Fulani herder. Image credit vqronline.org

ZIMSEC O Level Geography Notes:Agriculture:Farming types in Africa: Subsistence farming: Nomadism Case Study: The Fulani of West Africa

  • The Fulani practice their nomadism in a vast tract of land called the Sahel stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Ethiopian Highlands in the east.
  • This region covers 7 countries, the so-called Sahel countries which  include Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, the Sudan and Benin.
  • Parts of Guinea, Nigeria and Cameroon are part of the areas visited by the Fulani.
  • Sahel means Fringe as the area lies on the fringes (edges) of the Sahara desert to the north and the Savanna grasslands to the south.
  • It is characterised by very long dry seasons and short wet summers.
  • It is hot, occasionally subjected to dust storms from the north.
  • The vegetation is semi-arid shrub land consisting mostly of thorn bushes and baobab.
  • Watering holes appear in the short rainy season when also green, abundant pasture bloom from May to August.
  • During this period tsetse fly move north ahead of the rain-bringing Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) but retreat southwards when the ITCZ shifts to the south.
  • This rhythmic northwards advance and southward retreat of the ITCZ and the tsetse fly control Fulani movements.

The movement of the Fulani

  • During summer, as the ITCZ moves northwards,it brings heat, rains and tsetse flies.
  • The Fulani have to move northwards ahead of the flies which kill their cattle through nagana.
  • They also move into the highlands which are cooler and not infested by tsetse fly.
  • They settle where pastures and water are available.
  • The Fulani, numbering six million people, mainly keep cattle as a symbol of wealth.
  • It is estimated that before the great Sahel drought of the 1970s, they had over 16 million cattle but the drought decreased the number.
  • Today they own about 8 million cattle due to a successful restocking exercise.
  • As they settle in an area, they build villages, strictly along clan lines and in groups of 20-40 families.
  • From these base camps, men spread out into bush, grazing the livestock.
  • Women and children grow crops in fertile valleys and on the highland plateaus.
  • As the dry season approaches and watering holes dry up due to the southward retreat of the ITCZ, tsetse flies also shift southwards.
  • The Fulani descend from the plateaus/highlands to the valleys and plains below and trek southwards but always behind the tsetse belt.

To access more topics go to the O Level Geography Notes page

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