Opinion article from Professor Istifanus Dafwang

STOP OPEN GRAZING. I believe that was one Newspaper headline on Tuesday 9th February that must have gotten many Animal scientists and all opponents of open grazing jumping for joy. For those of us who graduated in the 1970s and 80s this statement, which was accredited to the Northern Governor’s forum, was an answer to many years of formal and informal prayers. For many years, every person who spoke against open grazing was regarded as anti-Fulani. The well documented and broadcasted news of arson and mass killing of farmers across the Middle Belt and Southern States between 2014-2019 in particular, by herdsmen was defended by some quarters including the Federal Government as a retaliation for the taking over of cattle routes and grazing fields which are the rights of herdsmen. We must commend the courage and action of the Ondo State Governor for the drastic action taken against criminal elements amongst the herdsmen that eventually led to the identification of open grazing by cattle as national disaster and the greatest stumbling block to peaceful co-existence between farmers and herders.

Two proposals have been presented as remedies to open grazing, Ranching and RUGA. Having been an active participant in the campaign to stop open grazing since 1975, when I graduated from Ahmadu Bello University and where I worked as a Livestock Extension Specialist, Researcher and Lecturer for 40years, and also by God’s grace a Registered Animal Scientist with many credentials, I am compelled by these latest developments on the subject to make these timely comments on the many challenges associated with the two solutions being prescribed for the stoppage of open grazing.

RANCHING. This has been suggested as the number one solution. However, all Animal Scientists and those who have tried at personal and Governmental levels to operate a Ranch, know that Ranching is a commercial venture that can succeed, only if the rancher has the technical capacity to acquire land and develop it into a farm that can sustain the rearing of a specific of number of animals (herd size) as a Profitable Business Enterprise.

Ranching is a practice that CANNOT be adopted by the Nomadic Cattle Fulani because:

  1. Nomadism is a way of life for this group of Fulanis. Ask any of them and a majority of them will tell you that the Land, like Rainfall and Sunshine belong to God and so they are free to go anywhere in search of feed and water for their Cattle. This is true across most of West Africa where the Fulani do not recognize Country borders, let alone talk of farmland boundaries.
  2. Cattle rearing for them is for a variety of socio-economic benefits that cannot be subjected to income and expenditure regimes with financial profitability as the primary goal.
  3. Control of herd size is not possible because a larger herd size enhances the Fulani herdsman’s status in the society. It also serves as insurance for him against natural disasters. Besides this, some of the cattle in his herd belongs to other people, his reward for rearing them is the milk he collects everyday and an occasional calf. The more the cattle, the more milk and more cows added to his herd.

RUGA: The RUGA scheme is a modern attempt to revive the grazing reserve philosophy of 1965. However, as can be seen by the massive opposition to it, especially from the Middle-Belt and Southern States, it cannot be decreed into existence at will. Those Northern states that already have gazetted grazing reserves should aggressively adopt the RUGA scheme. It was cheering news when in 2018, the Kano State Governor said he had enough land to accommodate all the nomadic herdsmen. It is an irony that instead of the Federal Government taking such offers and facilitating their movement into States that are willing to accommodate them freely and happily, the Federal Government / MACBAN is insisting on asking States that have no such lands available to forcefully donate Land for RUGA establishment. More so that it has been proven beyond all reasonable doubts that the criminal elements among the Fulani use their nomadic brothers as channels for moving into communities at will and to wreak havoc in such communities.

The Grazing Reserve Scheme was designed to provide facilities for grazing, watering, disease control, processing of animal products and marketing of same in exactly the same way that the RUGA scheme has been designed to provide. It was initiated in 1954 and the first set of Grazing Reserves were gazetted in 1965. At conception, it was hailed as the most practical solution for making the Nomadic Cattle Fulani settle down, adopt modern animal husbandry methods and make their children imbibe “Western education”. Forty-five years after 1965, the Grazing Reserve Scheme has failed woefully, inspite of the billions of Naira that was sunk into it by Local, State, Federal Government and International Agencies, notably the United Nations Development Program/World Bank. The reasons for the failure have been well documented. Advocates of the RUGA must understudy these carefully in order to plan for a successful RUGA Scheme. Some of the reasons are:

  1. From the Nomadic Fulani view point the three reasons elucidated above for non-adoption of Ranching apply. In particular, it is easy to think that all the RUGA/Grazing Reserves put together should comfortably accommodate all the cows at a point in time, but Professionals know that with good nutrition and disease control the cattle population will outgrow facilities of the RUGA/Grazing Reserve with time. Unless there is going to be Strict Herd size control, no RUGA will be able to accommodate the number of Herdsmen and their cattle within the next 20 to 30 years!
  2. Frequent changes in Government brought erratic changes in Government Policies. Collectively, from one Regime to another, there was a clear lack of political will by Government to fully implement the design for implementation of a successful Grazing Reserve. What is the Government putting in place to ensure that the RUGA Scheme Policy will be sustained when Nigeria no longer has a Fulani as the Head of State?
  3. Corruption, Corruption and Corruption! For at least, the initial thirty years of Grazing Reserve Policy implementation, annual budgets for development of Grazing Reserves were made and often funds released, but very little progress was made. At one time massive investments were made into Livestock Investigation and Breeding Centers (LIBC) inside the Grazing Reserves that were to serve as the Research and Extension Linkage focal points for the adoption of modern animal husbandry practices by farmers within and outside of the Grazing Reserve. Many professionals would recall that during festival times, Government would “cull” the best-looking animals including breeding bulls for slaughter. What magic does the present Government have to ensure that funds released for the RUGA Scheme will not be diverted to other more pressing needs, which may include funds needed to run a political campaign in the 2023 elections?


