Properly managed livestock – key to climate change, desertification – Allan Savory, Zimbabwean ecologist and land management expert
Says: Farmers/herders need one another
Farmers/pastoralists conflicts in Nigeria will not end unless••
CR government pioneers unique solution

By Ebele Orakpo

APART from unrelenting Boko Haram terrorists’ attacks, Nigeria and Nigerians have in recent years continued to witness unconscionable  destruction of lives and property through frequent herdsmen and farmers clashes. Indeed, what initially began as intermittent but innocuous quarrels between farmers and herdsmen over land and grazing routes soon escalated into bloody clashes. The clashes first began in the Middle Belt states of Plateau and Benue before spreading to neighbouring states of Adamawa, Nasarawa and Taraba and later to the Southern part of the country.

With the Federal Government very slow in its response, the crisis quickly assumed dangerous religious and ethnic dimensions, given that most of the herders are from the traditionally nomadic and Muslim Fulani who make up about 90 per cent of Nigeria’s pastoralists, while most of the farmers are Christians of various ethnic groups. By this time, the herdsmen began to be seen armed with very sophisticated assault weapons, especially the dreaded AK-47 guns, with which they reportedly attacked several communities opposed to them using farmlands as grazing routes. Apart from that, thousands of lives have been lost on account of these attacks and hundreds of thousands of individuals displaced, with most of them living in internally displaced persons, IDPs, camps. It is estimated that over 400,000 persons have fled their homes since 2018 when the violence escalated.

Meantime, as if that is not enough, AK-47-toting herdsmen have also recently been implicated in several criminal cases of kidnapping and murder. This development led to their being ordered to leave the various forests in the South-West with their cattle or face forceful eviction, with  a Yoruba freedom activist, Sunday Adeniyi Adeyemo, popularly known as Sunday Igboho, already very active in enforcing the order.

Also adding to the unfolding tragic drama, some states in the country have enacted and are operating anti-grazing laws to deter herdsmen from open grazing of cattle in their territories. These developments have left the country in a state of tension that threatens its unity and continued existence. But the belief in certain quarters is that the best way to keep the country away from the precipice it is presently headed is to quickly resolve the continuing farmers/herders imbroglio.

With the benefit of sober reflection and thinking, some individuals and groups have come to the conclusion that the best way to tackle the problem is to look at its root. For instance, the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, NIREC, under the joint leadership of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, and the President, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Rev. Samson Ayokunle, recently attributed the herdsmen and farmers crises in the country to climate change. While acknowledging other contributory factors, they pointedly blamed poor vegetation caused by global warming as a major cause of the problem.

“The fact that herdsmen and farmers are clashing over vegetation can be directly or indirectly linked to climate change. The indiscriminate felling of trees without replanting, illegal mining, etc., are all part of man’s activities that are taking a toll on the environment. The impact of these activities resulting in climate change, has given birth to high exposure to heat stress and ultraviolet radiation, the absence of clean air, a shortage of potable water, desertification, unpredictable weather, etc.

Our lands are polluted due to improper or lack of available dump site for domestic wastes and wrongful or excessive use of agro-allied chemicals; our waters are polluted by direct dumping of refuse in the water or waterways thus causing blockage of such waterways which results to flooding and contamination of water; crude oil drilling activities of the oil-producing states are another aspect of water pollution. Improper chemical waste disposal by industries is also not left out of this” they said in a press statement.

Empirical study of the problem: Between climate change and population growth

Indeed, many experts have before now fingered desert encroachment, unpredictable weather conditions, unprecedented sea level rise, rapid population growth, unsustainable agricultural practices and flooding as some of the causes of the incessant herders/farmers clashes in Nigeria. At the 2019 Environmental Sustainability Summit with theme: Let’s Save the Earth, held at the American University of Nigeria, AUN, Yola, one of the speakers, Mrs Jennifer Che, a former Instructor at AUN and former Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability who spoke on Climate Change and Adaptation – A lost course or Joint Course?, noted that climate change is upon us. She said if we don’t change the way things are done, by 2050 the world population would be 9.7 billion and Nigeria’s population, currently put at 200 million, will double.

“If you think Lagos is tight now, wait for another 29 years,” she said, adding: “If we don’t do anything now, with another sea level rise of 1.5m minimum and desert encroachment in the North, we may no longer have land to farm; so what happens? People in the Southern part of Nigeria will be forced to move towards the Middle Belt because of sea level rise and those in the North will move to the Middle Belt due to desert encroachment; that will be disastrous!” In February 2015, hundreds of hectares of farmland belonging to individuals, corporate organisations and farmers associations in Okaka Town, Oyo State, were destroyed by cattle.

