The extensive movement of animals in search of pastures and water is known as “PASTORALISM”. Pastoralism, as it relates to open grazing in Nigeria, has become very controversial. This highly divisive subject follows years of deadly ethnic clashes between herdsmen and local farmers, resulting in thousands of deaths.
The predominant and widely known rearing cattle method in Nigeria is the nomadic approach, where herds of cattle are free to roam the country, including on farmlands, searching for pasture and water. In recent times, this approach has resulted in issues relating to cattle rustling, destruction and damage of cultivated farmlands, communal clashes between herders and farmers with consequent losses of lives and properties – generally leading to low yield and productivity in the industry.
In exploiting the pastoral agro-ecosystem, cattle ranching, an intensive form of pastoralism, supports controlled grazing. This changes pastoralism’s mobility nature where grazing of available pasture is limitless.
Ranching involves separating an area of land, including various structures, principally for raising grazing livestock such as cattle or sheep for meat, milk, wool and other livestock products. This practice exposes cattle to paddock grazing with improved varieties of forages and fodders all year round and modern livestock management practices such as feedlot fattening, artificial insemination and others. Cattle ranching may be a solution to address the growing crisis threatening the national security of Nigeria.
The practice of cattle ranching in some areas across Nigeria is an improvement over the traditional cattle (livestock) management system that supports open cattle grazing. The benefits of the ranching system cannot be overemphasised, and some of these benefits include:
Ending communal/ethnic clashes between farmers and herdsmen:
This remains an essential advantage of introducing the ranching system. In 2019, an NGO reported that the past 5years had witnessed a loss of over 7,000 lives costing the Nigerian economy over $13 billion (11.57 billion Euros). Therefore, the ranching system will enthrone a peaceful environment for farmers and herdsmen and prevent financial losses to the economy.
Increasing yield in cattle/livestock production:
The non-migratory nature of cattle rearing associated with ranching aids cattle in gaining bodyweight, thereby increasing yield in livestock production (meat, milk, hide, wool, cheese, etc.).
Less risk of disease transmission:
The movement of cattle from one location to another – either trans-border or within Nigeria may increase disease transmission, thereby endangering the local cattle population and predisposing humans to zoonotic diseases.
The establishment of the ranching system will enable the easy identification of criminal perpetrators in a different part of the country, especially in areas with predominantly recorded high fatality rate and the destruction of public and private properties due to communal clashes.
Effective management of environmental resources.
Repeated uncontrolled grazing results in land degradation, extensive vegetation removal and conflicts over natural resources access. Also, controlled grazing contributes significantly to addressing these challenges and supports the effective management of environmental and natural resources.
In the long run, ranching may be a more sustainable form of pastoralism. However, a sudden switch may be difficult to implement due to the current lack of a consensus between Nigeria’s Federal Government and affected north-central and southern states’ governments.
Even though some states have already enacted an anti-open grazing law, many states in Nigeria are yet to address ongoing issues/tensions triggered by pastoralism. This may be because open grazing and nomadic cattle grazing practice has been known to nomadic pastoralists for centuries.
In conclusion, Nigeria offers a massive opportunity in the livestock industry, occupying the 14th position in the world with an estimated 20 million herds of cattle compared to Brazil, India and China – the top three nations with the highest herds of cattle in the world with 212,189 and 114 million herds of cattle, respectively.
Existing and potential cattle ranchers should leverage this opportunity, look into leading rearing cattle methods, and make an informed decision on the best form they can pursue or undertake.