, in practice, ownership is the rule rather than the exception, and "...traditional tenure system is still de facto if not de jure viable." (Niamir 1990, 83).

The Land Use Decree which seeks to remove the impediments to infrastructure provision actually adds to the problems of rural transformation in Nigeria. Although, in principle, the decree guarantees the pastoral Fulani rights to unbounded grazing parks, in reality it accentuates the demise of traditional pastoralism by augmenting the security of tenure among contiguous users with better access to open land.

Nature of the problem

In Nigeria, encroachment by the farmers is by far the most serious impediment to the development of grazing reserves (Muhammad-Baba 1987). Other problems include the taking away of the land by the Agricultural Development Projects and the increase in the population of bovine due improvement of veterinary services. The method which allows temporary access to the reserve is a major obstacle. The reserves suffer from shortages of workers. The staff become more interested in collecting revenue rather than in serving and developing the amenities on the reserves. High costs of infrastructure and land compensation impair the development of such amenities. Urban or rural expansion impinge on access to grazing-sites causing herders, farmers, and builders to struggle for areas with known quality land. In the fadama floodplains, conflicts are life's dreaded chores. Clashes in these wet-lands escalate when farmers deny animals access to water and verdant grass (Galaty, Aronson, and Salzman 1980b). Farmers, in disregard of pastoral transhumance, occupy the swampy depressions that are temporarily vacated by the shepherds. In the absence of an arbitrator or ombudsman, arguments and violent clashes result when the farmers refuse to surrender the space to the returning pastoralists (Baker 1975). Fighting also occurs when the pastoral Fulani fail to guard animals from eating crops or trampling on them. Although restitutions takes place frequently out of court, records of legal proceedings show widespread jural claims against the Fulani. Such claims tend to rise with the shrinkage of pastureland. In the Mambilla area, women cause conflicts by unauthorized opening of farm-plots on the grazing areas (Jacobs 1980)

Complaints of encroachment, if taken to court, were delayed. A case of encroachment that started more than fifty years ago was still pending in 1992. At one point, the aggrieved pastoral Fulani took the law into their own hands. After lodging several complaints against farmers' ingression without government's action, the Fulani planned to do something. Waited until the farmers finished planting crops and were about to go into harvest, the Fulani and their cattle charged into the farms. The cattlemen allowed their animals to eat up or destroy the crops. A leader of the Fulani who organized this attack instructed his people to deal with any farmer who intervened. The Fulani won the case in the court, but not until they caused some trouble.

The Fulani are also competing with large-scale agricultural schemes that narrow the grazing horizon in Nigeria. The use of tractors, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, and improved seeds in these schemes has revolutionized farming in Nigeria and has enabled the extension of agricultural land into the grazing land. The introduction of inorganic fertilizer, N.P.K., allows farmers to open farm-plots in marginal or borderline areas used for grazing. Areas once cultivated by a hundred manual farmers using out-moded tools such as hoes and cutlasses can now be cultivated by a single farmer using a tractor.

Similarly, improved vaccination, enhanced veterinary services, and insect eradication that have boosted ruminant and non-ruminant population in the last twenty years have also strained the resources of the grazing reserves (Waters-Bayer and Taylor-Powell 1986). Several grazing reserves such as the one Wase have broken down due to increase in stock pressure.

The Wase Grazing Reserve, located in Wase Local Government, had a hopeful start. Build on a forested areas south-west of Jos plateau, the reserve had an excellent 74,000 hectares and abundant rivers, streams, and pasturage. Sparsely populated and tsetse free, it rested mostly on flat land. Thus, the reserve was selected as a perfect grazing land. With the financial and technical aids from the U.S.A.I.D., the reserve took off in 1965. By 1973, the construction phase that included numerous dams, roads, and fire breaks had been completed.

The reserve then attracted many pastoral Fulani, leading to overcrowding and strain of reserve's infrastructure. Animals that charged into the reserve literally drunk the water in the dams and outgrew pasture resources. Then the U.S.A.I.D. aids terminated without establishing stocking rates, rotational grazing schemes, and a reserve management committee. Overgrazing and burning became widespread, while the structures on the reserve deteriorated.

By the time the U.S.A.I.D. involvement stopped in 1975, almost ever aspect of the reserve had collapsed. The dams and fences were broken. Implements rusted. Roads were washed away. The school that was opened for the pastoralists in 1975 was closed. The pastoralists on the reserve had reverted to their seasonal search for livestock feed (Ezeomah 1978).

Despite the presence of some amenities on the reserves, the herders must drive their herd from the reserve at the climax of the dry-season because the price of milk on the reserve falls below the urban market rate, range management prohibits farming, and human and animal food are critically scarce and expensive (Fricke 1979; and Awogbade 1982). Amenities on the reserve then fall into disuse during the temporary absence of the Fulani from the reserves.

