If indications from the presidency at the time of writing this article are anything to go by, the RUGA initiative that generated some controversy in recent weeks may have been put to rest (temporarily or not). What is more important, however, is devising new and sustainable ways to get the cattle business thriving in Nigeria.
As reported by BusinessDay, with an estimated 19 million heads of cattle valued at over N1.9 trillion, the cattle business has potentials for significant growth, if cattle owners can develop independent ranches where they can commit their own funds to invest and meet international standards. At present, herdsmen, popularly of the Fulani extraction move cattle across thousands of kilometres from the north to the south, in search of pasture to graze. The north-south movement, and later the south-north movement in search of pasture, consistently leads to losing whatever weight has been gained during grazing periods, according to experts.
“When your cow in Nigeria marches from Adamawa to Lagos that is a little more than exercise, therefore we have to confine Nigerian cows in ranches,” remarked Audu Ogbeh, immediate past Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development at last year’s BusinessDay Agribusiness and Food Security Summit. Advocating what would be private sector-led and with full business intentions, Ogbeh explained that for a young person with just 20 milk cows behind the house, well secured, and fed with at least 10kg of fodder per day, and 40 litres of water, one can collect enough milk to be a very comfortable Nigerian without looking for a job.
The prospect of readily available grass to feed cows across the country has the potential to curb recurring violent clashes in different parts of the country between farmers and herdsmen. It will also see the value of cattle improve as better feed implies improved beef and milk quality.
“That is the only thing we need in Nigeria if we want to improve cattle, dairy and beef production in Nigeria,” said Ayoka Adebambo, a professor of animal breeding and genetics, at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, in a phone interview with BusinessDay.
“We have the land required and instead of going to places like Brazil to import grasses, many places in the north can be used to produce adequate high quality grass,” Adebambo explained in a previous interview with BusinessDay.
Soji Apampa, CEO, the Convention on Business Integrity, an organisation, which says it introduced cultivation of Napier grass in the Laduga grazing reserve in Kaduna state, where cattle owners are reporting significant improvements in their livestock, believes provision of fodder and water is the solution to the crisis.
Apampa told BusinessDay that before introduction of the grass in the grazing reserve, milk production hovered around 1 litre (and usually less) per cow, but within weeks of feeding on the Napier grass, cows could produce as much as 3 litres of milk in a day.
He also explained that the business of grass production is gradually gaining traction as rural dwellers around the reserve sold N6 million worth of Napier seedlings (as at last year). This, he said can improve if deliberate efforts are made to encourage increase in production, and making it a structured business to attract the right investments.
Napier grass, also known as “elephant grass”, “Sudan grass” or “king grass”, is a fodder grass that produces a lot of high-protein forage. It is not entirely new in Nigeria, but now holds prospects of a profitable industry that could as well end years of violent conflicts between farmers and herdsmen.
The grass is suited to high rainfall areas, but is drought-tolerant and can also grow well in drier areas.
For a cow to produce well, it needs feed of about 15 kg a day. Impliedly, Nigeria’s estimated 19 million heads of cattle will require about 285,000 metric tonnes of feed in a day. As many nomadic herdsmen may be unable to produce the grass required to feed their cattle, this opens an opportunity to grow grass in commercial quantity to meet the needs of this market, and improve cattle quality in the country.
An industry created around the business of grass growing, is likely to resolve conflicts that arise when cattle herders migrate and graze. It will provide an alternative source of feed which and improve the quality of cattle in the country. The increase in cattle productivity as experts have observed, will not only be for beef production but also dairy production where Nigeria currently lags global averages.