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How Nigerian leaders encourage open grazing

By Mary Agidi

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The open grazing can be seen or understood as the practice of roaming about with animals including the human beings who pilot and guide their ways through the grazing routes in any open fields, plains and nearby bushes in search of pasture, food, water and shelter for the animals. This implies that grazing is about allowing livestock to directly consume the growing forage, gasses, legumes, and forbs in an open plain, valley or hilly places.

Animal rearing which is a type of farming, is dated back to thousands of years immediately after the creation of earth and its dwellers. Biblical history revealed notable ancient beings who were involved in livestock rearing and how they feed them through grazing. The first individual was Abel, his profession was described as “ a keeper of sheep”.

There is a record of how the servants of Abraham and Lot engaged in arguments over grazing land which led to separation between the two brothers.  Moses encountered God while in a bush grazing flocks; he kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law which he reportedly led to the backside of the desert when the angel of the Lord appeared to him.  Jacob was also involved in grazing of sheep; David was said to be supervising his father’s flock on the field when Prophet Samuel visited his father to anoint a king for the Israelite. These and many more are instances of how ancient grazing is, in the history of mankind.

Today, report says livestock grazing is being practiced across 43% of Africa’s total land area, across diverse regions, spanning 36 countries from the Sahelian West to the range lands of Eastern Africa, the Horn, and even the nomadic communities of Southern Africa. It is estimated that around 268 million pastoralists (around one fifth of the African population) engage in this form of agriculture (FAO, 2018; Konczacki, 2014).

There are so many problems associated with grazing in the environment where it is being practiced; and these problems are as old as the profession itself. The problems include, deforestation. Much grazing land has resulted from clearance or drainage of other habitats such as woodland or wetland. Cows destroy native vegetation, damage soils and stream banks, and contaminate waterways with fecal waste.

The extent of the damage done to grazing lands was testified to in the Bible when God instructed the Israelite on how an individual whose vineyard of field was eaten by another man’s flocks should be compensated in Exodus 22:5. He (God) went further in another chapter of the Bible to recognize that lands need rest from grazing, when he instructed His people to allow grazing lands to rest for a year.

The level of affront displayed by the Fulani herdsmen who pasture their herds on people’s farm, resulting to deadly attacks, has compelled some states governments to enact anti-open grazing law in Nigeria.

 The administration of former President Buhari gave rise to plethora of confrontation between herdsmen and farmers across Nigeria, especially in the southwest states, and some northern states. Lots of farmers were maimed and killed by the herdsmen who confronted them about the destruction of their farmlands. These nomadic herdsmen perpetrated so much evil ranging from killing of farmers, raping, and kidnapping.

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There were high level of herdsmen invasion to people’s farmlands to graze, destroying crops which led to self-defense by the victims.

The recent attack happened in April 28, 2024 when four people were reportedly killed by herders who invaded Nimbo community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu state. In March 2023, 50 persons were reportedly killed by the Fulani herdsmen in the Kwande Local Government Area of Benue State. That same month, 10 persons were killed in Kaduna state.

Between 2016 and 2022, the herders-farmers conflict deteriorated and invited international attention. The extent of the damage done to innocent farmers’ , attracted the intervention of the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, UNTFHS.

The UN agency affirmed that drought and desertification in the north forced pastoralist herdsmen to seek grazing lands further south resulting in competition over resources and clashes with settled farmers.

A delegate of the UNTFHS intervened by executing a project tagged “Addressing the herdsmen-Farmers conflict in Nigeria between October 2018 to April 2022. The intervention was aimed at finding an end to the conflict. The UN agency affirmed that the conflict undermined food security, permitted the proliferation of small arms, displace large numbers of people, and divert resources meant for development. It was noted by the UNTFHS that vulnerable groups such as women, children and youth, IDPs, and indigenous people are particularly affected.

In Ondo State, when the herdsmen’s confrontation and kidnapping cases became unbearable, the late Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN,CON, championed the establishment of the Southwest security network, codenamed AMOTEKUN in January 2020 to combat the herdsmen menace.

The northern part of the state witnessed many cases of herdsmen attacks. The residents of Ose Local Government and some parts of Akokoland were major victims of herdsmen invasion.

Killing of cows in Ondo as a revenge for destruction of farmlands

This ugly situation infuriated local authorities in Ondo State to the extent that they resorted to applying diabolical power to attack the herders in reprisals. One of such reprisals was the killing of about 40 cows by thunder when the herders grazed their cattle at the sacred hill in Ijare community, in 2019.

Also, another 22 cows mysteriously died in Akungba-Akoko in 2021. The cause of their death was attributed to poison. This indicated a secret response by the aggrieved farmers whose farmlands might have been destroyed by the herdsmen who grazed on them.

The success in establishing Amotekun almost suffered delay due to the resistance by the federal government through heads of security agencies who kicked against it. But the spirit of resilience and commitment demonstrated by Late Akeredolu to protect the lives and property of the residents of the State from herders attack, made the struggle for the local security outfit a successful one, even though the Federal government prohibit the personnel from using sophisticated weapons.

 *Establishment of ranches as a way out*

Open grazing used to be a problem globally, including America.  A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), stated that Grazing occupies 26 percent of Earth’s terrestrial surface. It was reported that expansion of grazing land for livestock is also a leading cause of deforestation, especially in Latin America. In the Amazon basin alone, about 70 percent of previously forested land was said to be used for pasture.

