Resisting Modernisation at Lagos Abattoirs

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As part of efforts to improve the standards, processing and handling of meat consumed in Lagos State, the state government recently embarked on a transformation drive aimed at modernising the abattoirs. Ugo Aliogo reports that some butchers have, however, expressed concern that the effort is a ploy to render them jobless
 
Kayode Julius and his friend sat in the makeshift tent, discussing and trading jibes. On his wooden table, large chunks of fresh beef are displayed. Behind him is a raised cemented platform filled with men and young boys butchering cows, while on the other side of the divide are small group of retailers making purchases.
 
The butchering process is crude and strenuous. The environment is dirty. It is in a state of utter disrepair with open drainage systems and unhygienic atmosphere. The shade where these cows are kept before slaughtering is very untidy and has a strong stench.
 
Kayode sells beef in Odo-Eran abattoir, Lawanson Local Community Development Association (LCDA) Lagos State. The abattoir also has a food market. Like his comrades in the business; they are aware of the state government’s plans to transform Odo-Eran and other abattoirs to semi-mechanised urban abattoirs, but they don’t know what government’s demand from them might be in order to carry out this initiative.
 
Kayode, who spoke in Yoruba, said: “It is a good thing that the government wants to renovate this place. As you can see, the environment is not clean and healthy, but renovations will make our job cleaner and make us look more modern. We are very happy about this development.”
He also hinted that machines for butchering animals will be brought in to replace the butchers and he believes this will help transform the hygiene and efficiency of the business. “The people who do the killing are professionals, but we all know that machines make things faster, and this will reduce the cost of doing business,” he said.
 
Mechanisation efforts and concerns of butchers
Some of the butchers are worried that if the abattoirs are mechanised, there are fears that it would take many of them out of jobs, while others hint that when machines are used, there are areas of importance in the butchering process that the machines may not give detailed attention to.
 
A butcher at Oko Oba abattoir, Agege, who pleaded anonymity, said if government adopts the mechanised process, many of the butchers would lose their job, stating that though the mechanised process is very efficient, the manual is better because attention is paid to details such as bone removal.
 
He said, “If government adopts the mechanised process, it will take many of us out of the job, though we are aware that the manual process is time consuming and crude, however, I am appealing to government to retain the manual because for me it is preferable.”
 
For many of these butchers who have been in the business for years, switching from manual to mechanised process may not be a jolly ride, due to perceived complexity of the new technology, and lack of operational skills needed.
 
However, government may not be ignorant of these fears, as measures will be put in place to train and develop the skills of the butchers in various areas. But the challenge here is if government is sincere and determined; to bring on board the right private sector players in its PPP initiative in order to deliver on its promises for the abattoirs, because the Oko Oba abattoir managed by a private agency known as Harmony Services Limited has left too much to be desired in the areas of environmental hygiene, proper management of animal waste, hygiene handling of the wholesale meat and sufficient water supply for the butchers.
 
Added to these challenges in the abattoir, there is also the issue of high charges on the butchers by the checkers working for Harmony Service Limited. A butcher in Oko Oba, Anointing Olugbenga, said government is supposed to provide enough water for washing the cows as they pay N1,750 to checkers before butchering the cow, adding that they rely on the local water vendors to get water to wash the butchered cow.
 
He said: “This fee is levied on those butchering the cows on slab, if it is taken out, you pay more money. Government should reduce the money to N1, 250. Added to this, we pay N3,000 for ladder (monies paid to those watching over the cow). Government should speak with these cow watchers to reduce the fee to N2,000. It’s too high for us.”
 
Olugbenga is not alone in this predicament of high charges, the butcher who preferred anonymity who shared a similar experience urged government to reduce the price, explaining that this is a huge financial burden on the butchers and if nothing is done to address it, the charges would continue.
 
 “We don’t have much sales compared to before, there are a lot of butchers in the business. The high charges are not good enough. We are being extorted heavily and it is not in our best interest. The abattoir has lost its focus,” he said.
 
Matori Abattori, Mushin
At the Matori Abattoir, Mushin Local Government Area, the slaughter slab is housed in two buildings. There is the mechanised section which handles the slaughtering of cows, while the other building handles the skinning and dressing of the sheep and goats.  The butchering process here is slightly different from most abattoirs in the state. The butchers in the abattoir engage in the skinning and dressing the animal after slaughtering. The dressing is done after skinning.
 
This process is strenuous and time consuming especially because they use razor blades and hot water to carefully shave off only the hair, while the legs, hands, and the thick skin are transferred to a specialised area where it is well cooked to reduce the toughness, and if there are still hairs left either on the legs or hands it’s removed with the aid of sharp knife. The men in this section are very detailed, ensuring that attention is paid to every part of the legs and hands. However, the health safety of the beef is not given priority attention. The environment which this process is carried out is adjacent to a wide and deep gutter with stagnant water. There is also a huge deposit of cow bones and horns meant for sale in this area.
 
