Where Modernism has Failed and Traditionalism has Thrived: A Look at Commercial Ranching and Fulani Herding System 




Ismail Iro, Ph.D.








Related Discussions

  1. Abstract and Introduction

  2. Should Pastoral Fulani Sedentarize?

  3. Characteristics of the Fulani

  4. Fulani Herding System

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

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

  7. Nomadic Education and Education for Nomadic Fulani

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

  9. Where Modernism has Failed and Traditionalism has Thrived: A Look at Commercial Ranching and Fulani Herding

  10. Livestock Transportation and Marketing in Nigeria

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

  12. Diffusion of Innovation: The Fulani Response to Livestock Improvement

  13. Fulani in a New-Found Land



The slow performance of the livestock sub-sector in Nigeria was attributed to Fulani's use of out-moded pastoral technology and unscientific use of rangeland. Pastoral policies and programs in the sixties and seventies were based on the belief that improving the output of consumable milk and beef in Nigeria would depend on the privatization and commercialization of the livestock sector. The government saw the possibility of achieving these goals through commercial ranching.

Modern ranching was, thus, supposed to be an improvement over traditional livestock management. Commercial ranching was also supposed to become the focus of agro-pastoral development that would meet the minimum of twenty-five grams of mutton per cattle a day. When the British introduced commercial ranching in Nigeria, their aim was to boost the supply of milk, meat, butter, and hides to Europe and Anglophone countries of West Africa. Ranching was also supposed to transform the social and economic life of the Fulani. The policy on ranching continued after independence when the government of Nigeria tried to use ranching to resettle the nomadic Fulani (Dunbar 1970).

Up to the early 1970s, when the oil boom took effect, policy-makers had been encouraging commercial ranching, sometimes to the detriment of traditional cattle-raising. Commercial ranchers had priority in getting bank loans and subsidized inputs. The ranchers also secured the most productive land (Little 1985). Commercial ranches were the first to enjoy government veterinary services. The government patronized and protected livestock produce from the ranches. The government, for example, requested schools, hospitals, military and police barracks to  buy meat and milk from official ranches, even in excess of the market prices

Many indigenous stock raisers in Nigeria, though not the Fulani, were attracted by the incentives in commercial ranching. Seeing the potential for a lucrative ranching enterprise, many European firms entered Nigeria's livestock sector either in partnership with the government or as sole proprietors. For example, a German firm, Rao-Imex went into partnership with the government to establish the Bokko Poultry. The British and the Danish built a piggery near Jos. In all cases, ranchers competed with the Fulani for scarce pastoral resources.

An evaluation of the livestock sector showed that in spite of government spending and incentives, ranching schemes had failed in Nigeria. A European who started a ranch in 1914 in Northern Nigeria folded up in 1920 in spite of establishing his ranch on the best grazing land (Niamir 1990). He explained that commercial ranching was not viable in Nigeria. First, contrary to expectations, the Fulani did not embrace ranching as the alternative to traditional pastoralism. Second, ranching did not raise the output of milk and meat. In fact, traditional pastoralism continued to record higher output per unit of land than commercial ranching (Grandin 1988). Third, the anticipated economic benefits of ranching did not materialize; rather, the prices of milk and meat from the ranch grew beyond the means of the ordinary citizens. Fourth, there was no evidence that ranching had facilitated the resettlement of the Fulani. Thus, the reality of pastoral formation in Nigeria, as in much of Africa, was that almost universally, a ranching scheme was a financial catastrophe (Galaty 1980).

Attempts at commercializing the livestock sector and integrating the Fulani into the global capitalist system resulted in their tendency to raise more livestock beyond the carrying capacity of the land (Dahl and Hjort 1979). In many countries in Africa, ranching had been an ecological disaster (Galaty 1980). In Angola and Botswana, ranching schemes cause severe environmental damage (Sandford 1982). In East Africa, the damage on the landscape was so extensive that it could be seen from an aircraft flying at high altitude (Horowitz 1980). The restriction of the movement of livestock is seen by the Fulani as a sequential destruction of vegetal resources and an invitation to livestock diseases (Igbozurike 1980; and Ellis and Swift 1988). Citing the work of Cruz de Carvalho (1971), Goldschmidt (1980) stated a case in which the ranchers broke the fences and returned to active traditional pastoralism, because the fenced territory could not provide adequate food to raise the livestock.

