Summary: Nigeria has 22 million cows that consume about 1 billion gallons per day of water and 500 million kilograms of grass and forage crops. The stock value of Nigeria’s cattle population is about N3.4 trillion or $16.2 billion at N150,000 per head.

The intensification of the Boko Haram crisis in the last five years has caused nomadic Fulani herdsmen to abandon their foraging grounds in the North East

Climate change has caused desertification in the far north, and has led to extended drought and an estimated 20% drop in crop yields across the rest of Nigeria.

The combination of a growing cattle population, the effects of climate change on the availability of water and forage crops, as well as the lack of access to North Eastern foraging grounds due to the Boko Haram crisis are the proximate causes of the increasing tensions between farming communities and Fulani herdsmen.

Solutions that have been proposed in a grazing bill that focuses only on appropriating grazing lands and stock reserves will lead to an intensification of conflicts. Others have suggested that Fulani herdsmen should be provided with ranches by willing governments at the state and local government level. The debates so far have been waged on an emotive and geopolitical basis, with little consideration for the basic math of what resource requirements will be needed to support 20 million cows – that will continue to grow at about 2% per year.

We demonstrate in this policy brief, that the scale of the water and foraging requirements for tens of millions of cattle are beyond the capacity of the resources available from appropriating grazing reserves or providing ranches to Fulani herdsmen with little knowledge of ranch-style farming.

An alternative framework that aims at an economically, ecologically and politically sustainable solution is proposed in this policy brief.

For a sustainable, market driven solution, we recommend the creation of 2.5 million acres of ranches across five hydrological zones in the country for all of Nigeria’s cattle stock. Funding for the sites will come from an initial land deed by the government worth an estimated $1.3 billion at N100,000 per acre.  The ranches will be broken up into allotments that aggregate multiple acres. A market will then be established for the purchase of the allotments by private sector participants. Targeted governmental investments will be required to get the ranches online as quickly as possible.

About 60 billion gallons of water will be required per day for the cattle and the growing of grass and forage crops. About 500 MW of power will be required across the 5 ranch sites for supporting irrigation requirements. About 700 MW of power can be generated from the cattle waste using anaerobic digesters. An additional 40 million metric tons of organic fertilizer can be generated from the stabilized solid waste from the digesters.

Up to 250,000 direct jobs can be created across the ranch sites. The herdsmen will be required to pay a herd tax of about N1,000 per head of cattle per annum (~N3 per day) to access the ranch sites. This corresponds to about 10% of the $ 1 billion value gained from the 1.3 million cows slaughtered annually in Nigeria.

Direct annual revenues of about $3 Billion are estimated from across the ranches, comprising of incomes from beef, organic fertilizer and about 200 MW net power exports. This does not include enhanced value from milk & dairy, leather tannery activities and other auxiliary activities.


The Agriculture Minister recently announced the results of the 2011 Agricultural Sample Survey which indicated that Nigeria had 19.5 million cows as of 2011. Based on prior data showing that Nigeria’s cattle stock in 1975 was about 9.3 million head, a growth rate of about 2.1% per annum can be inferred.  This puts the 2016 population of Nigerian cows at about 22 million cows.

The average cow drinks about 30-40 gallons of water per day, and consumes as much as 20-30 kg of hay or forage crops. This implies that Nigeria’s cows require about 1 billion gallons of water, and 500,000 metric tons (i.e., 500 million kilograms) of hay and forage products on a daily basis. Since there are no commercial ranching operations in Nigeria, these significant nutritional needs are met through nomadic foraging activities by Fulani herdsmen who roam the country with their cattle, following natural water ways and foraging reserves.

About 1.3 million cows are slaughtered annually to provide a portion of the meat for Nigeria’s population of about 170 million people. Nigeria’s cattle provide about 30% of our meat consumption and are therefore a critical and important part of assuring Nigeria’s food security.

Although Nigeria’s cattle are a key part of its food security, events that have occurred over the last 5 years have strained the relationships between nomadic herdsmen and the communities situated on the grazing routes followed by the herdsmen. Nigeria’s cattle population have been the cause of intensifying insecurity and gruesome conflicts.

