• Sat. Sep 30th, 2023

Towards a new thinking on cattle grazing 2

ByBassey Udo

Sep 13, 2023

By Bassey Ubong

What are the current key developments in Nigeria on cattle, nay livestock development? The Executive arm of the Federal Government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari canvassed the establishment of cattle colonies in the 36 states and Abuja one can guess. The effort yielded little fruit in the South and Middle Belt states which saw it as a political tool to dominate the country. Neither the Federal Government nor the National Assembly did anything of note, because the Land Use Act (formerly Land Use Decree of 1978 under General Olusegun Obasanjo) places all lands under the control of the Governor of a state. 

This law has a secure seat in the 1999 Constitution, and it will be a surprise if it will be dropped given the cattle colony policy despite the inclination of Southern legislators to dance to tunes by the Executive as evidenced in the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) of 2021. Several states have passed anti-open grazing bills and the Governors have given assent.

The National Livestock Bureau law concentrates on enumeration, identification, traceability, and disease control with minimal provisions on breeding and management issues. This leaves cattle in the parish of open grazing and continues to fuel crisis and suspicion in the Nigerian polity. 

Because of its prominence in political discourse, we should review international data to justify the need or otherwise for open grazing or the alternate – intensive cattle production. Of the estimated 1,000,967,000 cattle in the world, almost 90% were produced in the seven countries listed below according to statistics by Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) as at February 2021:

India    – 305.5 million (30.5%)

Brazil   – 252.7 million (25.25%)

China   – 95.6 million (9.55%)

USA – 93.6 million (9.35%)

EU – 85.5 million (8.55%)

Argentina – 53.8 million (5.4%)

Australia – 23.2 million (2.32%)

In Africa, Egypt’s cattle population stood at 7.9 million, or 0.8%. The 13.9 million cattle population in Nigeria posted by the World Bank for 2017 placed Nigeria as the 136th out of 175 countries on the world’s list. 

As at 2021, over one billion people in the world depended on livestock for livelihood in the opinion of FAO. About 70% of the 800 million people in the world who live below the poverty line of $1.90 a day (I have discussed the issue of poverty line in another post) depend on livestock for survival of which cattle take prominence. 

While the other components of livestock such as goat, sheep, and poultry are in general raised through intensive methods (enclosures with feeding systems) cattle are bred in open fields in developing countries.

In developed countries, some level of grazing takes place in open Fields, but these are ranches operated on vast expanses of land owned by a ranching company or cattle farmer. 

From the statistics above, about 50% of cattle are produced in developed countries where intensive methods are used. These countries produce and package the meat many of us buy from supermarkets. They bottle the milk we buy along with the cheese and other products from milk. 

Why should Nigerians continue in open grazing for the tiny proportion of cattle they produce? One cannot think of any other part of the world where cows move in dozens through crop farms owned by other persons who regard those farms as their dominant and in some cases sole means of survival. 

I recall the tears of students of Agricultural Education at Omoku, Rivers State whenever cows marched through their research project farms. The institution interacted with the leaders of the “Hausa Community” to avoid the problem, but the grazers continued to prowl. Repeated face offs between herders and crop farmers are common throughout Nigeria the North inclusive.

Destruction of crop farms by cattle therefore establishes another reason for new thinking on open grazing. There have been several cases of fatalities when farmers confront herders. This might as well be the reason – which may be wrong – for the inclination to regard herders as murderers and insurgents out to grab land as part of politico-religious master plan of the Fulani ethnic group.  The Buhari government made little or no effort to change this opinion.

Anyone whose source of livelihood faces threat should be expected to react in defence. 

Crop farmers react by natural instinct when their crops are trampled by cows while the grazers feel threatened when they are told to leave a farm and worse if their cows are attacked or the sources of food for the cows are blocked.

Nigerians have from independence ignored two key issues – ownership of cows and the place of the grazers in the business. Cows are owned by magnates who have no business with the perils of long travels through hill and dale as well as through hostile communities. The grazers are paid per head of cattle delivered live to the point of sale. 

Under such circumstances, grazers should be expected to defend their source of income. It would be a surprise if any of them thinks about land grab or subjugation of people.

The new, better, and futuristic approach points to cattle ranching which the Anti-open grazing Bill in Akwa Ibom State has highlighted and encouraged.  The new direction will involve billions of Naira but the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step as a cliché tells us. The Federal Government of Nigeria under Buhari budgeted N4billion for each of six new Federal universities (₦24 billion to prepare grounds for strikes by the workers). None of them appears to have taken off, at least we were unaware of the ceremony of the commissioning of any of them.  But half of such amount can be raised and allocated to start cattle ranches where feed lots are used alongside open grazing (planted) fields. These can be models which each state government in the North can use. States in the South where land space can accommodate ranches for 100 cows upwards can join but this should be done by private investors from any tribe and tongue. 

About 70% of the livestock business in Nigeria resides in the North where there are thousands of hectares of uninhabited land. It forms the basis of the inability of government to explain the need for cattle grazing land in the South when uninhabited lands exist in the North. If the issue rests on marketing, cattle are being transported to the South for sale by use of trucks after production these days.

Ranching anywhere requires much money but the benefits are many and worth the intellectual and financial inputs. More cattle will be produced and excess can be exported or processed into canned foods. Imagine the factories to be set up and the multiplier effect including employment along with inputs from support businesses. Imagine the ‘uncommon transformation’ (political phrase in Governor Akpabio’s repertoire) of cattle grazing youths who can change to settled life, acquire education, and broaden their socio-economic lives. They can become shareholders in the ranches and excess income generated and saved may place them in positions to venture into new business lines and become wealthy. The elite may be afraid to lose the ‘talakawas’ who worship them and do their menial jobs but the risk of violent uprising of the hungry and hopeless against the rich and privileged remain a reality despite the stranglehold of religion which are often employed alongside instruments of force available to power brokers.  

The time to conceptualise and develop a plan for cattle ranches has arrived. To wait and work for cattle reserves or colonies might as well be the tinder box which will explode and tear Nigeria into the uncertain nation states some people canvass for. One prays ethnic wars avoid Nigerian space because few people go unscathed when they arise. The richest and most powerful cannot force all members of their families into aircrafts and ferry them to save havens the way biblical Noah did. I saw the Civil War first hand and I am most unexcited about another experience, moreso when it can be avoided. 

As my primary school teacher taught me, a stitch in time saves nine. A new policy on livestock development – the modern, intensive variety – would have been the greatest achievement of the Buhari eight years. He missed it, but has been handed over to his fellow Moslem. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu can break the jinx, dismantle the talakawa concept, and take grazers, nay the entire Nigeria into a new phase of socio-economic development. He just requires the political will which his successor employed only in appointments of Directors-General, judges, and other Federal public servants.

Dr Ubong, a writer and public policy analyst, lives in Uyo 

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