Failures of the Ranching Schemes in Nigeria

When ranching was introduced, the economic contribution of the livestock was the major consideration. This consideration relegated the multiple functions and non-economic uses of livestock, which might be more important to the Fulani. Ranching capitalized on enhanced production output, but overlooked the potential use of animals as self-reproducing wealth, symbol of prestige, medium of social exchange, and insurance policy (Cisse 1980; and Schneider 1981). A major policy mistake was that of failing to understand that traditional pastoralism was an important source of food and employment on a continuous basis to most of the household members (Sandford 1982; and Cossins 1983). In Amazonian Brazil, for example, cattle ranches created only one job for every $63,000 invested and this prompted the government to reconsider cattle ranching as a development possibility (Ledec and Goodland 1988)

The Fulani are reluctant to enter the ranching enterprise because they worry that they will face problems similar to those of raising livestock in sedentary camps. Ranching conflicts with communal land use. Some of the limitations to the ranching enterprise include situating them in populated areas and using poor quality stock. Government ranches are being used as private property by ranch staff. Lack of qualified, experienced, and dedicated staff are a part of the predicaments of successful commercial ranching in Nigeria.

Herd-owners see ranching schemes as an obstruction of freedom and as a forceful imposition of the advice of young men sent to work as technicians and livestock assistants (Grayzel 1986). Extension staff consists of young technicians who are dispatched to pastoral areas to train and deliver services under specific state ordinances and by-laws. The Fulani see these young men as inexperienced intruders with little or nothing to offer (Sandford 1982, and Gryzel 1986, 159). Since ranching requires some degree of sedentariness, the mere mention of ranching raises suspicions that the authorities are planning for resettlement or disruption of communal land tenure system.

The high cost of land discourages many pastoral Fulani from starting commercial ranching. The Fulani do not have the skill or the financial propensity to building the fences, grain stores, feed lots, and watering places. The emphasis on land conservation and improvement, requiring some monetary outlay, prevent even the most enterprising Fulani from raising their animals in a ranch-like setting.

A major flaw in the ranching business is building them near populated areas. Not only are these areas unable to absorb livestock expansion, they are also subject to inroads by the expanding population. When this happens, the use of land for ranching becomes less profitable than for alternative uses, and raising livestock becomes a second or even a third land use option. Improved stock breeding also becomes difficult where land is a constraining factor.

Ranchers use breeding stock whose potential is not determined. Local ranches seldom undertake cost-benefit analysis. The parent stock used in commercial ranching comes from the stock market, where only sick, barren, or maimed animals are sold. Attempts to replace local breeds with high beef and milk yielding exotic varieties have failed because the foreign breeds cannot adapt to the environment. The defunct Allied Ranch near Kaduna epitomizes the problems of institutionalized livestock schemes in Nigeria. The ranch imported cattle and horses from Australia and Argentina. The animals were housed in artificially ventilated rooms, supplied with food, water, and vitamins. Each heifer cost about $1,000-$2,000 by the time it arrived on the ranch. In spite of eating a lot of food, the animals started losing weight, apparently emaciated from heat exhaustion and intercurrent diseases. The animals could not produce the expected amount of milk and red meat. Three years after inception, nearly all the animals except the race horses had been sold or slaughtered.

Ranching schemes suffer from frequent policy shifts due to changes of governments, administrators, or sources of funding. For example, the fluctuation in the annual budget for the livestock sub-head has prevented the government from establishing the required number of livestock improvement centers that sell or exchange breeds with farmers and pastoralists. A reduction in the budget for a year has triggered the neglect of the infrastructure in the few existing centers. Interruption or a reversal of government policies usually accompanies military coups in Nigeria. Since nobody is penalized or held responsible for policy or project failure, greedy staff take advantage of any switch in policy to steal government property. In the ranching sector, the staff take away the animals and remove hardware from the stockyard, or refuse to deposit monies raised by selling milk or livestock. After decades of waste and inactivity in the state ranches, the government of Nigeria has decided to include ranches and dairy plants among the numerous ventures it intends to sell under its privatization policy. 