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Speaking with Vanguard, CEO of Livingstone Mega Industries Limited, Iseyin, Oyo State, Mr. Nwachinemere Emeka who lost over four hectares of cassava farm, said the level of destruction left in the wake of the grazing was more than had been witnessed in a long time. He said they lost about 200 hectares of cassava on the whole. To protect their farms from being grazed, some farmers decided to take action by spraying DDT (Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) on their farms and 45 cattle died of poisoning. This, of course created acrimony between the villagers and herdsmen who vowed to retaliate. The farmers are aggrieved that when their farms are destroyed and they report to the authorities, no one is brought to book; so they seek means of protecting themselves. This same scenario plays out in all parts of the country and there is need for urgent solution.  

Genesis of  the problem

While the farmers/herders clashes continue, the pastoralists insist that their grazing routes have been taken over by farmers and buildings, hence in their movement through previously marked grazing routes, they encounter farmlands and the cattle eat up the crops resulting in the fight with farm owners. Responding to the challenge, the Federal Government decided it would be better to go back to the grazing routes, but unfortunately, that seems impossible as most of the areas have been opened up for development and taken over by structures.

Some experts suggested ranching, saying that in the 21st  Century, it is no longer practicable/profitable for pastoralists to continue their trade in the old way of trekking hundreds of kilometres with their cattle to find pasture. But many pastoralists would not hear of that. At the same time many people are strongly against government using public funds to build ranches for herdsmen, who are private business people. They argued that if they did that, then they should fund farmers and other businesses too for equity.

While rejecting the suggestion, a pastoralist told this reporter that their cattle cannot survive in ranches because they are not meant to stay in one place for long; they need to be constantly on the move in order to survive. Perhaps buying into this sentiment, the Federal Government had proposed the setting up of cattle colonies in each of the states for cattle owners. But it was overwhelmingly condemned by Nigerians. From cattle colonies, the Federal Government proposed the introduction of rural grazing area, Ruga (herders/cattle settlements), in states. However, the opposition was so much that government had to put the idea on hold. Meanwhile, the clashes, destructions and killings continue to make the headlines as desertification, flooding, erosion continue unabated.

Herdsmen feel marginalised: Speaking on the issue of herders/farmers clashes, Alhaji Bello Maigari, secretary of the Amansea Cattle Market in Anambra State said: “Most of the time when an incident happens in an area, the Boko Haram terrorists may use the opportunity to kill innocent people. It happens everywhere, the evil people always exploit opportunities to perpetrate evil.

“Another thing is population explosion. For instance, when I came to Awka in 1986, there were some areas that cows were allowed to graze but now, if you go to those areas, they have been built up and there is no way you can stop people from building houses. You know, if a Fulani man is keeping his cows in a place and then returns and finds nowhere to keep his cows, it becomes an issue. Most of the time, although some of these places are not farmlands and no houses, just forest, yet, the herders would not be allowed to graze their cattle. So the herdsmen feel they do not belong to this country. You know cows cannot stay in one place. If, for instance, they stay in a place for one month, at most three months, in the next three or four months, they must move to another place.”

Scarcity of land: Looking at all the issues – climate change, desertification, sea level rise etc., all lead to scarcity of land and consequently fuel clashes between herders and farmers as they jostle for limited land. However, Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean ecologist, president and co-founder of the Savory Institute and a livestock farmer looks at the whole issue from a different perspective. He believes that both herders and farmers actually need each other to survive and the land actually needs livestock to heal. The only way to actualise these, he says, is to tackle the root cause of desertification and climate change which is unsustainable land management.

In an online chat with Vanguard, Savory speaks on the Holistic Management method which he developed. “To solve any problem, common sense informs us that it is essential to address the cause of the problem. If we do not address the cause of desertification and climate change, we can guarantee failure. Ask almost anyone what causes desertification and climate change and you will be told livestock, coal and oil,” he said.

Savory noted that although livestock, coal and oil are seen as the problems but man cannot do without them as livestock are needed to feed and clothe people while coal and oil are fossil resources with large carbon molecules needed to produce many products for centuries to come. No resource can cause problem; what causes the problem is our burning of coal and oil and our management of livestock.”

