Y. Hata, Kunoa Cattle Company team up to launch local beef line – Thegardenisland.com

PUHI — The locally grown and produced beef is finally here.

During a recent invitation-only launch event at the Grove Farm Company, it was announced that Y. Hata, a locally owned and Hawaii-
based broadline food service wholesale distributor, was selected to support the recently honored Mana Up awardee Kunoa Cattle Company in launching its local beef production line on Kauai.

“We are pleased to announce the launch of a trilateral partnership to support the local community and create food sustainability on Kauai,” said Kurt Osaki, a Y. Hata brand and marketing consultant.

Kunoa Cattle Company is a Kauai-based ranch with the state’s largest USDA-inspected harvesting facility located on Oahu. The term “kunoa” translates to “stand free.” The company was also named “Best New Business” in 2017 by the Pacific Edge magazine, and was a selection in Mana Up’s inaugural cohort of 10 businesses.

Bob Farias, a Kunoa co-founder, said Kunoa currently ranches about 2,000 head of cattle on about 4,000 acres of land on Kauai and Oahu. He is a third generation rancher who combines progressive grazing practices with Hawaii’s paniolo traditions as a steward of the land.

“We have great ranchers,” Farias said. “Nearly all of the beef consumed in Hawaii is imported. But there was no way to finance the processing plant we needed to get our beef to the next level of delivery. No one wanted to own a processing plant. All that existed were slaughter houses which was limited in what we could do. That’s when we met Jack Beuttell who brought a business sense to the industry.”

The goal of the arrangement is to elevate food sustainability, not just on Kauai, but potentially for the state by being the leader in best practices for ranching, harvesting, processing and distribution in Hawaii, and beyond, said Jim Cremins, the Y. Hata chief of operations.

“We deal with Y. Hata a lot,” Farias said. “They really first heard about Kunoa through our Beef Bars. In the first four months, they couldn’t keep enough of it. The Kunoa Beef Bar with original seasonings is made with 100 percent Hawaii-
raised beef, spending their entire life in Hawaii with no added hormones, or antibiotics, ever.”

Kunoa Cattle Company incorporates a sustainable systems approach to its business that incorporates holistic planned grazing, animal welfare technology, renewable energy, and nose-to-tail whole animal utilization. Kunoa models produce a high quality, healthier, and consistent product for the consumer.

“This is fantastic,” said Michael Young, executive chef for the Sheraton Kauai Resort. “We currently have a locally produced beef supplier, but this is a great option to have. It’s exciting to see another outfit filling the need for locally produced beef.”

Russell Hata, president and CEO of Y. Hata, said for the past 105 years, Y. Hata has dedicated its business to serve the people of Hawaii, and to be the distributor of choice by offering the best food service solutions and value to its customers.

“We are excited about the partnership with Kunoa because we share similar values and common goals,” Hata said. “Kunoa Cattle Company has made an impressive commitment. We are selling his mission, and this is exciting to see the island take another step in food sustainability.”

Beuttell, a co-founder and CEO of Kunoa Cattle Company, also was pleased.

“Partnerships and collaborations are what will move us from net food importers to net food exporters,” Beuttell said. “Hawaii has amazing natural resources and talent to produce world-class food products. We’re excited to team up with Y. Hata to show the globe that Hawaii can produce beef worth writing home about.”


Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@thegardenisland.com

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Commonsense Cattle Handling – Agriculture.com

A decade ago, Ron Gill learned firsthand how cattle handling could affect the well-being of livestock.

At the time, the Gill family – Ron, wife Debbie, and brother Richard – had as one of the ranch enterprises a business of preconditioning calves. The calves were acquired at sale barns and delivered to receiving lots at one of the ranches that was then a part of Gill Cattle Company in north-central Texas.

Because of respiratory disease, the Gills were treating 20% of the cattle. Illness turned chronic in 1.6% of the calves, and the death loss was 2.7%.The 60-day average daily gain was 2.6 pounds per head.

“I knew we could do better,” says Gill, a livestock specialist for Texas AgriLife Extension.

Simple Changes Make Big Impact

They decided to change the way they handled the cattle, to see whether or not it would make a difference in health.

It had been their practice to vaccinate calves upon arrival. “Instead, we put newly arrived calves in a receiving pen,” says Gill. “Of course, they’d be excited and run around. Our goal was to calm them down.”