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According to the Center for Biological Diversity, extensive grazing of livestock in the arid lands of the southwestern United States has many negative impacts on the local biodiversity there.

There are different systems of feeding cattle in animal husbandry. For pastured animals, grass is usually the forage that composes the majority of their diet. In turn, this grass-fed approach is known for producing meat with distinct flavor profiles.

Cattle reared in feedlots are fed with hay supplemented with grain, soy and other ingredients to increase the energy density of the feed.

The debate is whether cattle should be raised on fodder primarily composed of grass or a concentrate. The issue is complicated by the political interests and confusion between labels such as “free range”, “organic”, or “natural”.

Cattle raised on a primarily foraged diet are termed grass-fed or pasture-raised; for example meat or milk may be called grass-fed beef or pasture-raised dairy.

Part of the measures put in place in America was the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934, which formally set out the federal government’s powers and policy on grazing federal lands in the Western United States by establishing the Division of Grazing and procedures for issuing permits to graze federal lands for a fixed period of time.

 The Division of Grazing was renamed the US Grazing Service in 1939 and then merged in 1946 with the General Land Office to become the Bureau of Land Management, which along with the United States Forest Service oversees public lands grazing in 16 western states today.

 However, grazing was never established as a legal right in the U.S., and the Taylor Grazing Act authorized only the permitted use of lands designated as available for livestock grazing while specifying that grazing permits “convey no right, title, or interest” to such lands.

Although the regulations stipulated by the Taylor Grazing Act applied only to grazing on Bureau of Land Management lands, the Chief of the Forest Service is authorized to permit or suspend grazing on Forest Service administered property, and many Forest Service grazing regulations resemble those of the Taylor Grazing Act.

Therefore, the invasion of these nomadic herdsmen into the government reserved forests and individuals’ farmlands is a global experience but which demands specific regulations by the local authorities, as witnessed by the United States’ stipulated procedures to contain their excesses.

Consequent upon the spate of the herders-farmers conflict, few States in Nigeria advocated establishment of cattle ranches. Some states’ houses of Assembly enacted anti-open grazing law, probably they were motivated to take such step having realized that they were grievously affected without assistance from the Central government, which, before now, had a Fulani man as the Supreme head. The quietness and lack of political will to salvage the situation demonstrated by the then national leader, aggravated the annoyance of the states’ governments to take the bull by the horn.

Specifically, starting in 2016, 13 Nigerian states (Ekiti, Edo, Benue, Taraba, Abia, Bayelsa, Rivers, Ondo, Lagos, Delta, Enugu, Osun, Ogun) enacted what are known as “Anti-Open Grazing Laws” (AOGLs), commonly referred to as “grazing bans”. These laws aim to reduce clashes over fertile land resources by prohibiting livestock from grazing in certain areas, particularly during specified periods, to allow for the regeneration of grassland or prevent damage to Horn.

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The enactment of this Law generated a lot of controversy, particularly from the Fulani herdsmen who perceived the legislation as encroaching on their constitutional rights, such as freedom of movement across Nigeria and the right to own movable property in the Federation of Nigeria.

 The controversy reached the peak when the Federal Government came up with a proposal to establish colonies or Ruga settlements in some states of the Federation.

Worried by this proposal, the Benue State Government challenged the Federal government in Court to determine the legality and constitutionality of the Anti-Open Grazing Law and the propriety of the Federal Government proposal to set up Ruga settlements and colonies in the state. The Ruga settlement decision by the federal government was assumed to be a form of encouragement to the herders.

The passage of this law attracted different opinions from members of the public concerning its constitutionality and legality. Some were concerned that whether or not some of the provisions of the legislation have infracted on some of the Fulani herders fundamental rights, such as freedom to move freely across Nigeria.

Animal scientists have, however, said there are peaceful ways to graze herds of cattle without destroying other people’s farmlands or polluting the major highways with fecal waste.

In his reaction on how to curb open grazing, an animal scientist Mr. Oluwagbamila Odunayo, identified three grazing systems which include ,intensive, extensive and semi-intensive grazing.

According to him, intensive system of practice entails that the Cattles are reared in a close system where they are not allowed to graze by themselves in which Forages such as Grass and legumes are being served to them at a spot, but described the system as very expensive to manage.

He noted that Extensive system also known as OPEN GRAZING is when the Cattles are allowed to roam about grazing the pastures.

“It is also referred to as ZERO GRAZING because the animals are allowed to graze down the pasture completely. Semi intensive system is more like the Extensive system, but the animals are only allowed to graze in a particular area called a (Paddock) by themselves but with grazing systems such as: Rotational grazing where the Paddock are being divided into different number of sections depending on how large the area of Land is. When cattle graze on section At first week, they are moved to the next Paddock to avoid over grazing and allow fresh grasses and legumes to grow before they begin again with the first Paddock, and also to prevent disease infection in farm animals.

He, however decried the nonchalant attitude of cattle owners towards adopting better system of practice, noting that the herders were just being engaged based on employment to graze the cattle while the owners who are mostly political leaders didn’t bother about how and where they feed their Cattles.

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