The management of the reserve is usually under-staffed. In 1982, only 665 registered veterinarians looked after the nine million cattle, eight million sheep, and twenty-two million goats in the Ruma-Kukar-Jangarai (Awogbade 1982). Economic recession prevents the government from giving vehicle loans to junior workers, thus, worsening the transport needs of the commuting staff. Senior managers who can still get bank loans or government credits find that the hyperinflation caused by the S.A.P. makes the loan inadequate to buy even second-hand vehicles. Most of the junior workers had little training for the kind of job the government hired them to do. For example, grazing controllers served as veterinary workers, while veterinarians acted as extension staff. Because of the complexity of the tasks, these staff worked outside their job description or competence. Thus, they found themselves in what Awogbade called role conflict situations (Awogbade 1982).

The shortage of workers makes the management and enforcement of rules governing the use of the range inefficient. For example, the Reserve Management Committee empowered to revoke the right of occupancy of range violators can not prosecute offenders, who often go unpunished (N.L.P.D. record 1992). Interviews reveal that a large number of the Fulani using the range are unaware of these regulations, because there are no range officers to enlighten the pastoralists about range codes and ordinances.

The Fulani accuse the committee of conducting its meetings undemocratically. The Fulani complain of being alienated by the committee, which ignores the concerns of the pastoralists. For example, except for policy ratification, the committee often shuts its doors to the Fulani (Awogbade 1982). There was the case of a herdsman killed by a forest guard. When the Fulani brought the matter for deliberation, the committee promised to investigate the incident. Nothing happened. When the Fulani, however, raised the matter again at another meeting,  the non-Fulani committee members shouted down the Fulani representative (Awogbade 1982). Committee meetings attended by the Fulani usually end in the Fulani exchanging harsh words and fist blows with the non-Fulani members. The government always warns against non-conformity and threatens to replace any Fulani delegates who opposes the government's proposals. This type of insensitivity erodes Fulani's trust in the committee.

The Fulani also complain that the Range Management Committee is unable to acquire the materials to conserve and improve the amenities on the range. Some Fulani are refusing to rely on the amenities on the reserve. The Secretary of M.A.C.B.A.N. says that the Fulani are doubting the ability of the government to continue building new roads, schools, markets, hospitals, motor parks, veterinary clinics, and water pumps. Delays in the provision of certain amenities have cause the gradual pullout of the Fulani from some grazing reserve. The Fulani who have tried to heed the advice of the extension staff in following land conservation measures such as fencing, terracing, tree planting, and rotational grazing cannot get the seedlings or building materials. The high cost of these materials narrows the scope of artificial improvement of grass and legumes on the grazing reserves (Bako and Ingawa 1988).

Added to the high price of the materials are the souring charges for land survey. Erecting or maintaining these range infrastructures is delayed or cancelled because equipments to do the work are not available on the reserve.  It costs at least N60 in 1976 to map a hectare of grazing reserve, while a borehole costs N100,000. This amount does not include the high payment for land compensation approved by the 1978 Land Use Act. Overhead expenses make the grazing reserve a capital-intensive venture, and discourage states from gazetting new reserves or expanding the existing ones (Waters-Bayer and Taylor-Powell 1986b). Landlords who do not get a fair payment for their excised land from the government harass the Fulani who settle on the reserve.

Rural and urban sprawl, commercial ranching, river basin projects, wildlife reservation, and the construction of roads, railways, schools, airports, research stations state, and local government headquarters have shrunk the size of the grazing land. These projects, except the wildlife preservation, also cause widespread fragmentation of the land. Isolated projects have been cited for blocking the passage to adjoining land and the cattle-routes. The blockage slows the pace of livestock marketing in Nigeria.

In conclusion, there can be no solution to the intractable strife between pastoralists and agriculturalists so long as the problems of rangeland use are not addressed. The role of the government in this onerous task is to attempt at striking a delicate balance among competing land users, without destroying the precarious equilibrium in nomadic pastoral enterprise. The key is enforcing land reform and protecting the demarcated grazing reserves for the intended users. It should also be within the government scope to ensure better stoking rates through improved herd quality. The Fulani should be made to appreciate the value of improved stock rather than keeping large number of herds for the sake of it. Above all, the traditional cattle breeders should be made to partake in collective land conservation as a sound range management practice, to avoid what scholars term the tragedy of the commons. Finally, the Fulani pastoralists must be seen to participate in policy formulation and implementation rather subjecte to be studied and to be at the receiving end of government decision making.


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Dr. Ismail Iro is a programmer and data analyst