The staff and the ranch managers use government commercial ranches as their personal belongings. The managers organize auctions to sell animals cheaply to themselves. Highly placed government officials go to the ranches and take out the best stock that are meant for breeding without paying for them. The officers also divert livestock feeds and drugs to private use.

Studies show that many ranches are owned by absentee investors, who have the money but not the time to develop the ranches. Studies show that the most successful ranches are those supervised directly by their owners. The more time the owners spend on the ranch the more they reduce the chances of theft, loss of man hours, and workers' neglect. The ranching enterprise in Nigeria is dominated by absentee herd-owners whose primary motif of starting ranching may not be commercial. A rancher interviewed in this research says hobby is his main interest in ranching.

To reduce costs, ranchers employ cheaply paid or unsalaried workers. Field inquiries reveal that many ranches have a large pool of undocumented staff. On one ranch, more than half of the staff were casual workers who had no contractual agreements with the owners. These workers not only lack husbandry skills, they also have no commitment to the success of the ranches. Their interest is to have access to ranch facilities such as water sources, livestock feed, and veterinary medicine. Ranches that have well-paid, professional workers tend to succeed. For example the ranch belonging to retired General Wushishi, managed by Israeli professionals, was a success story until the Israelis left and the ranch started experiencing problems.

The Fulani, though efficient in catering to their herds, were some of the worst hired laborers on the ranch. At one time, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (I.L.C.A.), assuming that selective breeding under the best grazing conditions would lead to a higher quality herds, experimented with cattle production by incorporating the best of the modern and traditional pastoral technology. The center secured excellent breeds and suitable grazing land, and it hired indigenous Fulani to tend the animals. The initial prospects were good. But as time passed, the experiment began showing signs of failure. Animals started becoming sick in spite of the adequate infrastructure and veterinary care in place. Yet nearby indigenous Fulani herds were flourishing.

The International Livestock Centre for Africa sought the reasons for its failure. The answer came from a Fulani man in the adjoining camp. Responding to the questionnaire survey, the man gave a simple but valid answer. The I.L.C.A. should not expect good herd management from a hired Fulani man having no cattle of his own. Not having cattle suggested weak management skills among the Fulani. If a man had the skill, he would tend his own flocks not someone else's.

The Case of Manchok Cattle Ranch

The I.L.C.A. experiment and the Manchok Cattle Ranch demonstrated some of the causes of the failures of ranching schemes in Nigeria. With the American aids, the Kaduna State Ministry of Animal and Forest Resources established the Manchok Cattle Ranch in 1964. Increase milk output as a raw material for the local dairy companies was the purpose of the ranch. Like most ranches, the phasing of the scheme started with the building of basic infrastructure: sheds, fences, paddocks, offices, storage spaces, staff quarters, access roads, and a clinic. Stocked in 1980 by 156 imported Francaise Fisanne, the ranch also provided scales, electricity, water pumps, and farm yards.

Then in 1980, dermatophiliasis hit, causing the ranch to sell or slaughter most of the animals. In 1984, the ranch replaced the imported cattle with 785 local breed. The same year, however, the rinderpest struck. Again, the ranch sold or butchered most of the animals. The few remaining animals that survived the epidemic were transferred to the Kaduna-Karaduwa River Basin and Rural Development Authority. All that remained on the barnyard were broken fences, dilapidated buildings, and rusting implements buried in the growing grass (Ezeomah 1987). Similar episode had taken place in Malawi, when the government introduced stall-feeding to boost bovine population especially among non-pastoralists. The scheme took off in 1970. By 1972, it had become an outright financial disaster, producing less than half of the expected bovine population. The condition of the animals worsened, the rate of return remained disappointingly marginal, and the ranch produced not a single animal for stall-feeding. By the time the ranch closed, it had bred less than 400 steers that were sold, mostly on credit (Lele 1976)

Livestock Improvement Centers

Associated with the ranching schemes are livestock improvement centers that focus on beef and lacteal improvement. The purpose of the centers is to manage the rangeland, develop fodder banks, and provide seeds, fences, and salt licks. Set up within a livestock improvement center are schools and veterinary centers. Each livestock service center has drivers, laborers, storekeepers, range guards, and motor mechanics. Project officers and livestock assistants offer extension services to the Fulani settlers. Management and grazing control assistants work with the Fulani on inter-cropping and range-fire control. Veterinary officers and livestock superintendents treat and vaccinate the herds (N.L.P.D. record 1992).