Standing or moving quietly in the pen with the calves, a handler would let the calves pass by. At first, the calves would rush. After 30 to 45 minutes of the handler’s quiet presence and slow movement, the calves stopped rushing and began walking calmly past the handler.

“We could just see them relax,” says Gill.

The calves then went to a pen with feed and water. Processing occurred the next day. Afterward, handlers quieted the calves, again by letting them pass by a person in the pen.

“Just doing those simple things made all the difference in the world,” says Gill.

Rate of gain increased to 2.9 pounds per head per day. Treatment rate for respiratory disease was reduced to 5%, and the death loss dropped to 0.7%. No cattle became chronically sick.

Calming the calves upon arrival seemed to give the animals the confidence needed to begin eating, rather than staying off feed.

“When stressed, cattle don’t eat and they get sick, because they’re not getting the energy needed to fuel their immune systems,” says Gill.

The improved health of the calves as a result of better handling shows, of course, how significantly human behavior can impact the well-being of livestock. The experience affirmed for the Gills that they were on the right track with the changes they were also making in their handling of cows.

“I was fortunate to grow up around some great stockmen, but I have also studied handling clinician Bud Williams. As a result, we began to make subtle changes in the way we worked cattle in the corrals,” says Gill. “For starters, we made sure there was no yelling, no whips, and very little noise while we were working cattle.”

They also began paying more attention to each person’s physical position relative to that of the cattle.

“You have to be in the right position to set cattle up to go where you want them to go before you apply pressure,” says Gill, now a cattle-handling clinician himself. “Creating and managing movement is the key to the low-stress handling of cattle.” Direction of desired travel determines the right position for the handler, who gets the cattle to go in the right direction by moving in and out of an animal’s flight zone and past their point of balance.

The flight zone is the animal’s radius of perceived safety, and the range of the radius varies by individual animal. When a handler steps near or into this zone, the animal begins to move or turn, depending upon the handler’s position relative to the animal’s point of balance.

The point of balance varies, too, by individual animal. In general, the animal expresses the balance point when the handler passes its shoulder. A handler’s stance to the side and slightly behind this point will cause the animal to move.

If the handler stands at a sharp angle toward the rear of the animal, this position could potentially stop forward movement. If the handler steps into the blind spot directly behind an animal, it may turn toward the rear in order to see more clearly what is behind.

“Cattle can be easily controlled from the front if they are not afraid of a human,” says Gill. “Working from the front helps keep cattle from wanting to turn back in an effort to keep you in their line of sight. By moving in and out of the flight zone and point of balance, cattle can be easily drawn forward and past you to get them to go where you need them to go.”

Ways To Change

As Gill works with cattle producers to help improve their handling skills, he suggests making the following five changes.

Adopt an open attitude. “Assess what happens when you handle cattle and embrace the idea that there could be a better way to do things,” he notes. “People often become so steeped in tradition that they resist change.”

Spend time with cattle. Spending time out in the pasture acclimating cattle to your presence pays off. “You have to teach, condition, and prepare cattle for working,” says Gill.

Observe behavior. A study of livestock reveals flight zone and point of balance. “It is the responsibility of each handler to be able to read and to determine where these points are on each animal,” he says.

Apply pressure at the right time. If cattle are set up to go where you want them to go and you’re in the right position, the time is right for applying pressure. 

“Low-stress livestock handling is not about handling cattle with no pressure,” says Gill. “In fact, you might have to apply a lot of pressure, as long as it’s at the right time.”

This could be especially true in the case of handling unusually quiet cattle with a small flight zone.

Fix problem areas. “Think about where you have trouble getting cattle to do something,” he says. “Figure out why they don’t want to go in a certain direction. It could be, for instance, because of poor lighting or something in the design of the facilities that needs changing. Figure out what’s causing the problem. More often than not, it comes back to the improper location of people.”

Rating Cattle

Classifying how your cattle behave can help you determine whether their bad attitude was a one-time occurrence or if the animal needs to be monitored further for possible culling.

1 = Docile. Gentle; handles quietly; slightly elevated respiration.

2 = More Active. Elevated respirations but settles down after joining the group once again.

3 = Constant Movement. Occasionally bumps fences and gates; only settles down after several minutes of returning to the group.

