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Milk production amongst Fulani grazers in the Western Highlands of Cameroon: Constraints and development perspectives

O A Ndambi, I Tchouamo*, P H Bayemi** and T Hemme

IFCN Dairy Research Center at the University of Kiel, Germany. Department of Agricultural Economics
*Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Sociology, University of Dschang, Cameroon
**Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD), Bambui, Cameroon


Dairy development is becoming more popular in African countries and the need for a better understanding of dairy systems is very important. Dairying has been envisaged as a means to improve on the nutritional status and income generation from poor rural families. The expected outcomes of many dairy developmental projects are not met because, proper understanding of possible constraints to development is usually lacking prior to project implementation. This study covers the points of view of dairy farmers as well as representatives of all identified stakeholder groups of the dairy chain.


The major constraints to milk production arose from the poor access of farmers to resources and information. The availability of a closer milk market to these farmers could be a major motivating factor for milk production.

Key words: Cameroon, dairy, disputes, marketing, potentials


Cameroon falls within countries with the lowest production and consumption of milk. The per capita milk consumption is less than 20 Kg ME (milk equivalents) per year, of which more than 15% is imported (Tambi 1991; FAOSTAT 2006; Ndambi and Bayemi 2006). Local demand for milk and dairy products in Cameroon is likely to increase over the years. By the year 2020, the population of Cameroon will be above 27 million against about 16.5 million (2005 stand). Urban population will also increase from 8.7 million at present to more than 18 million in 2020 (UNDP 2000; FAOSTAT 2006). It is estimated that milk production per head of cattle must double by the year 2020 in order to meet up with demand in third world countries (UNDP 2000), Cameroon inclusive.


In addition to the increasing demand, more awareness is being attached to the importance of dairying in developing countries. Milk has been envisaged as a principal protein source, which could increase protein consumption in Africa (Meyer and Denis 1999). It could be supplemented to reduce child malnutrition, whose prevalence in children less than 5 years in Cameroon was reported at 22% in 2003 (World Bank 2004). Dairy development is therefore important, first of all as a means of improving on the nutritional status of poor farmers and secondly as a means of employment and income generation to these poor families. In such African countries where traditional systems dominate milk production (Ndambi et al 2007) and where the formal sector only receives about 2% of total milk production (Ndambi 2006), strengthening of the informal sector as well as promotion of the formal sector are very important for dairy development.


It is therefore important for the government, NGO’s, international bodies and other prospective investors in the dairy sector, to understand the constraints at various stages of the dairy chain, in order to facilitate their intervention. This study aims at determining constraints of milk production, directly from dairy farmers as well as representatives from all identified stakeholder groups of the dairy sector.


Dairy production in the Western Highlands of Cameroon has a potential for development which is seen in the:


Despite the above-mentioned potentials, dairy production in this region has not experienced substantial development over the years. For this reason a big necessity arose to find out the points of view on dairy developmental issues from various stakeholders of the dairy sector.




Area of studies


Cameroon is located in Central West Africa. It is bound by Equatorial Guinea to the southwest, Gabon to the south, Congo to the southeast, the Central African Republic to the east, Chad to the northeast, Nigeria to the northwest and the Gulf of Guinea to the west. Its geographic coordinates are: 6. 00 N and 12. 00 E. Cameroon has a total surface area of 475,440 sq km of which 469,440 sq km covers land and 6,000 sq km is made up of water. The lowest point is the Atlantic Ocean 0 m while the highest is Fako (on Mount Cameroon) 4,095 m. Land use in Cameroon is distributed as follows: arable land: 12.81%, permanent crops: 2.58% others: 84.61% (2001 status). Cameroon is separated into five agro-ecological zones, one of them, the Western Highlands on which this study was conducted. The Western highlands lie between latitudes 5o20’ - 7o North and longitudes 9o40’ - 11o10’ East of the Equator. Average annual precipitation ranges from 1500 – 2500 mm while minimum and maximum temperatures are 10oC and 34oC respectively (Bayemi et al 2005a).


