Abdullahi Musa, Nasarawa State Director of Veterinary Services and Coordinator of the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), in this interview with Solomom Attah, disclosed a plan by the Federal Government to foster lasting peace and collaboration between herders and farmers. He also highlighted the potential economic benefits that could result from the successful completion of the project, among other issues affecting the agricultural sector. Excerpts:
Can briefly give us an overview of what the plan is all about and how it is hope to be carried out, considering that you have worked with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and engaged in similar projects?
I am a civil servant working with the State Ministry of Agriculture for the past 22 years. I was born in a ruga settlement in Nasarawa Local Government Area of the state. I read veterinary medicine, of which I have been practising for years. I rose from principal veterinary officer to a Director in the Department of Veterinary Services in the state.
I am also the state coordinator for National Livestock Transformation Plan, which is a national project promulgated by the former President Muhammadu Buhari, which is typically to transform the way livestocks are been raised in the country. It is basically to mitigate farmers/herders crises in the country.
Can you shed more light about the NLTP project and the journey so far?
The project was launched on the 5th of August, 2021 in Baure. Three states have been selected as pilot states: Adamawa, Plateau and Nasarawa, and Gombe and Kaduna were added later. When the programme was launched in the country, out of the three pilot states, Nasarawa State was the first to be chosen and we launched the programme on the 5th August, 2021, before any other state and from that time, we have identified 30 hectares in Awe grazing reserve, which is being planned for the project and the main aim is to train herders how to raise their own pasture for the animals, from land preparation to feeding the animals, without moving them out from the 30 hectares. Also, 30 herders in Awe communities were selected in the grazing reserve for the training for two years and each of the herders brought their animals to the project site and they will be reared for two years. The essence is for them to see that they can rear their animals better than when they move around, without moving from place to place, because most of the problems we have as far as farmer/herders crisis is concerned is because animals trampled on farmers’ crops and then crises arise. They move around, trampled on crops, but when they are secluded within a small place where they feed themselves and do everything, there will be virtually no crisis and that is the aim of this project, to make sure that herders transform the way they rear their herds from moving from place to place to a more ranching system. Secondly, the aim is to also improve their economy, as moving around get them exhausted and consumes their energy. Aside from improving their economy, the breeds will be improved by importing semen that can give 40 litters of milk to them, so that one animal can give about 15 of what our local herds cannot give. This way the herders will have less animals and more output of milk and meat. If they have less animal, there will be less need for land, if there is less need for land, there will be less possibility of having crisis between the farmer and herders.
On the part of the farmers, the NLTP project is trying to train them and to ensure that they use improve method of farming, with improved seedlings, so that from a smaller portion of land, they can make much more yields. They can have more yields from a small plot of land, the competition of farmland and grazing fields between the farmers and herders will be reduced.
Since take off of the project in Nasarawa State, what are the challenges you have faced in the implemention of the project?
In Nasarawa State, we have eight grazing reserves, cut across seven local governments, and these eight grazing reserves measure over 100 hectares. The seven local governments are Awe, Keana, Doma, Lafia, Wamba, Karu and Nasarawa. When the Federal Government started the National Livestock Transformation Programme, they wanted to use one of them as pilot, because in all the pilot states, the federal government is only using one grazing reserve, because they cannot invest in all of them and that is why we chose Baure in Awe, because it has the largest land mass of all the grazing reserves we have in the state. The second reason is that, as at the start of this project, Awe happen to be one of the most peaceful local governments that we can conveniently kick-start our project without having any other issues. This is the reason we chose Baure reserve, because of the peaceful nature of the place and then excess land for grazing.
Of course, there are quite alot of challenges, especially when we started, everybody was afraid, especially the farmers. They thought we are going to collect their farm land to give herders and they didn’t know we came for collaboration, and whether we like it or not, farmers and herders need each other.
So far, when we started, we have had alot of cooperation from the communities. When we explained to them, the fear was no more their. You gave them improve varieties to go and farm and we develop a place for ranching for the herders, which today we have about 30 hectares of pastoral lands for ranching, with about 34 animals on the ranch that are being feed. They are there about six months now and the people are really seeing the differences between the animals in the ranch and the one moving from place to place. In fact, we had alot of people that want to join in now in the state, but we told them, according to the plan, only 30 people are considered for the pilot for now.
What are there in stock amidst fear, should there be more herders or states joining the programme, considering some of the advantages you’ve mentioned?
There are lots of advantages because there is that increasing understanding. Before the project started, there was fear, everybody was afraid from both farmers and herders. Even the herders are saying that, you want to stop us doing what we traditionally known doing? That is moving animals from place to place, and the farmers are saying, you want to collect our land and give herders. But at the end of the day, when we explained, we sat them down, with the support of an NGO, Center for Humanitarian Dialogue. We had series of meetings with them and they come to understand that the project is for their own good and now they are keying in.