Why is it that a practice that has existed for hundreds of years, with few conflicts, has now become a live wire issue that is pitting many southern communities against the Fulani? One obvious cause is the growing population of Nigeria’s cattle population. From about 9 million heads of cattle in 1975, Nigeria’s cows are now about 25 million, and are on pace to reach about 60 million by 2050. It is unconscionable that the provision of food and water to such massive numbers of animals should continue to be left to the unpredictable lottery of nomadic foraging.

While there have been many heated debates on the issue, we have observed very limited discussions on the root cause of the crisis. In our view, without understanding the root cause of the problems, a lasting solution will be impossible to find. This policy brief is our contribution to the debate. It is evidence based – meaning that it is stripped of all opinion. Whatever recommendations we make, are informed by a detailed techno-economic analysis of the causal factors that have led to the crisis, and a comprehensive evaluation of the most practical solutions available. 

The Effects of Climate Change & the Boko Haram Crisis on the Fulani – Herdsmen Crisis

Our studies indicate that the root causes of the conflicts stem from two events that have combined to exacerbate the resource challenges imposed by Nigeria’s bourgeoning cattle population. These events are climate change and the Boko Haram crisis.

For decades, climate change has slowly changed the landscape of Northern Nigeria. Much of the far north has been inundated by desertification. The northern tip of the foraging grounds of Nigeria’s cattle have disappeared. Watering grounds are disappearing. Lake Chad, once a massive oasis in the North Eastern tip of Nigeria has lost 95% of its volume over the last 50 years.

The impact of climate change is not limited to northern Nigeria. Across the country, communities are dealing with extended droughts, reduction in water reserves and reduced crop yields. The most recent data available suggests there has been as much as a 20% reduction in crop yields in Nigeria; and this can be attributed to climate change largely due to the slow adaptation of mostly subsistence based farming practices to profound changes in climate. Nigeria’s dams and rivers are at the lowest levels they have been in years – with significant implications for hydropower generation. 

For the last 5 years, the Boko Haram crisis has had a profound impact on northern Nigeria, specifically the North Eastern states of Bauchi, Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Adamawa and Taraba. As the sect rampaged through the North East, it decimated communities and spread insecurity across the region.  Cattle rustling increased, millions of people were displaced from their communities, farm lands were abandoned, and a land mass that is almost 15% of Nigeria, has essentially become a no – go area for nomadic herdsmen. The North Eastern region of Nigeria has some of the richest foraging stock in the country – and much of that is no longer available for use – because of the Boko Haram crisis.

The impact has been a downward, southwards movement by nomadic Fulani herdsmen as they move in search of water and foraging resources for their cows. This has led to intensification of resource pressures on north central and southern communities, culminating in violent struggles that have led to an estimated 8,000 deaths since 2005. Indiscriminate cattle grazing has also contributed to the destruction of vegetation and wildlife habitats, and led to the pollution of farms, rivers and waterways with cattle manure across many communities. Communities have experienced ecological and economic devastation as a result of this crisis.

Why A Grazing Bill Will Not Resolve Farmer – Herdsmen Conflicts

The enactment of a grazing act has been proposed as a means for reducing tensions between herdsmen and host communities by creating established zones in different communities that will be exclusive to, and/or readily accessible by, nomadic herdsmen and their cattle.

Much of the discussion on a grazing bill has focused on the elements of a 2008 bill sponsored by Senator Zainab Kure  and further expatiated in recent public discourse. The proposal has the following provisions: 1). The establishment of a national grazing reserve commission, 2). Appropriation of lands across different zones of the country to be designated as grazing reserve and stock routes, and 3). Conserving and preserving of the national grazing reserve and stock route for the benefit of nomadic cattle herds.

The proponents of a national grazing bill, should be commended for offering what has so far turned out to be the most detailed proposal put forward for resolving the crisis. However, it is our view that the ideas that underpin the grazing reserve and stock route bill  are unlikely to lead to the anticipated outcome of resolving conflict between herdsmen and the communities through which they travel for five reasons;

Firstly, it does not address the root cause of the problem – which is the pressure on water and foliage resources due to a trifecta of problems, namely – the bourgeoning cattle population, the debilitating effects of climate change and the increased levels of insecurity caused by the Boko Haram insurgency.
Secondly, since the appropriated lands will have to be proximate to water resources to ensure that the 1 billion gallon per day water needs of the cows are met, communities that the lands are taken from will be cut off from critical water reserves, thereby exacerbating pressures on already strained water reserves.

