RANCHING or RUGA: The dilemma of improving livestock productivity.

Dr A.A. Badmos


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Pastoralism is the most traditional of ruminant livestock production systems in which extensive movement of the animals in search of pastures and water is its salient feature. It is Nomadic farming or Trans-humance. The system involves keeping of large animals in herds or kraals on open fields, and moving the animals northwards during the wet seasons (away from tsetse infested bushes) and southwards during the dry seasons (in search of greener pastures). This practice is adapted to exploit the dry, arid climatic zone, and yet often overlaps into wetter, agricultural land, occasionally ending up into violent conflicts between the herdsmen and resident farmers. Nomadic farming is cheap, as the cattle eats free grass, drinks free water, and is occasionally attended to by veterinary officers.

Nomadic farming has been taken up as occupation and way of life by the Fulani tribe of Nigeria and indeed west Africa. Generations of Fulfude-speaking people takes pride in rearing cattle, obtain their livelihood from selling milk products, and indeed living in settlements closely attached to these animals. These settlements are often mobile, as the nomadic tendencies dictate. The Fulani (or Fula, as they are referred to in Guinea and Senegambia Subregion) have hyper traditional lifestyle that abhors adoption of modern, luxurious living or inter-marriage with other tribes, and this affects the adoption of modern methods in cattle industry.

There has been several attempts since the beginning of colonial administration, to upgrade the traditional ruminant livestock production system. 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.

A Ranch is usually a large farm that is devoted to the breeding and raising of cattle, sheep, or horses on rangeland. Ranch farming, or ranching according to the Encyclopedia Britannica originated in the imposition of European livestock-farming techniques onto the vast open grasslands of the New World (The Americas). Spanish settlers introduced cattle and horses into the Argentine and Uruguayan pampas and the ranges of Mexico early in the colonial period, and the herding of these animals spread readily into what is now the southwestern United States. Ranching has been successful in western countries and is presently the dominant system of ruminant livestock production in North America, Australia and parts of South America. This is because the advantages of cattle ranching and its importance cannot be over emphasized. The rangeland is planted with nutritious grass and legume mixtures that the animals feed on to their choice, the animals have no need to trek thousands of kilometers, burning calories they have consumed and getting exposed to reptiles, pests and diseases. The rangeland allows for adequate security as the location of the cattle/herdsmen are identified.

Historically as said earlier, Nigerian administrators have severally attempted to develop modern ranching to take over from the cheap but hazardous nomadic farming. In 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. 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. In all cases, ranchers competed with the indigenous herdsmen (the Fulani) for scarce pastoral resources.

Research and evaluation of the developments in livestock sector showed that in spite of government spending and incentives, ranching schemes had failed in Nigeria (contrary to what happened in Europe and America). 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. 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. 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.

It has become pristine clear that the Fulani of west Africa consider their race as the custodians of cattle business, and all efforts to change that business status might not be received in good faith. Modern ranching to them is nothing more than a game by the “Whiteman” and not to be allowed to replace their age long, traditional models of cattle rearing. Investing heavily in ranching again, with the previous experiences of Nigerian administrators, need due care and diligence.

Perhaps this is what gave birth to the concept of RUGA, a rural grazing area, where livelihood and amenities are provided for the herdsmen, with little alteration of his traditional livestock husbandry methods.Thus the RUGA is basically to create rural facilities to support the rural livestock man, whatever production method he adopts. There is a large area of overlap, but the RANCHING/RUGA controversy was recently thrown into the public domain by Nigerian Government without being thoroughly trashed out. Many salient questions were not answered.

  • Who are the major cattle owners in Nigeria, the benefactors of the RUGA.
  • Why were they, individually and collectively silent while the RUGA controversy was hot
  • Why should the FG front for RUGA…and further embolden the “dare-devil” herdsman, when the miyetti-Allah, the land owners and the Police are apparently the major stakeholders
  • Is the FG coercing the land owners to make land available freely for cattle grazing, or is the herdsmen interested in leasing land from the communities for their animals?
  • Does RUGA entail buying, leasing or renting of land by the herdsmen…or annexation of communal land ?
  • Why didn’t the Northern Governors create a platform for the three stakeholders (above) to meet and trash out their concerns ?
  • Why didn’t one, two or three interested state Governors make RUGA models for others to see and duplicate if need be?

The writer would not be surprised if the major cattle owners and stakeholders refuse to answer these questions, just like they were deliberately quiet when the RUGA controversy was rife.

But to contain the Nomadic herdsmen is a task that must be done, in order to increase the livestock productivity, and most importantly to ensure resolution of the perpetual farmers herdsmen conflicts.

It is interesting to note that the herdsmen has always been passionate and aggressive in the quest of pasture for their animals, but has never being this violent. It is time to ask ourselves, to search deep…what made the erstwhile roaming nomad armed with a knife, or bow in the bush, turn into a ferocious AK 47 bearing man, ready to pounce upon, to mutilate or kill any daring farmer.