A cow will need at least One hectare to reared in a year, and so for 30 animals for example, you will need like 30 hectares now, the whole 30 hectares are use for pastoral development, the animals are secluded within one hectare and they are living there, doing better.
But the good thing is that, upon the large animals we have in Awe local government was as result of the Anti-open grazing law by the Benue State Government promulgated, the herders have moved to Awe and in Taraba, after crises in Wukari, they come to Awe. In Plateau, crises around Shendam area, they move to Awe and so, it has become a safe Haven, and if not because of the efforts of the governor, the state will have exploded as well. The governor has prepared a conducive environment where farmer and herders are treated equally.
Looking at the activities at the project site, what does the state stand to benefit?
There are alot of revenue drive and other benefits to the government. The primary function of every government is to maintain peace and that is same with the project. For now, what we are doing, is to ensure that there is peace, that an herder can reared his animal, a farmer can embark on farming activities without any problem. Is only when you are living in peace you can pay revenue to the government. When the farmers and herders are empowered, they can in turn pay taxes automatically. The other plan we have at the grazing reserve is to ensure a holistic development, where schools, clinic, cattle market, abattoir, and partners from Netherland and US to compliment government efforts at the ranching site. By the time these partners comes in, it mean definitely, a lot of revenue will be coming to the state. More especially, the cattle market will be there within the grazing reserve, where you don’t have to take your animal from the project site to Lafia cattle market or elsewhere.
As a director veterinary services in the state, what is government doing to mitigating the spread of anthrax in the state?
Since the outbreak of anthrax recently in Suleja in Niger state, where there was a confirmed case, we have not slept . Even before then, when there was anthrax case in Ghana, we have been mobilising people, advocating and sensitizing people, but now that there is outbreak in Suleja, we have moved down to the community levels. We had meetings and sensitisation to the butchers and animal health care workers of the signs and symtoms of the disease, because they are the first point of contacts, so that they will see it when they saw it and then report. Same thing with animal care workers. We have trained them on how to identify the diseases and surveillance to search for the diseases actively. Thank God the case was arrested in Suleja, it didn’t come to Nasarawa state. So we had sensitisation with the livestock stakeholders: the marketers, the butchers, animals health care workers and will move it down to the local government and to the community levels. Because of the outbreak, the state government has banned any form of slaughter outside abattoir, as any animal slaughtered outside abattoir can not be certified fit for consumption, because what we do to every animal now, is to ensure every animal is properly examined for days before slaughtering, then they will bring the animal to a place we keep them and conduct anti-motar examination, if we see the animal that is okay, it will be slaughtered and then sent to the market. But for animals that are slaughtered in the bush and brought to the market, no! because we don’t know the anti-motar examination on them. In most cases, by the time they are bringing it to the market, they have removed the liver, intestine and others, and you cannot observe anything from the red meat we see or the flesh of the meat. When the meat is slaughter outside abattoir, those things are removed and you don’t see anything. So, we have stopped any form of slaughter outside abattoir, and all animals moving from place to place, we quarantine them before they are allowed to move further where healthy animals are there. In the meantime, any movement of animal is strictly under observation, we quarantine animals before we allow them to move further. This is just in an effort to stop the spread of anthrax, but the next thing is that, by God’s grace, we are going to vaccinate animals once His Excellency, Governor Abdullahi Sule approve our proposal of vaccinating about four hundred thousand in Nasarawa State. In Nasarawa State, we have more than 1.5 million head of cattles, and about 5 million goats, 3 million sheeps and all these are vulnerable to anthrax. We have more 7 to 8million that are vulnerable to anthrax. This 400 thousand that we are targeting in the first phase, in the second phase we will vaccinate more animals, because we can’t buy plenty vaccines, we will only target the animals and buy because storage is a problem and because is an outbreak, getting the vaccines is difficult because every state want to buy and the animals we want to vaccinate are high risk animals that are in places where we suspect that there are anthrax, especially our boundary with the federal capital territory, Abuja and other border communities, because they are the entry point that, there’s a possible that animals are coming into the state, then we will still do the vaccines to animals that are within the state.
What is your call to the public in regards to the NLTP project and the spread of anthrax?
Firstly, I want to call on the people not to panic about the outbreak of anthrax. Once the meat is certified by our doctors at the abattoir, eat the meat but if it is not, don’t eat the meat that is not certified. Don’t be afraid to say that, even meat that is not certified I should not, no! Take your meat, do your normal thing but, make sure is been certified and slaughtered in the abattoir. Don’t panic and past this information round. Once you see any animals, either it is sheep or goat with the symptoms of anthrax, which includes blood coming out from nose, ear eye and anus, report it immediately to the nearest veterinarian or veterinary clinic. All we need is the cooperation of the people with the ministry and the state government, because the government is doing it’s best to ensure our health status is okay.
As for the National livestock transformation programme, I want to express our gratitude to Governor Abdullahi Sule, who has given us all the support we needed. We have never requested anything in that project that he has never given us and that make us pilot of the pilots.