The Maitori abattoir plays a key role in meeting the meat consumption needs of Mushin and its environs with the butchering of more than 50 cows daily and four standby tanks to supply enough water for the cleaning of the abattoir. 
 
Oko-Oba Abattoir
From reliable data, it was gathered that the Oko Oba abattoir is the biggest in Africa, and when placed side by side with the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) and the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) it is bigger in capacity in meat production.
 
Going by the data above, there are strong indications that the abattoir sits in a comfortable position to contribute enormously to the wholesale meat consumption needs of the state, revenue generation and employment creation for Lagosians. To put the issues highlighted into proper perspectives, THISDAY spoke with a Secretary-General of one of the Union of butchers in the abattoir, who pleaded anonymity.
 
The union scribe said 1,500 cows are slaughtered daily and for each cow they pay N1,300 to the private agency managing the facility, adding that a lot of persons are gainfully employed in the abattoir and they have an estimated number of 3,000 butchers in their union.
 
From THISDAY investigation, it was learnt that there is also a mechanised section in the abattoir, but the work rate in the mechanised section is very low compared with the slaughter slab which produces the large tonnes of meat consumed in the state. Efforts to get the opinions of the General Manager about the pace of work proved abortive as he declined to talk to the media except there was a letter from the Ministry of Agriculture, Alausa, mandating him to do so.
 
From the three abattoirs visited, it was observed that large amount of the animal wastes are lost daily, without adequate provisions put in place to convert these wastes into biogas energy. Also, the cow horns and bones which have high commercial value are sometimes sold to buyers or allowed to rot away.
 
Efforts towards meat exportation
The union scribe was optimistic that few years from now, Lagos will become a leading market in wholesome meat export in Africa, especially with the purchase of four tonnes of meat for export by a group of Chinese in the last one year.
 
He added: “We are making headway because more Chinese are indicating interest. Here, we have about four industrial refrigerating facilities where you can keep meat for months and it will still be intact. The veterinarian doctors will give the specification and moderate it to a particular temperature level to ensure that nothing happens to it.
 
“The upgrade is ongoing; they have been able to complete the fence. This will ensure that there will not be leakages and trespassers. We have an organisation that is coming to sensitise the actual operators (butchers). We have a regulated meat market and whatever you cannot get in the meat market, you cannot elsewhere.
 
“The government wants to ensure that they regulate people and reduce the number of people that are going into the slaughter slab for hygiene purposes; it will help the butchers and the players. The players are those that we will cut the animal into sizes.
 
“In this abattoir, we are essentially distributors we are not retailers, however, we have a retail market which is private. We have a large consumer market in Lagos. We supply about 65 per cent of meat consumed in Lagos from this abattoir.
 
“In terms of hygiene, there are 40 veterinarian doctors who inspect cows. When you bring your animal, you cut it you open for thorough inspection. If they certify as unfit for consumption, they condemn it out rightly, while if they have to condemn the entire animal they condemn it there.”
  
Government efforts at regulating illegal abattoirs
The Monitoring and Enforcement Unit of the state Ministry of Agriculture has been clamping down on illegal abattoir operators. Recently, 24 butchers were arrested for illegal abattoir operations at Owutu, Ikorodu and in Badagry axis of the state. It was discovered that large chunks of unwholesome meat being processed with dirty stagnant water and live cattle were impounded.
 
Reacting to the development, the Commissioner for Agriculture, Hon. Oluwatoyin Suarau, said the state government has declared zero tolerance on illegal abattoirs/slaughter slabs, illegal transportation of meat and cattle unregistered veterinary premises and stray animals in the state.
 
The operation in the Badagry axis of the state, affected slaughter slabs on both left and right at Seme J5 Zongo, Iya Afin and Ajara slaughter slabs. The Enforcement Team in company of the State Taskforce also invaded the illegal animal markets at Iberekodo, Limka sheep and goat Market and Toll gate sheep and goat illegal markets.
 
The commissioner revealed that the task force has the responsibility of monitoring the whole process of meat handling right from the animal markets to the abattoirs, and even transportation, stating that government has significantly addressed the distribution aspect by introducing the Eko Refrigerated Meat Van which is now used to transport meat rather than the former obnoxious meat transportation.
 
He added: “On cattle movement and trekking government has provided designated vehicles called METROLIVE for the movement of live cattle from one end to the other’. Cattle trekking and transporting of meat and live cattle with illegal vehicles on Lagos roads is prohibited. These steps are aimed at complementing the on-going upgrading of the Lagos abattoir and reformation of the entire red meat value chains towards the delivery of wholesome meat to the people in hygienic environment.”
 