4 = Flighty. Agitated by handling and avoids handlers; bumps into gates and fences; always seems to watch handlers when approaching the group.

5 = Aggressive. Bumps gates and fences and might be willing to challenge handlers; attempts to jump fences and gates.

6 = Very Aggressive. Very aggressive toward handlers; jumps and bellows while in the chute. Exits chute frantically and may still exhibit aggressive behavior.

Learn More

Ron Gill

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Feral Cattle Create Crisis in SoCal – Drovers Magazine

A herd of least 150 feral cattle have become more than a nuisance in one of Southern California’s popular hiking areas. Officials and conservation agents say the cattle pose a threat to tourists and are damaging the ecosystem in the Mojave Preserve and Sand to Snow National Monument, located about two hours east of Los Angeles.

The cattle are “ripping up this monument and scaring the heck out of folks who cross paths with them,” Terry Anderson, a board member of the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep told the Los Angeles Times. “They also can transmit disease to native bighorn sheep. So, they need to be removed – and I’m all for lethal removal. They don’t belong here.”

Hikers and tourists have also become alarmed by a pack of pit bulls also in the area. Officials say the wild dogs have been killing and eating the feral cattle. The unfriendly cattle and dogs have created a crisis because visitors to the area have increased 40% last year.

The Obama Administration designated Sand to Snow as a National Monument in 2016, and visitors jumped from 90,000 to 148,000 in 2017. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management co-manage the monument’s 154,000 acres as wilderness. Those agencies plan to send a team of federal land managers and biologists to the area in March to devise a strategy to eliminate the feral cattle and wild dogs.

Officials believe the feral cattle are descendants of herds grazing the area from as long as a century ago. Smaller numbers of the cattle roamed the rugged terrain at higher elevations. Officials believe prolonged drought forced the cattle to lower elevations beginning about four years ago. In addition to undesirable human encounters, conservationists claim the cattle are adversely affecting the California desert tortoise, arroyo toads and bighorn sheep.

“The destruction to natural habitat is widespread and heartbreaking,” Thompson told the Times. “An eradication plan can’t come soon enough.”

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Pitching a wearable to make cattle farming more sustainable, Vence raises $2.7 million – TechCrunch

A new startup called Vence from sunny San Diego is aiming to make cattle farming more sustainable with a wearable device to create virtual fences for livestock.

The company has raised $2.7 million in new funding to bring its product to market and develop new services for farmers in a round led by Eniac Ventures with participation from the venture capital arm of the Dutch investment bank, Rabobank.

Vence’s wearable, which fits over the ear of an animal, works similarly to a dog collar or other devices that are used to create virtual fences.

According to the company’s co-founder and chief executive, Frank Wooten, animals are trained to avoid a certain area using low voltage shocks or uncomfortable sounds with warning stimuli like vibrations to let the animals know when they’re approaching an area they shouldn’t be heading towards.

While it may sound cruel, Wooten says that the work is based on research done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“One of the things that’s used is an upward barometer and upward threshold of any electric stimuli that is already what’s used for electric fencing, which is used throughout the world to manage cattle or any sort of livestock,” Wooten tells me.

The difference with virtual fencing is that it allows the cattle to graze more freely and in a controlled manner, which Wooten says is better for the environment.

The proper form of cattle management does some wonderful things for the planet in terms of carbon sequestration and becomes a net neutral to the environment instead of a net negative,” Wooten says. 

The result for rotationally grazing cattle is similar to the effects of rotating crops — something that was first popularized with George Washington Carver and peanut cultivation in the United States.

“What happens when you start to rotationally graze your crops is you’re not having cattle overeat in different spots,” says Wooten. “Moving cattle throughout a property at a specific pace and timing increases grass growth which enhances the soil and root structure of those grasses and shrubs. [That] allows the soil to sequester carbon while not over-polluting one area with waste from the animals.”

In all, Wooten says, it’s a net positive.

Vence devices

The technology has the backing of one of the financial services industry’s most experience agricultural investors in Rabobank — the Dutch fund that has invested billions in agricultural businesses.

“Working across the global food and agriculture sector, we recognize Vence’s value proposition for an industry that is hungry for new, dynamic solutions to traditional practices,” said Richard O’Gorman, Director of Rabo F&A Innovation Fund in a statement. “Profitability can be significantly increased in many cases by enabling faster and actionable insights in livestock and natural resource management. As global animal protein demand continues to rise, Vence’s virtual fencing solution will become central in assisting livestock farmers to continue to meet this high demand more sustainably, with better insight into animal health and welfare, but at a lower cost.”

