Ask the villager before the researcher

FEW OF the Fulani pastoralists in Nigeria have been inside a school and fewer still can read, but they have a very rich knowledge of the value of plants, especially browsable plants which can provide cattle food during the dry season.

Researchers at the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) selected two sites in central Nigeria to analyse tree leaves for nutritional value and compare the findings with rankings made by the pastoralists of the plants according to importance in cattle diet. They were remarkably similar, thus emphasising the importance of local knowledge in pastoral management (International Ag-Sieve, Vol 4 No 6).

In the March-April dry season, the plants browsed were recorded. The plants were then ranked by six pastoralists from each area in order of importance.

The pastoralists in one area had lived there for more than 30 years and listed more species than those in the other area, which had a higher percentage of woodlands, tree savanna and shrublands. The latter pastoralists, who had received government aid to live away from farming communities, had stayed there for less than five years. They were less familiar with the local vegetation. However, the rankings from both the study areas were similar to a large extent.

The Fulani considered both nutritional value and availability of the plants when ranking the importance of tree browse. Analysis of the plants showed they were listed in an order of decreasing average nutrient content. There were some differences in the rankings of ILCA scientists and the pastoralists in terms of phosphorous content and dry matter digestibility, but these were due to varying availability of the plants.

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