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Grazing capacity as a function of regional socio-economic structure


(*) Werner Fricke: Director, Geographic Institute Heidelberg University, 69 Heidelberg, Grabengasse 6, W. Germany.

The economic approach to cattle husbandry
A classification of West African cattle breeders
Locational aspects of cattle husbandry
The influence of planning measurements


The vegetation of vast parts of West Africa is strongly influenced by man. Thus the grazing areas and their grazing capacity cannot be seen as absolutely fixed. Carrying capacity may be changed by many measures of grazing management, either in a traditional way, by bush fires, or scientifically, by sown pastures. Therefore the land use is dependent on the social and economic strength of the husbandman and his economic unit. The distance to the market is another important factor for the economic productivity of the herd. We can classify West African cattle husbandry in four main divisions. Each of them reacts in a different way to the possibilities of land management for cattle raising. Thus carrying capacity becomes a function of regional socioeconomic structure. This regional structure should be analysed on three different levels. These tiers determine the scale of mapping and the characteristics asked for; so mapping of grazing capacity implicates regional planning.


Mapping of grazing capacity is very often looked upon as a problem for biologists, pedologists, physiologists, and veterinary or agricultural departments. But we have to consider that all advice and conclusions drawn from this type of research in natural sciences have a very important economic aspect and must be seen in the context of the social structure and the economy of the respective region. Furthermore we know from the savanna and steppes zones of West Africa that the vegetation is strongly influenced by man (shifting cultivation, cutting of firewood, bush fire, etc.). Thus, the present appearence is only a passing "snapshot" of the dynamic interaction of man and his natural environment.

Corresponding to this, the carrying capacity can only be evaluated for a very short period of time, and it may be changed by every kind of management. In the case of ranching the intensity of management is dependent on the labour and capital available. This again is dependent on the output and profit of the herd, the social and political standing of the owner, and the location. The two latter aspects should be considered only within a regional structure. Thus mapping of grazing capacity should be seen as a first and important step to regional planning and should be carried out with all available knowledge of the given structure and the future possibilities of cattle husbandry, as well as any other line of production which can be undertaken within the regional socio-economic framework.

This is not a new aspect, as the excellent study of "The Land Resources of North East Nigeria", especially Vol. 4, "Present and Potential Land Use," by P.N. De Leeuw, A. Leslie and P. Tuley (4) has already shown. In comparison with the broad basic information on natural environment, physiogeography (Vole. 1-3) or rangeland capacity (Vol. 4, pp. 76-93), the parts dealing with cattle husbandry are rather brief. Special information is given about different types of seasonal migration (Vol. 4, pp. 11, 15, 51) and innovations like the Dairy Industry Project and the Bornu Ranch (p. 69). Though important basic information is presented, it cannot be considered sufficiently detailed for regional application and differentiation in the economic sector. This seems quite obvious, as I know from my own fieldwork in that area. More detailed data about the economic and social implications are not yet available (Fricke, 8, 9, 10).

The economic approach to cattle husbandry

As a first step toward a more economic approach to grazing carrying capacity, we have to look at quite a number of studies on governmental and university ranches in West Africa, where input and output have been measured for many years (**).

(**) A tour d'horizon for the Southern Guinea Savanna and Derived Savanna of West Africa has just been published by H. Ruthenberg (16).

From the regional aspect the results of these studies feed into a zonal or macroregional concept because they show the input-output balance of herds coming from different stock and different climatological zones; furthermore, these studies tested the different possibilities of ranching management as well as various means of fodder improvement. Further investigations in this field will lead to a more differentiated mesoregional concept and will end in the microregional delineation of the ecology of a natural site (Fig.1).

Unfortunately these rather sophisticated methods of herd and grazing management very often are hampered by the fact that their transfer to the traditional husbandman is not easy and is sometimes too expensive. Nevertheless the West African herdsman is more economically motivated than some government officials believe.

Our problem is that we have not enough knowledge about the internal economic conditions of the household units and their fitting into the regional framework of a different scale. In underlining economic behaviour we must still be aware of the importance of tradition, which sometimes manifests itself in an irrational way.

But where in industrial societies are we free from irrational behaviour? Our "economic man" was created by our economists; he does not really exist.

As far as I know, it was D.J. Stenning who first said that there must be "a minimum rational requirement and composition of the herd" (17, p. 172) to maintain the livelihood of a nomadic family. M. Dupire (1962, pp. 135-149) came to a similar conclusion.

Through the evaluation of slaughter figures and analyses of herd compositions according to age and sex, I showed the necessity of a more economic approach in order to explain traditional cattle husbandry in a micro- as well as a mesoregional context in Northern Nigeria (8).

P. Hill confirmed these findings for Ghana in her well-known "Studies in Rural Capitalism in West Africa" (13), as did R. Baker for Uganda (1). He has just published a stimulating paper which deals with the reasons for neglecting the economic aspects of traditional African cattle husbandry up to now.

A classification of West African cattle breeders

If we consider the herd or herds of one owner as one economic unit, we agree that he and his family have to rely on the productivity of this unit, or to supplement their livelihood by other economic activities. A typology based on this concept of cattle husbandry ranges from household units where cattle breeding is the sole source of income to farmers who keep cattle only as an additional source of income. A third basic group in this typology is characterised by non-agricultural activities, i.e. capital investment (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2

Naturally, between these basic groups there are numerous subtypes.