Unless there is a drastic change in the mindset of the educated Fulani elites in high places and that of the MACBAN leadership, there will be no change in the nomadic lifestyle of the Fulani and Nigerians and the Fulani will continue to suffer under the yoke of open grazing. The criminal elements among them will continue to thrive as long as the Nomadic Fulani exist. Am I a pessimist? No! As an Animal Scientist that was trained locally and abroad, I am convinced that the RUGA concept will work subject to removing the constraints listed. I recommend the following as the way forward.

  1. The educated Hausa-Fulani’s eyes must be opened to see the reality of the sufferings of their nomadic brothers. Nobody with a human conscience will overlook the tortuous lifestyle of the Fulani on his livelihood. Anyone who has to drive through long distances when the Fulani are migrating to the South or to the North will see the trail of Fulani, their cattle and their families trekking long distances on foot. The babies are strapped on the back of their mothers while toddlers and very young calves are often carried on the back of asses or shoulders of the men. This journey is done under the hot sun or under rainfall as the case may be. During night stops, night camping is done in the open or makeshift tents that can hardly contain the rain during the rainy season. Apart from the hot sun/rainfall, dusty bowls arise from time to time to cover both animals and man. What about mosquitoes, flies/Tsetse flies, ticks/lice, scorpions, snakes, wild animals and other hazards that occasionally affect them on these journeys? How about any member falling sick in the course of these journeys? The Fulani man can break camp to allow for pregnant cows to calf but not so for his pregnant wife who may undergo labour during migration trips. How about the inability of the children to attend school because of their parent’s nomadic lifestyle?
  2. The effect on the productivity of cattle is also very worrisome. Loss of weight and milk production are the most obvious. While cows in Europe under intensive care are producing over 40 Liters per cow per day, the Fulani cow can barely give 2 Liters /day even during the wet season. Growth rate of calves and calving interval are adversely affected. Loss of cows from falling accidents on hill sides and gullies, cow rustling and even accidents on highways are well known. We may recall that about two years ago, a train on the Abuja to Kaduna rail-line run into a herd of cows, killing fifty on the spot and forcing the herdsmen to sell more than fifty more that were badly injured at token prices to butchers.
  3. Locally and Nationally, the long-term effect of open grazing on the land is devastating. Over time some cattle routes have become streams or deep erosion gullies. The extent to which overstocking, overgrazing and cattle routes increase the rate of desertification are real but have been poorly documented.
  4. Lastly, the effect of open grazing on Herdsmen and Farmers clashes, loss of agricultural production because farmers cannot go to their farms freely and the terrorism being carried out daily on Nigerians are well known and are the primary reason for the present outburst against open grazing. However, the effect of nomadism on the Fulanis, their families, cattle and land enumerated 1-3 are far more devastating on the Nigerian Economy than this last observation.
  5. The only value of nomadism to the nomadic Fulani is that it is his cultural heritage. Worldwide, all cultures that have been recognized as harmful to human health and livelihoods are being identified and are being phased out, including nomadism as a way of life in general. In Nigeria, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a case in point. Nomadism/Open grazing is one such culture that is dangerous to human health and human livelihoods, so all those who genuinely love the cattle Fulani must put their heads together to phase out their nomadic lifestyles as a matter of priority!!!

Having done the analysis above, anybody, no matter how highly placed, that is in support of open grazing, should be regarded as an enemy of not only the Nomadic Fulani but the Nigerian Nation. If the Hausa-Fulani elites and MACBAN can be convinced to accept this reality, I believe that the battle against open grazing will be won within one decade.

Once the elite Hausa-Fulani are convinced of the evils of nomadism, Government must invest in targeted mass education, especially through the Radio to convince the nomadic Fulani about the negative effects of nomadism on themselves first and the Nation second. This is a herculean task that requires the involvement of all stakeholders’ using top to bottom and bottom up approaches.

While that is going on, it is important to strengthen existing laws against open grazing. Every State needs to establish or reawaken the laws that already exist for the Control of open grazing by animals such as the 1969 law that was awakened by Ondo State. The Federal Government should now come out fully to assist States enforce Open Grazing Control Laws already enacted such as the Ranching Policy Law in Benue State and the Anti – Open  Grazing Law of Ekiti State. Without the active support of the Federal Government, such Laws cannot be fully enforced. Full implementation of these laws will be one strong motivation for Nomadic Fulani to move into RUGA communities where they can be accommodated comfortably without molestation.

Professor Istifanus Dafwang, PhD, RAS, FASAN, FNIAS, is a Life member of the Nigerian Society for Animal Production (NSAP), Life member of the Agricultural Extension Society of Nigeria (AESON) and member of the Board of Trustees of the Animal Science Association of Nigeria. He is a retired Professor of Animal Science who can be reached at

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