by Zacharys Gundu
The Federal Government is contemplating the establishment of grazing reserves and stock routes across the country to check the incessant bloody clashes between nomadic Fulani herdsmen and farmers. It is also argued that grazing reserves will boost livestock production, ease herding challenges and reduce seasonal migrations of herdsmen.
During the military era, both the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supported efforts at further development of grazing reserves in the country.
Though this international support did not yield any sustainable results as most of the planned reserves failed to take off, the concept was not entirely abandoned. High level Fulani lobby led by MACBAN (formed in 1972) and Pastoral Resolve have continued to throw up the idea as a possible solution to the incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen.
In 1998, the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) under its Chairman, General Muhammadu Buhari perfected a blueprint to rehabilitate grazing reserves and stock routes across the country. The blueprint became stillborn after General Sani Abacha’s demise. In 2012, The Pastoral Resolve, (PARE) a non-Governmental Organization founded to champion the interest and well-being of pastoralists in Nigeria was reportedly seeking ¦ 5 billion to establish pilot grazing reserves in Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kogi and Nasarawa states. Grazing reserves and stock routes are known to dominate Fulani demands on the country and all leading presidential candidates in previous elections in the country since 1999 have committed themselves in writing to the Fulani on the issue of grazing reserves.
In truth, the improvements needed in livestock production in the country cannot be initiated and successfully carried out if majority of Nigerians involved in livestock production insist on a nomadic lifestyle. There is no merit in this lifestyle today; moreover, the conditions that supported nomadism in the colonial and immediate post-colonial period have also drastically changed.
Population has increased even in areas, like the North-central zone, which were hitherto assumed to be sparsely populated. Desert encroachment has also continued to be a major challenge in the country. In 1961, Nigeria had 0.51 hectares of arable land per citizen. In 1990, the figure shrank to 0.29. By 2010, it was 0.21 hectares per person. At current population growth rate, it will shrink to 0.17 hectares per person by 2020 and, further to 0.13 by 2030 and 0.10 by 2040. It is estimated that by 2050, it will be 0.08 hectares per person. We must take urgent steps to transparently regulate and reform livestock production in the country as a way of avoiding further bloodshed. Grazing reserves are not a transparent or efficient way of regulation and reforming livestock production in the country. Even in parts of the country with high livestock population, the idea of grazing reserves has been virtually rejected. Grazing reserves in Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara, Bauchi, Kano and Borno have all been effectively abandoned.
It is becoming clear to the discerning mind that the bloody push for grazing reserves outside the cattle producing states of the country is not more than a devious attempt to secure usufructuary rights to land and exploit the political opportunities that such rights may confer on the Fulani. The Kachia Grazing Reserve as a template illustrates this point clearly. Established in 1963, it became a strategic enclave for the Kachichera Fulani who had settled in Southern Kaduna since the Fulani Jihad of 1804. As agro-pastoralists, the Kachichera were still considered as ‘visitors’ in Southern Kaduna by the indigenous nationalities of the area. The Kachia reserve was established as a political masterstroke to give them a window of opportunity in the area. They moved into the reserve from places like Kurmi Biri, Abet, Zagon Kataf, Zonkwa, Ungwan Rimi and Kagoro to secure usufructuary rights to the land and today, they have stepped up demands for a Ladduga chiefdom. It is noteworthy that up to this day, the indigenous people whose lands were appropriated for the Kachia reserve are yet to be compensated.
We must redefine the Nigerian livestock challenge and disambiguate it from the Fulani challenge to be able to provide useful answers to the challenges. The Nigerian livestock challenge is about improved livestock production practices that would enhance the quantity and quality of animal protein and dairy related products to meet national needs. In tackling this challenge, the focus must be on how we can efficiently acquire and manage improved livestock breed, give the breed access to improved pasture and use herd management practices that can give us value for money. The challenge requires the permanent settlement of those involved in the livestock industry and informed economic decisions by individuals, governments and stakeholders who want to be involved in the livestock industry. In tackling this challenge, we must also appreciate the fact that not every area of the country has good potential for the livestock industry. There are also lessons to learn from history.
In 1980, Governor Aper Aku of Benue State commissioned a study on the feasibility of grazing reserves in the state. Findings from the study indicated that the provision of water (a basic infrastructural requirement in grazing reserves) would result in increased degradation of land around proposed water sources and in some instances boost tse–tse breeding. The study also found out that the characteristic cropping systems in the state around yam and cassava left little or no residue as supplementary feed for cattle in the dry season. More importantly, the study found out that no farmer nor community in the state was willing to allow their ancestral lands (which are their means of livelihood) to be appropriated for grazing reserves. The conclusions of the study showed that grazing reserves were not viable in Benue State. This is one reason Governor Aper Aku established a model cattle ranch at Ikyogen where improved cattle breed were kept and grasses grown for them to ensure all year round pasture. Grazing reserves in Nigeria have not reduced clashes between herdsmen and farmers. They certainly have given Fulani herdsmen usufractuary rights over land and other opportunities that come with those rights, yet they have not improved livestock production in any way. This is the sad fact.
The Fulani challenge on the other hand is about unwavering attempts at clinging to an obsolete lifestyle in which livestock is kept for other reasons out of the economy. It involves a desperate and bloody push for ‘grazing rights’ for the Fulani of the ‘whole world’ to enable them continue a lifestyle of dire consequences. This is the explanation for the horrific massacres of farmers (including women and children) on their homesteads by well-armed Fulani gangs ready to take the law into their hands with impunity. Nigeria must face the Fulani challenge squarely and stamp out the indiscriminate migration of Fulani and their herds across the country. The Kadawa with their herds who also continue to crisscross our borders must be stopped. Allowing these cross border migrations has grave implications for national security, planning, health and the stability. The ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons within the sub-region should not blind government from doing the needful. The protocol does not provide for free movement of livestock nor people with criminal intentions. ECOWAS countries like Ghana are increasingly turning away murderous herdsmen from their borders while other countries in the sub-region like Burkina Faso and Mali have opted to ranches.
The grazing reserve concept is a simplistic answer to the challenge of livestock development in the country. It is an answer that is politically suspicious. It is not useful and has been overtaken by events. Grazing reserves will only continue to threaten other people and their livelihoods just as they will continue to complicate the education of the nomadic child and his future. They will open up the country to Fulani of the ‘whole world’. Nigeria has no land to contain them and no responsible modern nation state will accept such high nonsense especially when it is capable of threatening the peace.
We must search for useful answers. These can be found in ranches, which have to be run as economic enterprises. On these, more livestock can be kept and the country can have more meat and dairy related products. Fulani leaders, politicians and businessmen must show the way in this. It is possible. While doing this, we must also recognize the rights of other people, communities and states to choose what livelihoods are appropriate to them. No group should be privileged above another here.
Dr. Zacharys Anger Gundu lectured at the Department of Archaeology, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.