The classification scheme based on this concept, which I first published in 1969 (11, p. 161), is reproduced here (tab. 1). In this classification I considered the economic rank of cattle breeding as the most important among all other economic activities. From this point of view, the common division into settled, transhumant, seminomadic, and nomadic breeders is of secondary interest.

The classification distinguishes the following groups:

Group I: Cattle breeders fully dependent on their herds.

Group II: Cattle breeders who derive their income in equal parts from cattle breeding and farming.

Group III: Farmers whose income is only supplemented by cattle breeding, and a few specialised dairy producers.

Group IV: Non-herding cattle owners, capital investment.

Groups I and II are characterised by fairly optimal composition of their herds according to age and sex. Their owners are often progressive and receptive to advice from the extension services, as P.N. De Leeuw et al. have reported (4, p. 15).

Some types of cattle keeping in Group III are also profitable, for example where oxen are used as draught animals and finally sold after fattening.

Another aspect is the possibility of getting better yields by manuring the fields.

Locational aspects of cattle husbandry

If we return to our household as the basic economic unit, we may ask: How many head of cattle would be sufficient to maintain a given standard family?

This depends on the composition of the herd, the grazing area available, and last but not least the location of the homestead in relation to the market.

This can be explained by the example of a Fulani herdsman near Jos, who in 1962 relied on a herd of some 20 head of cattle (16 of which were cows) and who got a good price for his milk because there was a nearby market. His fellow tribesman on the then still backward and low-populated Mambila Plateau, however, did not have the same chance. He had to rely on selling bulls to cattle traders for distant markets in the south.

Only owners with herds of more than 60 head of cattle were then and there in the position of being independent from additional farming (11, p. 105). The size of the herd and the distance to the market thus stand in a direct relationship. This corresponds with the findings of Von Thünen's location theory. Besides the traditional links, the seasonal movements of many million head of cattle to the well-populated areas of the Sudan zone in Northern Nigeria must be seen under the same aspects of the location of the market for milk and the location of the cattle trading centres.

These examples show that beyond the common standards of evaluation of grazing capacity, any comprehensive evaluation of cattle husbandry has to consider the local triangle of relations between size, location, and social aims of the household units already existing or to be planned. (Special aspects of "behaviour and location" as "foundations for a geographic and dynamic location theory" in agriculture have already been dealt with by A. Pred (15).

The influence of planning measurements

The influence on the social structure when establishing a grazing and cooperative marketing scheme can easily be predicted in a low populated area. From Kenya we know that even within such an area there is still a wide range of possibilities of how to use a savanna: either for the production of livestock, or for the production of wildlife with or without tourist industry, or for a joint production of wildlife and livestock (3). The problems arise when planning starts in a more densely populated area with a more complex social structure.

Here the question is, who will benefit from setting aside part of the common land for a grazing scheme? A justifiable question, because the distribution of ownership of cattle will presumably be highly uneven.

Apart from the natural possibilities of the area, one should consider whether the land should be used for food crops for the smallholders, or for growing more cash crops, or to provide the firewood that all households urgently need.


Grazing capacity should not be calculated without knowledge of the given microregional structure in the social and economic field, even down to the household units. The next step would be to check how these units fit into the mesoregional and macroregional planning scheme, which is normally carried out on a national and/or even an international level. Although quite a number of the papers at this meeting deal with research on physical conditions and the problems of measuring grazing capacity, it must be emphasized that we need still more detailed knowledge on the regional socioeconomic background of land use and cattle husbandry in West Africa in order to come to a comprehensive evaluation of grazing capacity.

Figure 1. Tiers of Regional Socio-Economic Survey of Cattle Husbandry in West Africa


1. socio-economic unit:


2. object of analysis:

household (1...n) n > 1

3. aim:

socio-economic classification of house- holds

4. characteristics according to classes:

a) size of herds

b) forms and types of cattle husbandry

c) cattle population density according to grazing capacity

d) farming

e) distances to infrastructural facilities

5. scale of mapping:

1:10,000 - 1:25,000

Mesoregional I

1. socio-economic unit:

district (= a number of camps/villages)

2. object of analysis:


3. aim:

socio-economic classes of camps/villages

4. characteristics according to classes:

a) types of cattle husbandry and land use

b) pattern of village/camp structure

c) agricultural structure of the district

d) infrastructural facilities

5. scale of mapping:

1:50,000 - 1:100,000

Mesoregional II

1. socio-economic unit:

province (= a number of districts)

2. object of analysis:


3. aim:

socio-economic classif. of districts

4. characteristics according to classes:

a) regionalization on a district basis

b) regions of land use

c) pattern of seasonal herd movement and migration

d) network of infrastructure

e) internal and external exchange of products

5. scale of mapping:



I (national)
II (international)

1. socio-economic unit:

state (= a number of provinces) or federation (= a number of states)


2. object of analysis:

provinces or states

3. aim:

socio-economic classification of provinces or states

4. characteristics according to classes

a) regionalization on a province or state basis classes:

b) zones of land use

c) belts of economic progress/stagnation/recession

d) density of infrastructure

e) internal & external exchange of products

5. scale of mapping:

£ 1:1,000,000

Table 1 - Forms and Types of Cattle Husbandry in Northern Nigeria

Figure 1 - Enquête socio-économique régionale sur l'élevage bovin en Afrique de l'Ouest.


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