The herdsman has been emboldened to take laws into his hands.

Emboldened by who ?

Most likely his Patron.

It is on record that the herdsmen we see carrying AK-47 rifles and following the cows through the highways, villages, and farmlands are not the owners of the cows they tend. Rather, they are hired by the cattle owners to ensure that the cattle are fed and defended against rustling and other dangers. Informal enquiries within the last three months further reveal that the ownership of cattle goes well beyond the Fulani. Many Northern politicians of various ethnicities, especially governors, senators, and members of the House of Representatives as well as their predecessors in office, also own cattle. So do businessmen and thousands of livestock farmers. It is also true of military and ex-military officers from the North (The Punch, March 13,  2018). This perhaps explains the possession of sophisticated ammunitions by the Fulanis. This perhaps explains why the law enforcement officers appear incapable of enforcing law and order when the herdsmen are involved. Whenever such an armed herdman, trained to handle weapons is reprimanded or laid off by his employer, is he not a potential bandit, potential kidnapper etc ?

It is again necessary to identify the cattle owners so that the Federal Inland Revenue Service could collect the appropriate tax from them. Millions of people must be raking in profit from the sale of cows, beef, milk, cowherd, and so on.

A good starting point might be to carry out identification of the cattle herd in Nigeria. Every cattle owner must tag his cattle, and just as we have unique NUMBIAN number for all bank accounts in the country, we need every cattle to bear a number. A census internally generated, that can be accomplished within a month.

Thus we will be able to track every cattle, and indeed every Herdsman. Cattle rustlers and Pseudo- Herdsmen will be exposed. Shouldn’t we identify the real herdsmen, and the real cattle owners ?

The political dimensions of the NO-RUGA campaign is also interesting.

The Plateau state Governor, Simon Lalong said on Monday 1st July (Punch, 4th July, 2019) that all the Governors agreed at NEC meeting on the need for ranching as a solution to the farmers herders conflict, and that the last administration of Good Luck Jonathan had a similar working plan,and voted 10 billion which melted into thin air. The present regime has gone a long way on the issue. Funding is coming in from the World Bank, ADB etc.

If one takes the statement of the Governor with all seriousness, then why…

  • did the opposing governors of the southern states not condemn the project from inception, at the NEC meeting
  • did the Northern governors, whose state economy would be improved by RUGA not mount a robust enlightenment campaign and advocacy for the project

It is becoming very obvious that the Federal Government does not have a powerful voice to express itself and its intents clearly to Nigerians. Most of the defenses came rather lately, when a lot of damage was done and wrong information has been passed to the populace.

It is also becoming obvious that the political class, including the governors are not keen and focused to explain and portray developmental goals, or carry the populace along and shape their thinking on issues that affect the public.

The governors that “shared 10 billion Naira” should explain to us if they did it in the best interest of Nigerian cattle industry. They should at least explain why the Jonathan administration recommended ranching, and when they (the governors) intend to return the money. Their silence at this period of policy ‘zig-zag’ is omnious.  Politics should not be seen as incompatible and opposing to industrial development.


We can conclude from the foregoing, that:

  • The cattle industry cannot be sacrificed or discountenanced. No country develops by limiting its food production capacity. Nigeria should rather solve the attending political and security problems.
  • Ranching models of Western Countries (successful as they were) is not advisable for Nigeria. Past experiences were unpleasant. The RUGA option of providing amenities, veterinary, healthcare etc for traditional cattlemen in identified grazing area should rather be encouraged. Modernization will come from within.
  • The RUGA is a modified ranching base, it is more flexible than the European ranching models. The cattle owners, the land owners and security should work out the details. The Federal Government need not be directly involved.
  • The Nigerian cattle needs be immediately identified and made trackable by the owners, unidentified cattle should be confiscated by the security agencies.
  • Major cattle owners need to engage regularly with the security and community heads, to attend to security and developmental issues
  • The federal government needs to create a people’s parliament, a volunteer youth NGO that will propagate government ideals non-politically, and prepare the youth for an imminent leadership role. The constitution of such group (supervised by the DSS) should cut across ALL section of the society. This will save us from unnecessary social heat and mistrust, as was the case in the RUGA controversy.


Dr. BADMOS, A.A. writes from the University of Ilorin, Nigeria and can be reached at


FikayoOlowolagba: Herdsmen killings: Cattle ranching to begin soon – FG. The Punch,December 4th, 2018

Iro, I. (2019). Where Modernism has Failed and Traditionalism has Thrived: A Look at Commercial Ranching and Fulani Herding System.  African Development Foundation.  Washington, DC. USA.

Blench, R. (2018). Towards a Peaceful Co-existence between Herders and Farmers in Nigeria. Public presentation of  Brochure, November 8, 2018.

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