Vence’s virtual fencing is only one aspect of the company’s business plan. While there’s a clear need for famers to better manage livestock grazing, Vence’s wearable will also provide realtime data on the health of an animal and the entire herd — all delivered via a mobile app.

Fencing is expensive and creates a source of perpetual cost and labor, and the idea of virtual fencing has been around for ~30 years, but it never made economic sense, until now,” said  Wooten, in a statement.

A former hedge fund investor and investment banker, Wooten was brought into the business through a mutual friend named Jasper Holdsworth — heir to a hundred-year-old cattle farm in New Zealand.

Holdsworth discussed the technical aspects of virtual fencing with Wooten and the financial benefits it could bring to farming and a partnership was born.

“They’ were spending in excess of $500,000 per year in fencing,” Wooten said of Holdsworth’s family farm. “He started describing this problem and he said he would be the first customer as well as help fund the business.”

With an initial customer…and strategic investor in place, finding additional capital became less difficult.

“Globally, livestock and pastureland are multi-trillion dollar assets that are currently managed with a bifurcated approach of manual labor and legacy technology, with a limited view into true real-time data,” said Vic Singh, Founding General Partner at Eniac Ventures, in a statement. “Vence has already seen immediate demand in seven countries from suppliers with over 1 million livestock, and the Eniac team is fired up to support them during this critical stage.”

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Humane Society races to shelter 300 malnourished Longhorn cattle before it gets cold – Fort Worth Star Telegram

Volunteers with the Humane Society of North Texas were working feverishly through the night on Friday to shelter at least 300 abused and malnourished Longhorn cattle before an expected cold front sweeps into Texas on Saturday.

Several cattle were found deceased as workers searched a property in Central Texas looking for strays, a Human Society official said.

The Humane Society volunteers are working in conjunction with deputies and officials from the Hill County Sheriff’s Department who are investigating the property with possible criminal charges looming in the future, said Cassie Lackey, Humane Society of North Texas spokeswoman.

It is unknown how many Longhorns had not been located or how many dead cattle may still be on the property, Lackey said.

“This is all very disturbing and unsettling,” Lackey said. “We are working against time to get these animals sheltered before the cold front comes in on Saturday.”

This is the largest seizure the Humane Society has worked on in the past two years, topping the more than 200 animals seized in one incident in 2016, Lackey said.

Lackey estimated that perhaps as many as 400 large animals would be recovered before the end of Friday night. The animals were located on property near FM 933 and County Line Road in Hill County, according to reporting by WFAA.

A hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Feb 16 to determine whether the cattle should be returned to their owner, a news release from the Humane Society of North Texas stated.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3

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Drought lands more cattle into US feedlots than expected – Reuters

    * December placements up 0.8 pct vs year ago
    * Jan. 1 feedlot cattle at 108.3 pct of year ago
    * December marketing down 1.4 pct vs last year
    * Report mildly bearish for CME live cattle futures

    By Theopolis Waters
    CHICAGO, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Ranchers sent nearly 1 percent
more cattle to U.S. feedlots in December than the same time a
year earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on
    The result topped most analysts' predictions, mainly led by
worsening drought in the U.S. southern Plains that shriveled
available winter wheat grazing pasture.
    Corn Belt states were the recipients of cattle from areas of
Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota where insufficient
moisture persists.
    "These very dry conditions that are developing in wheat
pasture country drove change in placements in November. And I
suspect we got some of that in December also," said Texas A&M
University economist David Anderson.
    Some analysts cited cheaper feed, which lowered input costs
for feedlots, as another reason behind last month's placement
    And more heifers are entering feedyards, suggesting to
analysts that the rate of cattle herd expansion is slowing. 
    On Monday Chicago Mercantile Exchange live cattle futures
       may open lower following USDA's report, but could quickly
rebound spurred by higher-than-expected prices for market-ready,
or cash, cattle later on Friday.
    USDA's report showed December placements at 1.799 million
head, up 0.8 percent from 1.785 million a year earlier and
exceeded the average forecast of 1.730 million. 
    The government put the feedlot cattle supply as of Jan. 1 at
11.489 million head, up 8.3 percent from 10.605 million a year
ago. Analysts, on average, forecast a 7.7 percent rise.
    USDA said the number of cattle sold to packers, or
marketings, were down 1.4 percent in December from a year ago to
1.752 million head.
    Analysts had projected a 1.2 percent drop from 1.777 million
last year.
    "The big placement figure tells you that we're going to have
big numbers of cattle coming at us for the foreseeable future,"
said U.S. Commodities President Don Roose. He too alluded to the
bump in feedlot cattle placements in Corn Belt states where feed
is more plentiful.
    "You continue to be in a drought in the Southern Plains,
that continues to expand, so it no doubt is another factor that
you have to throw into the placement discussion," said Roose.