 
Use of biogas digesters
In implementing the Lagos State development PPP master plan initiative, there is need for government to put in place certain recommendations. According to a research conducted by the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations for Animal Production and Health Commission for Asia and the Pacific (APHCA), there is need for the introduction of biogas digesters for abattoir effluent treatment.
Biogas digesters are relatively inexpensive; construction costs for a 30 cubic metre digester is approximately US$10 000. They require little maintenance and generate energy (gas to be used for energy requirements at the abattoir) and the solid residues can be used as fertiliser. FAO has promoted this technology and initiated the construction of some prototype biogas digesters in connection with abattoirs, the most advanced installed at the Animal Products Development Center, a national meat training centre in Manila, Philippines.
 
The research said: “Biogas digestion is the breakdown of organic substances that make up almost 100 per cent of the pollutant load of farm or abattoir effluents, primarily to methane gas but also to CO2 (to a minor extent) and traces of other gases. Effluents dumped untreated beyond the walls of a rural abattoir. Lagoon system combined with initial solid screening: This system is not ideal but is used for effluent treatment by an abattoir producing meat for top-quality markets. Through the activity of anaerobic bacteria. Anaerobic conditions are created through the construction of air-tight chambers usually submerged in the ground.
 
“The construction materials used are hollow blocks, cement, sand, gravel, rebars and pipes. The capacity of the digester chamber depends on the volume of effluent to be treated and the retention time; but generally for small- to medium-sized abattoirs it holds 30 cubic meters. When biogas digestion is completed, most organic matter is broken down to methane, CO2.” and water. Remaining solid materials are primarily sludge.”
 
Conversely, biogas digesters need to be introduced at Oko Oba, and Matori abattoirs for effective treatment of effluent, and energy generation for the abattoirs because there is a large quantity of animal waste that is lost at these two abattoirs daily. For the private sector players who wish to partner with government in the concession plan, there is a need to bring biogas digester module that suits the Nigeria environment with emphasis on quality and building a reliable technical manpower to man the facility.
 
Upgrade of sanitary standards
There is also need to raise the sanitary standards in Lagos abattoirs and increase water supply for the cleaners and the butchers who don’t have adequate water. The cleaning process carried out at Matori abattoir is very low when compared with international requirements for abattoirs. In maintaining sanitary standards at the abattoir, the APHCA research recommended that the use of common chemical disinfectants such as chlorine-containing compounds aldehydes quaternary ammonium compounds oxygen-releasing substances (peroxide compounds).
 
The research explained that the chlorine compounds do not affect floor and wall tiles or stainless steel equipment, such as scraping tables. Highly mechanised abattoirs should use quaternary-ammonium compounds or oxygen releasing substances when disinfecting. Best disinfection results are achieved when intensive dry/wet cleaning precedes chemical disinfection.
 
 
Preparation and meat handling
There is need for butchers in all abattoirs to be trained in the areas of hygiene, and meat handling in order to prevent contamination of the raw meat with bacteria. The level of water supply should be improved to assist these butchers with enough water. At Oko Oba abattoir, the standard of hygiene maintained is very low judging with international standards and the status of the abattoir in Africa.
 
The butchers are carefree in the aspect of meat handling and retailers walk into the abattoir slab where the raw chunks of meat are displayed on the floor. The state government should provide stainless steel basins where chunks of these raw meat butchered are placed into before they are sold to the retailers rather than keeping them on the floor.
 
Government should build a designated area where the meat retailers make their purchases instead of walking into the slab area. The sanitary condition of the slaughter slab should be maintained at all costs. At abattoirs with canals, government should ensure that these canals are washed regularly to prevent disease spread such as bacteria to the raw meat and butchers, for instance at Maitori abattoir, some of the butchers carry out the cooking processes near a stagnant canal. This is unhealthy and unethical. There is need for an upgrade in the boiling processes of the cow legs and other parts, at the abattoirs visited they were found using the traditional methods and the boiling utensils are very old and dirty.
 
Facility for cow horns and bones conversion
Government should build facilities which would be used in crushing these cow horns and bones in order to convert them into useful products for the local market and export such as ceramics products, skin belt, skin shoes, combs, animal feeds and other products. The focus should shift from export to manufacturing.
 
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If government adopts the mechanised process, it will take many of us out of the job, though we are aware that the manual process is time consuming and crude, however, I am appealing to government to retain the manual because for me it is preferable
 
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The government wants to ensure that they regulate people and reduce the number of people that are going into the slaughter slab for hygiene purposes; it will help the butchers and the players