Like the ranching schemes, livestock improvement centers have failed miserably in Nigeria. The livestock improvement centers neither enhance the quality nor the quantity of the animals. Range use has not improve either. Services at the centers benefit a few mixed-farmers rather than the targeted pastoral Fulani. As a result of the disappointing performance of the centers, the government has converted them into research centers. Two cases, the Butura Livestock Improvement Breeding Center and the Pambegua Sheep Improvement Sub-sector, will show the extent of the failure in livestock improvement centers in Nigeria.

The Case of Butura Livestock Improvement Breeding Center.

The Butura Livestock Improvement Breeding Center started in 1967 as an experimental farm for cross-breeding of local cows with Friesian breeds. The center was located twenty-six kilometers west of Barikin Ladi, near Jos, in Plateau State. The goal of the Center was to demonstrate to the local herdsmen the advantages of mixed stocking.

On the five hundred acre center, the government spent large sums to build fences, paddocks, garages, spray races, grain stores, veterinary centers, staff quarters, and office buildings. The government also provided seeds, imported grass, and farm-land for growing grains and livestock feeds. In 1970, the center imported sixteen Friesian cattle to be bred and used as the center's foundation stock. One after another, all the imported cattle died of dermatophiliasis before the experiment could be completed.

Five years later, the center imported another forty Friesian stock and cross-bred them with the local Zebu. Dermatophiliasis struck again and all the forty foreign stock died. By early 1980s, the experimental farm had taken a clear path to failure. In 1985 the Plateau State had to convert the center into a ranch, using local breeds.

The government expected the ranch to succeed since it was on a flat land, supplied with abundant grass, farm residues, perennial rivers and streams, and mining depressions that served as artificial ponds. The absence of tsetse and the presence of a teeming work-force from the mining camps were expected to provide the market boost for livestock products. The Butura ranch, however, started showing signs of failure. The pens were broken, so were the paddocks. The fences were torn, most animals were sold or taken away, and the few animals left on the ranch were herded by hired pastoralists (Ezeomah 1987).

The Case of Pambegua Sheep Improvement Sub-Center

The Pambegua Sheep Improvement Sub-Center was another disaster. It began in 1970 from an attempt by the then North-Central State to boost livestock production, particularly the ruminant population. Using imported Balouchie sheep from Iran, the state established a cross-breeding center in Katsina. With identical weather as Iran, Katsina appeared a suitable location for raising the Balouchie sheep. The initial success of the Balouchie encouraged the government to replicate its efforts in other parts of the state.

Created in 1976 on 388.6 acres, the Pambegua Sub-Center took advantage of the quick maturation and high-quality mutton of the Balouchie breed. Located about three hundred kilometers southeast of Katsina, Pambegua was thought to provide an excellent breeding environment. The government built fences, offices, and staff quarters. It provided electricity, tap water, and land clearing equipment for growing livestock feed. The experimental breed was brought from Katsina, but many of them died because of the humid weather in Pambegua, despite de-ticking and the shearing of their wool to prevent deaths.

The disappointing performance of the livestock improvement centers necessitated government's investigation into the causes of the failures. The problems were the flaws in the design of the schemes, which differed markedly from the traditional system of livestock management. Many centers were based on Western models and used extension staff who literally knew less than the Fulani about raising livestock in Nigeria.


Ranches and livestock improvement schemes have collapsed in Nigeria because of design errors that ignore the knowledge of local producers. These schemes come as substitutes rather than as supplements to traditional pastoral system. The Fulani seldom participate in the policy or implementation phases. Foreign experts and donor participants ignore local-level technology, thinking that money and machines will achieve within a short time what the Fulani have not achieved for centuries. Designed along Western models, the livestock improvement centers rely on extension services. Field workers teach the Fulani how to make fences, terrace land, manage floodplains, and plant conservation trees, activities that least interest the Fulani. The livestock extension workers, who operate mainly near settlements and research stations, appear to the Fulani to be less knowledgeable about herd management. As a result, over ninety percent of the Fulani in this research say that apart from periodic cattle vaccination, they do not benefit from the services of the extension staff.


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Dr. Ismail Iro is a programmer and data analyst