 (Reporting by Theopolis Waters in Chicago; Editing by Lisa
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Nalivka: 2018 Beef Supply Big Picture Outlook | Agweb.com – AgWeb

USDA’s December 1 Cattle on Feed report showed a sharp increase in the number of cattle placed on feed during November – up 14% from a year earlier.  In fact, 9 of the 12 states included in the monthly survey posted double digit gains over the prior year.  Coupled with a 3% gain over the prior year for fed cattle marketed during November, the on feed inventory jumped 8% from a year earlier. 

For all of 2017, feedlot placements were up 9% from 2016, the largest annual tally since 2011.  It’s not much of a mystery why there was such a significant increase – higher fed cattle prices than expected, relatively low feed costs, and perhaps, most important, a 14% drop in the breakeven price of fed cattle marketed during 2017 compared to 2016.  These factors in concert left feedlots with an average per head feeding margin during the year of $235.  That compares to -$4 per head for 2016 and -$110 per head in 2015.   Simply put, it was a solid year for feeding margins and feedlots are motivated to continue filling feedlot capacity into 2018. 

Again, relatively low feed costs and breakeven prices are supportive to margin expectations.  Cattle inventory numbers will also increase, feeder cattle supplies will continue to increase and feeder cattle prices will be pressured lower for 2018.

We can work through the weight breakdowns of cattle placed during the month in an attempt to estimate when those cattle will be marketed, or we can suffice it to say, the placement figure serves as a pretty solid indicator of the direction of fed cattle supplies during the first half of the year. I opt for the latter, and I use the monthly feedlot data in combination with my slaughter model to develop monthly steer and heifer slaughter projections.

Aside from the distribution of cattle within each weight range, there are numerous other factors affecting the final marketing date for those cattle.  Within that steer and heifer supply, heifers are the biggest variable and are dependent upon retention. 

Along with the increased fed cattle supplies going into 2018, I expect carcass weights will increase.  They have steadily increased since hitting a low for the year in early May, and on a combined weighted average for steers and heifers, are up 74 lbs. into mid-December.  Those 74 lbs. coupled with increased cattle numbers have resulted in a notable increase in beef tonnage.

Feedlot placements will continue to trend higher.  The economic incentives for this increased supply will leave the market facing not only 5% more beef in 2018, but also nearly 4% more pork and 2% more poultry and thus, a record per capita meat supply.   Demand is the key, both domestic and global.   Maximum U.S. participation in global demand depends upon concluding bi-lateral trade agreements in Asia that represent both free and fair trade, as well as a “reworked” NAFTA agreement that is signed.

John Nalivka is president of Sterling Marketing, Inc., Vale, Oregon, and Drovers economic consultant.

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PETA billboard to go up near Riverdale cattle truck crash site | KUTV – KUTV 2News

Peta Billboard. (Photo: courtesy PETA)

(KUTV) Animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) will place a billboard near the site where a cattle truck crash in Riverdale caused the death of over 80 cows on Nov. 22.

In a press release, PETA says the billboard is meant to memorialize the cows affected by the crash. However, the billboard does not address the Riverdale cows. Rather, it bears a generic message that reads, “I’m me, not meat. See the individual. Go vegan.”

“Cows plummeted from an overpass and lay dying on the pavement, and those who survived the terrifying crash presumably ended up facing the slaughterhouse knife,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “PETA’s billboard urges motorists to prevent needless deaths like these by keeping cows and all other animals off their plates.”

The same billboard being used for the Riverdale crash was also used in Memphis, as an act of protest outside a McDonald’s.