Collection of data


Data was collected from dairy farmers and other stakeholders such as processing plants, NGO’s, veterinary workers, extension workers, researchers, feed vendors and micro-credit institutions. Focus was laid on qualitative data; as such farmers and other stakeholders were interviewed using a semi-structured questionnaire with open-ended questions. This consisted of eight sections covering personal information, farm resource allocation, utilisation and marketing of milk, income utilisation, organisation of farmers, problems faced and future perspectives, and dairy production parameters. A total of 72 farm families and 23 other stakeholders from 30 villages in the Western Highlands were interviewed. Selection of villages for the study was based on their known history of milk production. The results described are a qualitative interpretation from the interviews.


Production parameters and constraints to dairying


Educational level and Customs of dairy producers


Eighty-six percent of the Fulani milk producers never had formal education, showing that the literacy level among them was very low.  Only 4.2% of them had acquired primary school education, while 9.7% attended secondary/high school and none had university education. Since most of them were not educated, they also preferred not to send their children to school. Some Fulani herders explained that cattle production was a school on its own for their kids and therefore there was no need for formal education. Furthermore they claimed that, though many people were attending school, only very few offices could employ them hence a high unemployment rate was expected for school leavers. Instead, animal rearing would bring forth direct income for their children, if they already start from childhood. Their experiences with children who attended formal education were that, the children learnt to be thieves, were delinquent and wanted to neither take care of cattle nor stay with their parents. In addition, they kept requesting for money from their parents and never gave a convincing account on their expenses. Their worst experiences were from administrators, whom they knew to be well educated but whom they found very dishonest in handling conflicts.


Household structure and labour absorption by the dairy farm


Household labour is the most common form of labour used in dairy farms and depends on the size and ages of household members. Cattle herding was principally done by men and sometimes by male children (Table 1).

Table 1.  Role distribution (% of those involved) in different dairy activities

Persons in charge





Control of income from milk sales





















Hired herdsman





With local cattle breeds, either the cattle owner (and/or his son) was a herdsman or employed one or more herdsmen on fulltime basis, depending on his herd size, family labour availability or both. Payment of fulltime herdsmen ranged from US-$ 30 US-$ 60 per month. In cases where the cattle owner was not a herdsman, agreements were made on how to share the milk. A fixed or variable amount of milk was supplied to the cattle owner on a daily basis. This was sometimes not possible when the production area and house of cattle owner were far apart. Sometimes cattle owners discouraged milking because they preferred that calves should consume all the milk and grow healthier.


Women were principally concerned with milking, processing, milk sales and control of the money arising from milk sales. It was noticed that, not only the far off markets discouraged them, but also suppression from their husbands. These Fulani men who were in full control of the money got from cattle sales preferred that the milk remains for calf consumption so that they could earn more from beef sales, rather than letting their wives earn from milk sales. The men also expressed dissatisfaction in female handling of money, saying that, women spent all their money on beauty (make-up, cosmetics) and never contributed in paying for other essential family expenses.


Milk yield


The average quantity of milk collected per local cow was only 1.8 litres per day. The milk collected per cow was less than 300 Kg per lactation, not only because of the low production potential of the cows, but also because all cows were not milked daily, during their lactation period. Weaker cows were not milked in the late dry season and milking was stopped completely, during the last weeks before the rains. Milk spoilage was also a common problem to farmers. Higher ambient temperatures hastened spoilage in milk. It was difficult for herders to transport fresh milk to markets because the closest markets were usually very far from their production areas and transportation was also difficult due to poor roads. The situation was aggravated by the absence of electricity and cooling facilities and the poor hygienic conditions of milk production. Therefore a lot of milk got spoilt at the level of the producer.


Milking Practices


The Fulani usually milked their cows only once a day. Herders explained that their cows had a low milk yield, spent most of the day on the fields and were sometimes located very far from their houses, restricting the possibility for a second milking. During the transhumance period, only a few selected cows were left behind to provide milk for the family and to cater for the young calves which were not strong enough to cover long distances. Milking often started when the calf was about two months old, and/or was judged to be strong enough to receive reduced quantities of milk and complete its feeding on pastures. Milking was done in the open (without a separate milking area); early in the mornings before animals went out to graze. At this time, the calves, which were restricted from meeting the dam through out the night, were released. The calf was allowed to suckle for a very short time, to induce milk let down, after which it was driven away and only allowed to continue suckling after milking. During milking, cows were restricted from hurting the milking person by attaching their two rear legs together, using a rope. Sometimes cows were not milked because they were “stubborn at milking” and could harm the milking person.