Thirdly, it will necessarily take some of the most fertile and arable lands away from farming communities, since such lands also happen to be those that are most readily stocked by plants and grass that cattle forage upon.
Fourthly, such grazing reserves will limit cattle to a footprint that is much smaller than they currently forage, intensifying pressures on the reserves, without a concerted commercially viable means for effecting the restocking of the grass and water resources along the routes.

Fifthly, by drawing a line between the grazing reserves and host communities, an adversarial mentality is perpetuated, worsening tensions and reducing opportunities for cooperative and constructive engagement.

Recommended Policy Alternatives – Turning Crisis into Opportunity

We propose a number of policy initiatives that we believe will be effective in providing a lasting solution to the crisis. The proposed policy actions are informed by the following aims:

Develop a sustainable strategy for providing the water and plant-based food requirements to support current and future populations of cattle using a 30-year planning horizon
Support the creation of about 250,000 to 500,000 direct jobs
Support a circular economy by utilizing the fecal and urinal waste (manure) to generate about 700 MW of power and 50 million tons of marketable organic fertilizer per year
Effectively manage conflicts by turning hitherto sworn enemies into stakeholders who can mutually provide value to one other

Policy action 1: Establish 5 large ranch sites in 5 hydrological zones on 2.5 million acres of land

We propose the establishment of 5 ranches to support all of Nigeria’s cattle population. These ranches will be proximate to water and land resources, and will be sited in 5 major hydrological areas of the country, namely: Niger Central (Area 2), Upper Benue (Area 3), Lower Benue (Area 4), Niger South (Area 5) and Western Littoral (Area 6) (see hydrological map of Nigeria in Figure 1). The 5 ranches will cover 2.5 million acres of land, allowing for about 10 cows to be supported per acre at inception.

A centralized inventory of balers, tractors, water treatment, irrigation, pumping, human and veterinary health facilities, as well as milk processing and leather tanning facilities will be made available across the ranch sites.

In order to ensure that the right crop types are farmed on each allotment, extensive agronomic expertise will be required through onsite research and extension support.  The research and extension support required at each ranch site should be provided by existing, proximate state and federal agricultural institutions and research centers in each of the zones.

Policy action 2: Include Private Sector Participation & job creation plan for 250,000 to 500,000 direct workers

The ranches will be broken up into allotments. For instance at 10 acre allotments, there will be 250,000 such allotments across the 2.5 million acres. A minimum of 1 - 2 workers will be required per 10 acre lot, leading to employment opportunities for about 250,000 to 500,000 workers. The workers will be responsible for the collection of manure and urinal waste, tending of hay and forage crops, baling of hay products, management of water on the lot as well as the irrigation of crops.

Private sector participants can bid for the allotments, and should be allowed to aggregate individual allotments into larger holdings. The government’s program for supporting unemployed youth with stipends of N 5,000 per month can be rolled into this initiative by using the funds as seed money for allotment purchases, or as support for a portion of the salaries of the workers.

As the facilities become more mechanized over time, the number of workers required will be reduced. However, at the outset, we recommend a deliberate plan to utilize the ranches to support the government’s jobs development plan. In addition to the direct management of the ranches, auxiliary jobs will emerge for the provision of social, educational, health care, nutritional and home construction & maintenance services for the workers and their families. The eventual population to be supported by the ranches is expected to come to about 1-2 million, including the direct and indirect workers, and their families.

Policy action 3: Develop sustainable plan for the consumption of 60 – 100 billion gallons of water per day

Ranch style activities require water for 2 main uses – meeting the water needs of the animals and tending to grass and crops. A proportionately smaller but higher quality water demand of about 20-100 million gallons per day of water will be required by the approximately 1 to 2 million persons that will live in the ranch areas, to support domestic and industrial use.

As earlier indicated, the water needs of the cattle themselves should come to about 1 billion gallons of water per day. A further 70 billion gallons of water will be required daily for supporting grass and cash food cropping on the ranches. Proximity to massive water sources should make access to the water easy. The sustainability challenge is in ensuring that the wastewater that is generated, which will be mixed in with urinal waste and cow dung, can be sustainability restored to the water cycle, ensuring that communities proximate to the farming operations are not adversely affected and assuring the long term viability of the water resources.

We expect that about 15% of the water needs can potentially be met from about 50 inches of rainfall per year normally expected in this region of Nigeria. This reduces the net water need to about 60 billion gallons per day. On-site water treatment facilities will also be needed, to treat source water for a population of about 1 million persons (workers and their families) that are expected on these ranch sites.

