A laboratory in the cattle breeding and milk production plant

With the debate over the future of cattle rearing on the front burner in Nigeria owing to bloody clashes between nomadic herders and sedentary crop farmers, Sokoto State is implementing a long-term solution to the problem. Vincent Obia reports

 Sokoto State Government is on the verge of unveiling a cattle breeding programme, which it hopes will not only generate revenue and employment for the state, but also signal a final solution to the farmers-herdsmen crisis that has cost Nigeria many lives and exacerbated tension along the country’s fault lines. The Commissioner for Animal Health and Fisheries Development, Alhaji Tukur Alkali, said the Sokoto State Cattle Breeding Project, the largest of its kind in the West African sub-region, will be inaugurated in May.

Speaking recently at the project sites in Sokoto and Rabah local government areas of the state, Alkali said the project would improve the genetics of local cattle breeds and ensure higher quality and quantity of milk and beef production. It would also empower farmers with modern methods of livestock farming.

Alkali stated, “The government has spent N2.8 billion on the project, which was inherited from the immediate past administration of Alhaji Aliyu Wamakko. Of the amount, N1.5 billion was spent on the supply of Argentinean cattle to be used for cross-breeding, construction, training of personnel, security and other logistics, while another N1.3 billion was for the procurement of equipment for the  project.

“The project is the most definite long-term strategy to end farmers-herdsmen clashes as is being experienced across the federation, and in some neighbouring West African countries. We hope to not only empower our farmers, but also impart new/modern knowledge of mechanised farming and cattle breeding techniques.

“About 13 cluster farms would be established to be run by private entities. All the cattle breeds will graze in these fields. We will also provide research centre and laboratory, veterinary services among others.”

The cattle breeding project was birthed in 2010, when the Sokoto State government signed a N2 billion contract  with an Argentine firm, South American Breeding Technologies for the establishment of a cattle breeding, milk and beef production factory. Based on the agreement, SABT will train and bring revolutionary changes in agriculture, genetic procedure, meat processing, and milking machines.

 

Transformation 

Experts have long advocated transformation from nomadic pastoralism to settled forms of animal husbandry. This is given the increasingly chaotic nature of the nomadic lifestyle, which has involved bloody clashes between farming communities and herders, and cattle rustling. In recent times, there have also been countless other criminalities associated with nomadic pastoralism, including kidnapping, murder, armed robbery, and terrorism by bands operating under the cover of cattle rearing. 

Many in Nigeria, including the federal government and various state governments, have proposed ranching as a lasting solution to the frequent clashes between herdsmen and farmers. Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri, reiterated the suggestion at a one-day public hearing on a motion, “Tackling the perennial conflicts between farmers and cattle herdsmen,” on May 10, 2016. The hearing was organised by the Senate Committees on Agriculture, National Security and Intelligence.

Lokpobiri, who represented the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe, said nomadic cattle rearing had become obsolete and ranches had become necessary to provide adequate food for the cattle and forestall preventable clashes. He said with ranching, the livestock would be healthier and more productive, while the herdsmen would be able to give their children opportunity for education and a brighter future.

According to the minister, “Global warming, desertification and Boko Haram insurgency are some of the factors that forced the herdsmen out of the North down to the South to find grasses for their cows. The problem happened in America many years ago and they resorted to ranches as a solution.

“The nomadic nature of cattle rearing in Nigeria makes the cattle less productive. In other countries, the cows do not move; they are kept in ranches and so they are very productive.

“So, we have to give a new orientation to herdsmen for improved productivity. They used to argue that nomadic cattle rearing is a tradition, but we have to ask, as a tradition, is it profitable to the rearers; is it sustainable in the modern realities? Traditions do change based on realities on ground.”

Governor Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi State emphasised recently that the herdsmen needed help to change their old lifestyle and pastoral practices, which they have practised for centuries. Bagudu lamented that killings and other criminalities associated with the itinerant animal breeding practice had led to the labelling of Fulani herdsmen as criminals and troublemakers. 

“Not all Fulani herdsmen are criminals,” Bagudu said on January 16. “These killings have nothing to do with religion. It is just about lifestyle that needs to be change.”

He added, “These pastorals are those people that are moving their animals around. The societal pressure and environmental changes have made this pastoral practice difficult.

“These people are risking their lives. It is high time their lifestyle is changed, whether in Kebbi or in Benue State. I think it is now up to all of us to help them.  It is high time we helped them so that they can begin to enhance their lives, send their children to schools and be agents of economic change.”

While presenting the state’s 2018 budget to the House of Assembly on Tuesday in Birnin Kebbi, Bagudu said the state government was planning to establish 1,000 pastoralists’ settlements as part of measures to curtail the recurring clash between farmers and herdsmen. He said the settlements would be equipped with water, animal feed, and other amenities.

 

Sokoto to the Rescue  

The Sokoto State Cattle Breeding Project is a milestone in the efforts to facilitate the transition from nomadic pastoralism to settled modern animal breeding. The cattle breeding and milk production project provides opportunity for practising a more limited form of pastoralism and is, therefore, a pathway towards a more settled form of animal husbandry.

According to the spokesman of Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Malam Imam Imam, “This project is one of the largest we are undertaking. It was conceived by the immediate past administration of Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko but the Tambuwal administration decided to fund it to completion considering its importance, not just to the socio-economic well-being of the state, but because we believe it offers the most definite answer to the farmers-herdsmen clashes bedevilling the entire federation.

“The entire project will work on improving the genetic mix, health and productivity of our local herds. This will ultimately lead to higher milk and beef production while at the same time empowering farmers with modern technique of livestock production.”

Imam said, “This project will encourage sequencing of animal genomes to improve health, adaptability, and production. It will also improve adaptability of animals to climate change and disease; while at the same time improving livestock breeds to allow greater feed efficiency and other desirable traits. And because the project includes a research centre and laboratory, we intend to make maximum use of DNA-based technology to predict genetic merit for traits such as feed efficiency.

“Other components of the project include veterinary services and 13 cluster farms of about 20,000 hectares where the cattle breeds will graze. In essence, this is a system of animal husbandry accompanied with requisite investment in infrastructure, training, extension, marketing and animal health service delivery in conjunction with the private sector.”

 

Productivity  

Projects like the Sokoto State cattle project hold enormous potential for increasing the productivity of livestock farmers. Besides unreliable meat quality, cows raised in Nigeria are said to be among the worst milk producers in the world. Experts say while an average cow in the country produces less than one litre of milk per day, in many countries where modern animal husbandry techniques are employed, a cow can produce up to 100 litres of milk per day. An average cow in Holland, for instance, is said to produce about 50 litres of milk per day, while in the United States and other advanced countries, milk production per cow in a day is said to be more than 100 litres.

The practice of moving cows from place to place is believed to be a major cause of the poor meat and milk production in Nigeria. Useful body nutrients in the animals are unnecessarily wasted in a strenuous physical effort to herd them over vast distances.

Besides, the settled forms of animal husbandry would trigger the development of robust value chains around the livestock farms. Beef, hides and skins, and cheese production, as well as marketing and after-sales services are some of the economic activities that can be activated around the cattle breeding business when it is conducted in one place, rather than going from place to place with the animals.

Sokoto State has started a cattle breeding project with great potential for economic regeneration, peace building, and ecological improvement.  But the government needs to enlighten the herders and other relevant stakeholders and wean them to its new settled style of animal husbandry.