Causes of the problem: Experts have blamed fossil fuel and livestock as the major causes of climate change and desertification. The Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO, had warned that instead of increasing livestock production to meet the world’s protein needs, alternatives should be sought like edible insects whose production is more environment-friendly.  They argued that increasing livestock production would mean increase in their faecal material and the faecal material produces  nitrous oxide which is a potent greenhouse gas that affects the climate negatively.

Corroborating Savory’s stance, President of US-based Reith Energy and Environmental Development and former Vice-President, Academic Affairs and Director of Sustainability, AUN, Prof. Charles Reith, said: “A lot of people think desertification is caused by global warming; global warming makes it worse but it is caused by unsustainable land use like cutting off wood for fuel and farming in a not-very-sustainable way, not rebuilding the soil you farm on and grazing every last bit of grass. All of this conflict is as a result of lack of basic knowledge on how to responsibly manage cattle over grazing areas or farm effectively using the allocated lands with greater productivity. In Yola, like in other places, the herdsmen graze pretty much anywhere they want, including right in the middle of town. They move their herds to whatever food is available,” said Reith.

Holistic management:  Allan Savory said in the early days, he had blamed livestock, coal and oil for desertification and climate change. At a point, he had advised the authorities to kill off the wildlife in order to stop desertification, but he was wrong and had to apologise when he realised the truth. He said: “During all my earlier work striving to first understand, and then remedy desertification in the 1950s and 60s, I was influenced by my education and societal beliefs and thus vilified livestock for causing desertification.

In 1957, I coined the term ‘game ranching’, trying to give wildlife a value so that we could get rid of livestock and reverse the land degradation that I incorrectly believed livestock were causing. It was humiliating to find, from my observations in the field, that I was wrong and have to back down and swallow all my words in public. It was a turning point in my life to suddenly understand that we, scientists, had no option but to learn how to manage livestock to mimic herds of old that were essential for the healthy functioning of grasslands and savannas.

Even a 100% reduction in the use of fossil fuels will not prevent continued climate change due to desertification in the grasslands and soil destruction by industrial crop production.”

Desert reclamation: Savory said he developed the holistic management method to halt desertification and its attendant impoverishment of the masses, noting that with this method, deserts can be reclaimed. In holistic management  method, livestock grazing is planned in such a way as to enable pastoralists simulate the effects wild herds once produced on the land. But more than grazing, planning had to change in order to transform whole landscapes and keep them healthy.”

Holistic management restores grassland: “Holistic management restores grasslands and healthy grasslands lead to carbon sequestration, drought resilience, food security and financially viable communities. I believe the solution to these pressing world issues is that management of our land, livestock and people must be holistic. Livestock is not the problem but how those livestock are managed, and the management must change,” said Savory.

Grassland minus grazing — Desert

Savory says from his research over the years, he has come to establish the fact that if grasslands are not grazed by livestock, they turn to desert. He said he has been able to reverse desertification by raising the number of cattle and goats by 400%, grazing them intensively for short periods in small paddocks and then moving them on. By this means, “the hooves of the animals break up the cancer of desertification, the crust of algae that forms on bare soil in dry areas. Breaking it up encourages the growth of grass. By trampling vegetation and coating it with manure, the livestock produce mulch that ensures the soil absorbs and retains more water.”

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Explaining this method further, Prof. Reith, said: “This method of grazing cattle that was developed in Zimbabwe called Management Intense Grazing, involves a really wise use of land where the cattle are kept in discreet areas and are managed with solar wires in a way that they would never go into the farms. They are like little electric wires with solar panel; so if a cow bumps up against it, the cow gets a little shock and learns to recognise that wire and stay within the bounds. So a Fulani shepherd can learn how to lift his stick, walk a 100 feet and put it down so the cattle will be confined in the paddock until they have eaten everything, even the unpalatable weeds. Plus they will have churned up the soil and fertilised and dampened it with their droppings. This will be the perfect environment for the roots of the desirable grasses to re-sprout. However, it is important by the time they re-sprout; the cattle need to have been ushered into a new paddock so the grass will have plenty of time to re-establish. Months later, the cattle will be reintroduced to that paddock, where they will find plenty to eat and will repeat the same cycle.”

Getting back to pre-industrial levels

“We can take enough carbon out of the atmosphere and safely store it in the grassland soils for thousands of years, and if we just do that on about half the world’s grasslands, we can take us back to pre-industrial levels while feeding people. I can think of almost nothing that offers more hope for our planet…and all of humanity,” said Savory.