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50th annual Missouri Cattle Convention nears – High Plains Journal

Hundreds of Missouri cattle producers are expected to convene in Columbia, Missouri, Jan. 5 to 7, 2018, for the 50th annual Cattle Industry Convention and Missouri Cattlemen’s Association Trade Show. MCA Vice President and Convention Committee Chair Bobby Simpson, a cattle producer from Salem, Missouri, said the convention is the largest event of its kind in the state solely focused on the state’s vibrant cattle industry.

“The convention is where we as an association gather to chart the course for the coming year. Members set our policy priorities and oversee the direction of this association. It’s more than just business though. We honor outstanding county affiliates, recognize individual contributions and dedicate an entire evening to the next generation of farmers and ranchers,” said Simpson. “This is also a tremendous time to network with agribusinesses and producers from across the state.”

Simpson said the change in venue from the Lake of the Ozarks to Columbia, Missouri, leads him to believe the MCA trade show will attract more vendors.

“The convention center is large enough to allow vendors to bring in large equipment and machinery for display. We fully expect to have more vendors and more things for producers to see,” said Simpson. “The trade show is the perfect place for cattle producers to catch up on the latest technology and products to help us improve our respective cattle operations.”

Registration for the event is now open by visiting https://www.mocattle.org/missouricattleindustryconventionandtradeshow.aspx. Attendees must register by Dec. 11 to receive the discounted rate. Vendors interested in exhibiting at the convention should contact the MCA office or visit the MCA website.

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Why Niger and Mali's cattle herders turned to jihad – Reuters – Reuters

NIAMEY/NAIROBI (Reuters) – When Doundou Chefou first took up arms as a youth a decade ago, it was for the same reason as many other ethnic Fulani herders along the Niger-Mali border: to protect his livestock.

A Fulani cattle herder walks with his cows outside the city of Tillaberi, southwest Niger, about 100km south of the Mali border, Niger November 1, 2017. Picture taken November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

He had nothing against the Republic of Niger, let alone the United States of America. His quarrel was with rival Tuareg cattle raiders.

Yet on Oct. 4 this year, he led dozens of militants allied to Islamic State in a deadly assault against allied U.S.-Niger forces, killing four soldiers from each nation and demonstrating how dangerous the West’s mission in the Sahel has become.

The incident sparked calls in Washington for public hearings into the presence of U.S. troops. A Pentagon probe is due to be completed in January.

Asked by Reuters to talk about Chefou, Nigerien Defence Minister Kalla Mountari’s face fell.

“He is a terrorist, a bandit, someone who intends to harm to Niger,” he said at his office in the Nigerien capital Niamey earlier this month.

“We are tracking him, we are seeking him out, and if he ever sets foot in Niger again he will be neutralized.”

Like most gunmen in so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, which operates along the sand-swept borderlands where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, Chefou used to be an ordinary Fulani pastoralist with little interest in jihad, several government sources with knowledge of the matter said.

The transition of Chefou and men like him from vigilantes protecting their cows to jihadists capable of carrying out complex attacks is a story Western powers would do well to heed, as their pursuit of violent extremism in West Africa becomes ever more enmeshed in long-standing ethnic and clan conflicts.

For now, analysts say the local IS affiliate remains small, at fewer than 80 fighters. But that was also the case at first with al Qaeda-linked factions before they tapped into local grievances to expand their influence in Mali in 2012.

The United Nations this week released a report showing how IS in northern Somalia has grown to around 200 fighters from just a few dozen last year.

The U.S. military has ramped up its presence in Niger, and other neighboring countries, in recent years as it fears poverty, corruption and weak states mean the region is ripe for the spread of extremist groups.


For centuries the Tuareg and Fulani have lived as nomads herding animals and trading – Tuareg mostly across the dunes and oases of the Sahara and the Fulani mostly in the Sahel, a vast band of semi-arid scrubland that stretches from Senegal to Sudan beneath it.

Some have managed to become relatively wealthy, accumulating vast herds. But they have always stayed separate from the modern nation-states that have formed around them.

Though they largely lived peacefully side-by-side, arguments occasionally flared, usually over scarce watering points. A steady increase in the availability of automatic weapons over the years has made the rivalry ever more deadly.

A turning point was the Western-backed ouster of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. With his demise, many Tuareg from the region who had fought as mercenaries for Gaddafi returned home, bringing with them the contents of Libya’s looted armories.