Hygienic practices such as care of udder, care of milking utensils, and the milking procedure were observed for different farmers. Only 11.1% of farmers washed the udder of their cows before milking. As concerns washing of milking utensils, 58.3% of farmers used cold water, while the others (41.7%) used hot water. Those who used hot water had experienced that milk spoilage was accelerated when cold water was used in washing. The nature of the milking container also had an influence on spoilage. Some farmers experienced that; milk stored in wooden calabashes got spoiled faster than milk stored in plastic containers. The use of calabashes for milk storage was still very common in Fulani communities. This tradition was linked to culture and typical Fulani herders kept a special calabash (yardudé) at one corner of their houses where milk was stored for special guests.


Milk marketing


After milking, the milk was either set for sales as raw milk, boiled or processed for consumption and/or sales. Since milking is only done once a day, milk is only sold in the mornings. Depending on the herd size, production per cow and market availability, the milking frequency (number of days to milk in a week) as well as the number of cows to be milked is determined.


Formal markets are hardly accessible to Fulani herders. Only part of the milk which went through the dairy cooperative reached formal markets. Though 27.8 percent of farmers could sell milk at their homes, this was less frequent and unreliable. A majority (69.4%) of them needed to cover long distances to reach local markets and therefore needed a compensatory milk price. In order to earn more income from milk production, they either adulterated their milk by adding water or processed the milk by fermenting locally, thereby benefiting from higher incomes due to value addition. In this way, milk spoilage was also minimised. None of the farmers sold milk directly to the dairy plant. However, 11% of these farmers sold their milk to dairy cooperatives, from where milk was processed and/or sold to the public and to the dairy plant. This intermediary handler was necessary for the dairy plant in order to control milk quality and minimise transaction costs, especially as the total production per farm was very low. In many cases, Fulani grazers intentionally produced less milk, exclusively for home consumption, thereby under-exploiting the production potential of their animals. They selected and milked a few cows from the herd and did not milk the same cows everyday.


Milk preservation and processing

In order to reduce spoilage, some farmers consumed all the evening milk either in the evening, or stored it in a water bath at room temperature for the next day’s consumption. Fulani farmers have indigenous plants which are used for milk preservation for example “Inono” is a tuber, which is either used full or cut and put into a container of fresh milk. It could be used to preserve milk for the next day’s use. “Daninili” is a root, which is also used for the same purpose. It is simply washed and put into the container containing milk. The use of such plants is only an indigenous practice, since no research has been done to prove the applicability and efficiency of such milk preservatives as well as toxicity that may arise from their use.


Extensive milk production zones are typically far off from urban areas; meanwhile, a larger part of consumers dwell in these urban areas. Local villagers in these production sites were unable to offer an acceptable price for the milk, thus discouraging the herders from milking more than the quantities required in their homesteads. Farmers realised that it was not economically sustainable when they hired public transportation in order to sell their milk in urban areas. This grew worse when the quantity of milk sold was very small. In other areas, women carried their milk in metal pans on their heads to such markets (usually further than 5 Km). Despite the fact that they sold their milk at relatively higher prices, marketing was very laborious and time consuming.


Animal health


Animal diseases were very rampant amongst Fulani herds. Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), the most dangerous disease noticed was also very common. Farmers claimed that this disease which has not got any treatment till date has killed several heads of cattle from the same herd within a few days. Other common diseases were brucellosis, haemorrhagic septicaemia, and tick and worm infestation. A few cases of trypanosomiasis infection were observed, though this disease was not endemic in the study region. Infection was more common on animals returning from transhumance from bushy or forest areas. Besides trypanosomiasis, lots of other diseases and parasites were spread during the transhumance period, when animals from several herds graze together along fertile valleys or forest areas. Most herders treated their animals themselves using drugs from veterinary pharmacies or informal vendors. Except in cases of severe attack, veterinary services were hardly sought. Even when required, these services could sometimes hardly be reached because most grazing areas are usually far-off from veterinary stations and communication is poor.