Policy action 4: Develop plan for sustainable on-site power generation of about 800 MW to support ranches and auxiliary industries

Moving 60 billion gallons of water per day and supporting a population of about 1-2 million people requires massive amounts of power for the pumps and conveyance structures that will move the water. Similarly, the abattoirs and cold storage systems that will store and process meat will also need reliable and stable power

Using digester technology that uses manure as a raw material, about 40 million m3 of biogas can be generated, which can yield about 700 MW of power. If the onsite power need estimated at about 500 MW are addressed, there is a net power export capacity of 200 MW. At an estimated N22/kWh tariff, the potential value to be obtained from exporting power comes to about $190 million per year.

The policy initiative should incentivize renewable energy generation using manure. The supervisory commission should be required to engage biogas firms and negotiate Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT) contracts, in which the biogas firms invest their own capital in return for long term operating contracts. After the contractual period, the Biogas digester and generating assets become the property of the Nigerian government and/or the private entities that operate the ranches. Government will be required to commit to making the operational payments for the BOOT contracts, and replenish this with the collection of rents and returns from power exports.

Policy action 5: Develop plan for an organic fertilizer industry based on the use of cattle manure

The digestion of manure yields a safe, stabilized product rich in Nitrogen and Phosphorus – two key elements that are included in fertilizer products. We estimate that about 40 million tons of organic fertilizer per annum can be generated across all the ranch sites.

Current fertilizer costs in Nigeria are about $400-500 per ton. If the stabilized organic fertilizer from the ranches are sold at a paltry $50/ton as a low grade fertilizer, this would come to about $ 2.1 billion per year in value – reducing forex pressures for fertilizer imports.

The policy initiative should include enabling incentives that will facilitate the development of a robust organic fertilizer industry based on the use of manure.

Policy action 6: Sustainable financing for the ranches using Public & Private Venture Partnerships

At an estimated N 150,000 per cow, the capital stock value of Nigeria’s 22 million cows is about $ 16.2 billion. The Biogas & Energy generation opportunity of about 700 MW, will require about $2 Billion in capital investment for the construction of digesters and the accompanying power generation infrastructure, at an estimated cost of about $3 Million per MW capacity. The land value of the 2.5 million acres of land for the ranches is valued at about $1.3 billion at an estimated price of N100,000 per acre.

For sustainability, a significant portion of the financing of the operations should require contributions from the herdsmen.  As earlier indicated, about 1.3 million cows are consumed annually in Nigeria, yielding about N200 billion ($1 billion) of value. The herdsmen should be taxed to pay a portion of the services being provided to them. At a direct taxation of 10% of the value of the animals that are slaughtered each year, the direct taxation amount should come to about $100 million per annum.

Rather than imposing a slaughter tax, which might be difficult to collect, we recommend that the government simply establish a herd tax that will be set to ensure that a minimum value of $100 million is collected. This herd fee corresponds to about $5 per cow per year i.e., N1,000 per head per annum. 

  Malcolm Fabiyi




This paper represents a brief overview of the elements required in any policy that is aimed at developing a sustainable plan for resolving the herdsmen – farmer conflicts.  Much more work needs to be done to establish the details of the financing requirements for the ranches, quantify the ecological impact across the 5 ranch sites, locate the ideal sites for the ranches, identify accessible surface and groundwater sources in the ranch zones, determine the mix of manual and mechanized labor required for a 21st century ranch enterprise while balancing the need for generating employment. 

Getting this right is critical. Nigeria’s cattle are an essential part of securing Nigeria’s food security. The 19th century farming practices that the Fulani herdsmen rely on can no longer be sustained. It is the duty of the Nigerian government to midwife this transition from pastoralism to mechanized and commercial ranching.  By addressing this crisis head on, Nigeria will be unlocking immense opportunity as well. There is a lot of untapped value that can be unlocked.


About the authors

Dr Malcolm Fabiyi & Dr Adeleke Otunuga are coordinators of Governance Advancement Initiative for Nigeria (GAIN), a group committed to enhancing the quality of public & corporate governance, political discourse and policy making in Nigeria, through evidence-based research. Any inquiries regarding this survey should be directed to [email protected]   

You may also like

Read Next

Trending Now