Some of the returnees launched a rebellion in Mali to try to create a breakaway Tuareg state in the desert north, a movement that was soon hijacked by al Qaeda-linked jihadists who had been operating in Mali for years.

Until then, Islamists in Mali had been recruiting and raising funds through kidnapping. In 2012, they swept across northern Mali, seizing key towns and prompting a French intervention that pushed them back in 2013.

Amid the violence and chaos, some of the Tuareg turned their guns on their rivals from other ethnic groups like the Fulani, who then went to the Islamists for arms and training.

In November 2013, a young Nigerien Fulani had a row with a Tuareg chief over money. The old man thrashed him and chased him away, recalls Boubacar Diallo, head of an association for Fulani livestock breeders along the Mali border, who now lives in Niamey.

The youth came back armed with an AK-47, killed the chief and wounded his wife, then fled. The victim happened to be the uncle of a powerful Malian warlord.

Boubacar Diallo, president of the livestock breeders association of north Tillaberi on the Mali border, goes through a list of over 300 Fulani herders killed by Tuareg raiders in the lawless region, during an interview with Reuters in Niamey, Niger October 31, 2017. Picture taken October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Tim Cocks

Over the next week, heavily armed Tuareg slaughtered 46 Fulani in revenge attacks along the Mali-Niger border.

The incident was bloodiest attack on record in the area, said Diallo, who has documented dozens of attacks by Tuareg raiders that have killed hundreds of people and led to thousands of cows and hundreds of camels being stolen.

“That was a point when the Fulani in that area realized they needed more weapons to defend themselves,” said Diallo, who has represented them in talks aimed at easing communal tensions.

The crimes were almost never investigated by police, admits a Niamey-based law enforcement official with knowledge of them.

“The Tuareg were armed and were pillaging the Fulani’s cattle,” Niger Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum told Reuters. “The Fulani felt obliged to arm themselves.”


Gandou Zakaria, a researcher of mixed Tuareg-Fulani heritage in the faculty of law at Niamey University, has spent years studying why youths turned to jihad.

Niger Defence Minister Kalla Mountari poses for a portrait at his office after an interview with Reuters, in Niamey, Niger November 1, 2017. Picture taken November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Tim Cocks

“Religious belief was at the bottom of their list of concerns,” he told Reuters. Instead, local grievances were the main driving force.

Whereas Tuareg in Mali and Niger have dreamed of and sometimes fought for an independent state, Fulani have generally been more pre-occupied by concerns over the security of their community and the herds they depend on.

“For the Fulani, it was a sense of injustice, of exclusion, of discrimination, and a need for self-defense,” Zakaria said.

One militant who proved particularly good at tapping into this dissatisfaction was Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, an Arabic-speaking north African, several law enforcement sources said.

Al-Sahrawi recruited dozens of Fulani into the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), which was loosely allied to al Qaeda in the region and controlled Gao and the area to the Niger border in 2012.

After French forces in 2013 scattered Islamists from the Malian towns they controlled, al-Sahrawi was briefly allied with Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an al Qaeda veteran.

Today, al-Sahrawi is the face of Islamic State in the region.

“There was something in his discourse that spoke to the youth, that appealed to their sense of injustice,” a Niger government official said of al-Sahrawi.

Two diplomatic sources said there are signs al-Sahrawi has received financial backing from IS central in Iraq and Syria.

How Chefou ended up being one of a handful of al-Sahrawi’s lieutenants is unclear. The government source said he was brought to him by a senior officer, also Fulani, known as Petit Chapori.

Like many Fulani youth toughened by life on the Sahel, Chefou was often in and out of jail for possession of weapons or involvement in localized violence that ended in deals struck between communities, the government official said.

Yet Diallo, who met Chefou several times, said he was “very calm, very gentle. I was surprised when he became a militia leader”.

U.S. and Nigerien sources differ on the nature of the fatal mission of Oct 4. Nigeriens say it was to go after Chefou; U.S. officials say it was reconnaissance mission.

One vehicle lost by the U.S. forces was supplied by the CIA and kitted with surveillance equipment, U.S. media reported. A surveillance drone monitored the battle with a live feed.

The Fulani men, mounted on motorbikes, were armed with the assault rifles they first acquired to look after their cows.

Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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