Most herders boycotted compulsory national prophylaxis programme which consisted of vaccination of animals against diseases declared as endemic. In the 1970’s, all cattle were vaccinated for free by the Cameroonian Government. The government later decided that farmers should show an interest by contributing to the vaccination costs. This led to the introduction of a subsidised vaccination charge of 390 FCFA (about 0.78 USD) per animal per year, for three major vaccines. For this reason, cattle owners expressed dissatisfaction and reluctance to attend vaccination campaigns. Some of them refused to vaccinate while others only vaccinated few selected animals for two reasons:

Also, vaccination staff had to conduct these campaigns in regions, which were very far from their homes. They had to spend some days in these areas which sometimes had poor facilities and communication network. They therefore needed enough support and motivation, which was sometimes lacking. According to statistics from the Ministry of Livestock, Fishery and Animal Industries (MINEPIA), in the year 2003, the estimated cattle population for the North West Province was 457,838 heads. From these, only 72,070 heads (31.48%) were effectively vaccinated (MINEPIA 2003). After discussions with stakeholders, the following reasons were suggested for not meeting vaccination targets:

These show that there is interlink of problems within the sector and a need for combined efforts to solve them.


Cattle reproduction


Breeding was usually natural. One selected big bull of well developed muscular structure was usually left throughout with the cows. Sometimes one or two smaller bulls were also left in the herd, though they could only perform reproductive activities when the main bull was old and weak, absent or sick. The bull(s) could easily detect heat and mate cows immediately. Fulani herders prefer not to cull their cows even when they do not give birth frequently. They believe that these cows should not be slaughtered, they will someday give birth and that it is Allah (God) who gives calves. This practise could be advantageous when younger cows are concerned, which later reproduce. However, most cases involve older cows which did not finally reproduce after a long time. The retention of animals in the herd had an advantage of having a bigger herd size which reflected wealth and offered prestige to the owner. The use of exotic breeds as well as crossbreeds was undesirable to most Fulani herders. They explained that this was not only because the animals require more investment and feeding costs, but also that they needed so much care and are often more destructive to crops than local animals.




Some farmers reported cases of cattle theft. Cattle were stolen away from the herd during the night and sometimes in the day, when cattle were left to graze on their own. Some Fulani herders used charms which they believe could keep all animals of the herd together in the absence of the herder. Such charms were also believed to entice the cattle such that they maintain a close relationship with their herders and could not accept to go with a strange herder. Theft was not only reported for cattle, but also at times, armed robbers brutalised and openly requested for money from families owning cattle. The situation was worsened by the fact that most of these cattle owners lived in isolated areas which were far from public security agents and were in most cases, also cut off from communication.


Family asserts

Table 2.  Percentage of farmers possessing or having access to various facilities



% of farmers in possession


Own house


Own stable


Own cooling facilities


Transport facilities

On foot


Motor bike


Push cart






Water sources

Tap water


Well water


Spring water




Energy sources

Fuel wood




Cooking gas




Only 8.3% of the interviewed cattle herders owned cattle stables (Table 2). Usually, the Fulani cattle owners allow their animals to sleep under tree shades in fenced areas close to their homes. Very few farmers had refrigerators and hence the possibility of owning cooling facilities. Therefore milk had to be transported to consumers or processors within a short period to limit spoilage. As concerns transport facilities, the more expensive the facility, the fewer the number of farmers in possession of it. None of the herders had their own vehicles. The lack of appropriate transport facilities was also a serious problem, as milk needs to reach processors and consumers within a short time.


Most herders used water from streams to feed animals and for their households as well. This is because their homes were often located in distant areas where portable water was hardly affordable. Milk producing households require energy for processing and storage of milk, besides other uses. Energy availability was influential production and processing. For example, only farmers with electricity could own refrigerators and hence store fresh or processed milk for longer hours. Only 11.1 % of herders had electricity supplies at their homes. Energy was provided by kerosene, which was used for lighting and sometimes for cooking, while most of the cooking energy was got from wood.


