• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Building resilience into Nigerian livestock industry

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lot has been said or written by commentators on the subject of Fulani herdsmen and crop farmers in connection with the recurring crises occasioned by encroachment on crop farms by the itinerant cattle herdsmen. Much of the commentaries have largely missed the point as they have been influenced more by sentiments than by rational thinking.

What is more perplexing is the fact that the cacophony of discordant notes, particularly those not-so-well-informed perspectives, came from those who are supposed to lead the way in decision making point the way forward. The whole argument has been reduced to ethno-religious, historical and cultural issues rather than think of the socio-economic and governance contexts.

The pastoral system of animal production has been subject to a number of constraints which have been overlooked and under-rated. The unwarranted heated and hostile arguments that have filled the media space and private discussions on this thorny subject have detracted from its actual import, relevance and implications.

A few examples will suffice. While the northern governors met to discuss about the nomadic Fulani herdsmen and the controversies associated with their roaming and reported killing of crop farmers, their spokesman and Borno State governor chose to issue out lectures and stern comments rather than telling Nigerians about what the governors would do to set things straight.

The national assembly, on the other hand, has tossed the issue here and there, with some confusing signals as to whether or not a law would be passed on the cattle grazing reserve. One of the things misconstrued was how the legislation would end the perennial clashes. Another, and very important, was the vulnerability of the herdsmen and how to practically help build resilience into the lives and livelihoods of these itinerant cattle rearers.

The key challenges that should receive proper attention and appropriate response involve the loss of lands on which to graze their animals; the endemic conflicts and violence and how these affect their production on both short and long term bases; the population increase and encroachment on their grazing routes; the herdsmen’s resilience in the face of drought, rustling, animal diseases and mortalities, unstable pricing of animals, and an absence of a structured and promising value chain.

Not many people saw climate change playing out at the background of the rising crises related to the herdsmen and crop farmers, whereas this is actually a major factor. The seeming lack of understanding of the interaction of factors affecting the livestock sector and the cattle herdsmen could easily explain why the need for resilience has been left out in the conversations.

Building a robust resilience framework is required in addressing the pastoralist-crop farmer conflict, increasing meat production, improving on dairy output, utilising animal wastes as soil enrichment for crop farmers and improving on the revenues from animal production, with particular reference to cattle, sheep and goat.

Alongside resilience is the consideration for sustainability. With growing population of Nigerians, feeding a population of 180 million for now and about 450 million in 2050 with animal protein should be an issue of serious concerns which needs to trigger positive strategies and actions towards meeting the rising requirements. This cannot be achieved through tirades, throwback of blames, buck passing or non-responsiveness. The same protein problem is being addressed by various countries with distinct national strategies. Going by the fact that Nigeria’s population is 24 per cent of the ECOWAS population, Nigeria needs to act fast, appropriately and consistently because time is of essence.

Cattle production has been erroneously attributed to Fulani tribe alone. The fact is, modern cattle production (including sheep and goat) is not an exclusive preserve of Fulani. With modern technologies, business prospects, improved logistics and more efficient information system, anyone from any part of Nigeria can embark on the husbandry of cattle, sheep and goats. This needs the deployment of better housing, better nutrition, assured water supply and modern animal health and breeding services.

A point has been made of commercial production of grasses for feeding these ruminants. Much of the public comments that trailed this official announcement by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, were critical and indicative of a lack of proper understanding of what this entails. It has been said that the grasses to be imported were assorted species of high-nutrient grasses, used in countries that share a lot in common with Nigeria.

An example is Brazil which breeds a population of about 200 million cattle. Brazil rears essentially the same breed as found in Nigeria and exports beef to the Middle East while Nigeria still grapples with just over 10 million (mostly putative) cattle, yet with a lot of acrimonious relationship, complaints and absence of commitment from past leaders to move its production to the next level in terms of quality and quantity.

While some elites spend much time and energy defending the past, contending that cattle roaming should continue, some complain about the news that grass production would be one of the solutions to the itinerant cattle rearing. People need to be asking genuinely how grass production can be embarked upon, particularly with interest in the commercial prospects. Agriculture is best seen as a business, and this entails livestock production.

The change of paradigm should reflect in thoughts and governance approach. The new direction being currently charted by the Minister of agriculture needs to be given a chance, particularly given the boldness with which it is being proclaimed. If does not sound popular or sweet to many ears, at least it could be examined for its proclaimed merits and adopted as an initial solution.

To date, nearly 10 state governors have signed up to the idea of providing land for ranching projects. What we need to be hearing now is how to integrate the grass production into the larger framework of modern commercial production of cattle (and other ruminant species). Nigeria should be leading the way in the sub-region in the production of livestock. The country should also be ahead of others in innovation and entrepreneurship in the sector. Doing it the old way will keep bringing back old problems and in more profound ways.

Olukayode Oyeleye