Holistic management fights desertification, reverses climate change: “Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert and it’s happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos,” said Savory. People had always blamed livestock/pastoralists for desertification and climate change had long been blamed for creating deserts, but Savory said it was how those livestock were managed that was the problem, and so the management has to change.

CR governor pioneers unique solution

Interestingly, the Cross River State Government says it has found a unique solution to the incessant clashes between farmers and herders in Nigeria through the cultivation of a special grass for cattle grazing. According to the state governor, Prof. Ben Ayade: “The grass is a special pasture that grows more than two metres within 45 days of planting and once it is cut, it regenerates even faster. So, within a small landmass you can keep your cattle and grow this special grass and feed them. Cross River is pioneering the production of the grass in collaboration with technical partners from Cambodia in furtherance of our administration’s multi-faceted Agro-Industrialisation drive.

“Herders have a right to the source of their livelihood, so they move from place to place in search of pasture for their cattle, thus pitting them against farmers who also have the right to protect their crops. To put an end to this intractable conflict between these two groups, I have sought partnership with a team of experts from Cambodia and they are here with a special grass species called ‘king grass’.

“Herders stress their cattle by walking them through long distance, whereas they can keep them in a location and feed them with king grass which grows lusciously and luxuriously and contains high level of nutrients for the cow. This nutrients make cow healthy for consumption. The unique nature of the king grass lies in the fact that it has the capacity to grow under any climatic condition, having been successfully demonstrated in the three Senatorial zones of the state which have different climatic conditions.”

Stemming the tide:  Asked what can be done to stem the evil tide of farmers/herders clashes, Director of Marketing and Communications, Savory Global, Sarah Gleason said: “We do not believe, and science and reason do not tell us, that the continued desertification is a result of species. It is a result of ruminant (grazing) animals being removed from the land in arid, brittle climates, which breaks the healthy ecosystem process necessary for healthy soils and grasslands. Properly managed livestock is the key to ‘stemming the evil tide’! Not only are livestock, which are being properly managed, the key to desertification and climate change, but also to saving the social fabrics and way of life for so many people around the globe. This solution, of holistically managing livestock in a way that mimics the wild herds that once roamed the land, and careful monitoring, is the only contextually relevant solution.

Bobby Gill, Director of Development & Communications, Savory Institute said: “When you divorce grassland from grazer, you have broken the natural cycle and the land begins to die off.” Asked what Nigeria can do to stop the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers, Savory said: “Nigeria will never end the conflict with pastoralists, or oil companies till policies are developed holistically. Nigerians have visited our Africa Centre for Holistic Management in Zimbabwe but never did follow through.”

To win the war: The following issues have to receive attention if we are to win this war: The fact that global finance is driving environmental destruction and the fact that we can only act on a large scale through existing or new organisations/institutions. Savory is pained that Conference Of Parties and UN Sustainable Development Goals conferences are not discussing the underlying cause of desertification, dysfunctional institutions, or climate change.

“Having made what I believe is the unarguable point that it is management that is causing the climate emergency, I must also point out that it is this same management that is also the cause of most conflicts in the world, as well as the chaos and confusion over what actions institutional scientists should recommend to world leaders.”

“With 100% certainty,  it is  management causing global desertification and climate change  and all the many symptoms. When our experts and authorities inform us that climate change is caused by livestock, coal and oil, this is ‘proof by authority’ not by science. “If we accept that it is management that is causing desertification and climate change, then redoubling our efforts on the measures that address symptoms of desertification/mega-fire/climate destabilisation feedback loops, will guarantee suffering beyond imagination for future generations. If we don’t address the cause of either desertification or climate change,  then we can only continue destabilising our climate, ever more violent weather, rising seas, expanding deserts, social breakdown, violence, religious conflict, emigration across borders all culminating in the global collapse of civilisation as we know it. On the other hand, a demand for our institutions to change management and thus address the cause of desertification and climate change, offers hope,” Savory said.

In conclusion, Savory said: “It was my conclusion that only livestock properly managed could save civilization as we know it, and not Holistic Management itself, that led to half a century of institutional resistance, ridicule and abuse of my management ideas. Today, it is largely institutional vilification of livestock that underlies the media and celebrity vegan, artificial meat drive today.  Tragically, this public perception of livestock as necessarily deleterious has drowned the very idea of Holistic Management providing a way of managing complexity, something, independent of livestock, no scientist or institution has opposed.

Vanguard News Nigeria


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