Land availability and use – Farmer-grazer disputes


Most of the land in rural (potential farming and grazing) areas of the Western Highlands do not have official land titles and is thus legally owned by the state. Conflicts between crop farmers and herders on landownership were identified by Fulani herders as the biggest problem. Such conflicts have reoccurred in the same villages several times over the years because definite solutions have hardly been adopted. Worse still, no action is being taken to prevent the up rise of such conflicts in potentially disputable areas. Conflicts usually have crucial consequences such as; killing or injury of humans, killing or injury of cattle and destruction of crops and granaries. In most conflicts, farmers accuse cattle grazers of letting their animals graze on cultivated land, destroying crops and bribing to gain favour from administrators. The Fulani also seriously blamed the increasing encroachment of crop farmers into grazing land over the years and the placement of crop farms along access ways to water points, which were inevitable routes for their cattle.


In former times, the Fulani cattle herders moved with their cattle as nomads and only temporarily settled where they found abundant pasture. Nowadays, there is a great tendency towards sedentary farming due to population pressure; which has reduced the available land for grazing. The settlement of these grazers raises a number of conflicts, first of all within themselves, since they find it difficult to give up their extensive grazing habits and secondly with local communities, who claim to be first settlers thus imposing a superiority complex and indigenous rights over land. Most farmers and grazers tend to resolve their problems by themselves, despite the setting up of a legislative procedure by the Cameroonian government to solve such disputes. Whenever farmers and grazers were not able to reconcile by themselves, their disputes were resolved by a team of members forming a farmer-grazier commission. For problems to be solved by this commission, an inspection fee of US-$ 40 each is paid by both the accuser and the accused. In some cases, the farmer’s compensation after field evaluation was less than US-$ 40 which he paid as inspection fee. The situation is aggravated by a very long formal procedure involving several parties. Herders accused administrators for always requesting money from them, whenever such disputes arose. Therefore the government officials who are already on large salaries exploit herders, taking advantage of their defensive position and the lack of knowledge on their civic rights.


Perspectives for dairy development


Any intervention for improvement on the dairy sector must consider the root causes of each problem before attempting a solution. Poor educational background as well as beliefs and customs could act as barriers to a change in behaviour of farmers. The organisation of training courses and other extension activities would enlighten farmers and help to reduce some of such barriers.


From the situation described in the previous paragraphs, three major perspective areas have been envisaged for the improvement of dairying in Cameroon:


Increasing milk production, both quantitatively and qualitatively


Selecting and breeding of best animals


Fulani herders already practice selection by the fact that they select one bull to head a herd. Physical characteristics like muscle formation and size of the bull are often considered. However less attention is paid to milk production in breed selection. With improved market access, farmers develop more interest in dairy production and might apply indigenous knowledge to improve on dairy breeds. However, this would be slow as they usually have a poor educational background. Other bodies (the state, NGOs, research institutes) could hasten the process by guiding farmers through.


Crossbreeding local cattle with high yielding exotic breeds


Research attempts on the use of crossbreeds have been carried in Cameroon (Bayemi et al 2005a). However, adoption has been very slow. It is only of recent that mixed farms are sprouting up, with a growth in the use of AI on local cows (Bayemi et al 2005b). Despite the slow adoption, the few farms practicing crossbreeding are very successful in increasing on farm income and in adapting the crossbreeds to local conditions. The costs of an exotic bull as well as feeding costs of exotic cattle are usually very high for local farmers, who rely on low input production systems. They will rather keep more local animals to maintain prestige, than fewer crossbreeds or exotic breeds, even if production is higher in the latter. At the moment, due to intervention from a local NGO MBOSCUDA (Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association), these farmers are developing more interest in income generation. The NGO organises adult literacy classes for rural Mbororo-dominated communities and also trains them on small scale income generating activities, especially for women. With such lessons, acceptance of any forms of innovation may be easier.


Improving on animal health


Veterinary services could be improved by the creation of vet posts in rural areas. It is however difficult to increase these posts in areas where farms are far from each other, secondly, because these farmers hardly seek veterinary services, except in critical circumstances. The farmers themselves need to be sensitised to develop consciousness on the importance of investing in animal health because, veterinary practitioners will only be attracted to where they make an acceptable profit margin. The government could also intervene by employing public veterinary agents and motivating them to cover such poorly accessible areas.


Improving on animal feeding


Pasture improvement is a major means of improving on feeding under such systems, since farmers depend on forage for animal feeding. Formerly, with an abundance of pasture, grazers preferred to wander about with their animals until they found good pasture. However, because of demographic pressure, grazing land is gradually reducing and cattle owners are now seeing the need to improve on pastures. Lack of land ownership also creates fears for pasture improvement. In recent years, the increased sedentary nature of these farmers has prompted them to be engaged more and more into practicing pasture improvement. This includes planting of better yielding forage species, at least at the peripheries of the homesteads and destruction of weeds on pasture land. If this initiative is encouraged, then a better outcome would be expected. Also, promotion of research on use of cheap local materials for animal feeding is necessary to encourage such farmers to invest (more) on animal feeding.


Increasing milking frequency


Milking is not done regularly by Fulani herders. Waters-Bayer (1988) found a similar situation in Nigeria, where some cows were only milked several days after calving or not milked at all, in cases of poor production. Increasing milking frequency could increase milk production. However, the animals need to be well fed in order to assure improved production and there also needs to be an assurance of nearby market to absorb the produced milk.


Improved hygienic practices during milking and milk handling


Washing of milking containers using hot water was a cheap means of sterilisation. The appropriate milking material would also influence hygiene. This could be acceptable as the farmers are interested in keeping their milk for longer.


Keeping the milking area and animal clean


Construction of a separate milking compartment would be an initial step for improving on the hygienic conditions of the milking area. The feasibility of such a step is very doubtful as it is found expensive for farmers; it would however be cheaper if local materials like wood are used. In addition, training courses could be very helpful in such cases. 

Improving on milk storage and/or processing facilities

Storage and processing quality of milk could be improved for all farmers by:

The availability of facilities alone may not solve the problem, but may also depend on the cost of these facilities. Farmers could be assisted if they get some form of credit. For example credits paid through a direct deduction of income from milk sales to a permanent delivery centre. This would be also feasible in cooperative groups.  

Improving on collection and marketing channels for milk and dairy products 
Organisation of farmers into farmer groups, each serving as a milk collection site


Collection could be cheaper if all milk produced in the same area is brought together by the farmers themselves. In this case transportation is easier, since a collector doesn’t need to travel from door to door. This could only be possible if there is an accessible road linkage and if the distance between the producers and processors or consumers is not too far so as to minimise transportation costs.


Improving on communication between different farmers and with processors and consumers


Knowledge on better production techniques and market availability as well as marketing strategies are important for farmers. Information on consumer preferences, seasonal variations in demand, temporary dairy markets and potential markets is also vital. Due to poor communication network information dissemination could not be difficult. Formation of farmer groups or use of local information transfer systems could be helpful in this case.


Improvement of road infrastructure


Roads are sometimes very poor, especially in the rainy season. Government intervention in road maintenance is usually desired by local communities. Due to financial constraints, the government cannot cover all roads. An alternative to government intervention is a community approach, which has been going on in some areas. In this case, a community sets aside a day for communal labour, whereby members construct and/or repair their roads themselves. This approach has been very successful in some villages. However, association amongst such community members needs to be high. Also, this is laborious, time consuming and is of low efficiency.


An affordable collection and marketing cost


Proper networking and a good transportation infrastructure could assure an affordable transportation cost. Emphasis should be laid on the importance of local markets for dairy development. If farmers find a regular outlet for their milk, they will be motivated to shift their production goals from subsistence farming to a more market-oriented dairy production. This is the case as was noticed in Sabga village (North West province), where a project on small scale processing was recently implemented. Farmers in this area had barely local breeds and could run the plant at a cooperative level. Milk hygiene and pasture improvement techniques were taught to farmers and adoption was very high, leading to improvement in both quality and quantity of milk produced from the area.



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Received 4 July 2007; Accepted 16 August 2007; Published 1 January 2008

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