• The Enugu State cattle ranch holds lessons for the nation

For several years, well-meaning Nigerians have canvassed ranching as panacea for the incessant herder-farmer clashes. These clashes have resulted in wanton killings, plundering and pillaging across the country. Sadly, rather than accept that nomadic pasturing is anachronistic and that ranching is the way to go in our quest for food security and job creation, the federal government has groped from grazing reserves to cattle colonies, Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA), and lately, the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP).

The state governments have equally paid a lip service to the reality. Even states such as Benue and Taraba, which enacted the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranch Establishment laws, have not facilitated any private investments in modern ranch or even set up one themselves to pilot the much-talked about solution. The result is that herder-farmer clashes have continued unabated, while Nigeria loses out in the highly lucrative ranching business and cattle-related agro-allied sector.

According to the Nigerian Metrological Agency, desertification and land degradation arising from drought affect more than 350,000 hectares of arable land annually, while a research by the University of Ibadan shows that15 of the 19 northern states are struggling with desertification. Additionally, Lake Chad, which is a major source of livelihood for North-east Nigeria and parts of Chad and Cameroon, has shrunk from 25,000 square kilometres in 1960 to about 2,500 square kilometres today. These have acerbated the murderous struggle for resources. So, the anti-grazing laws and ranch establishment laws will not on their own arrest the herder-farmer clashes unless practical steps like ranching are taken to properly harness and manage diminishing resources for the good of the country.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, Nigeria’s cattle heads in 2018 was estimated at 20 million, about 1.36% of the global total and the fourth largest in Africa, after Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania. About 88.5 per cent is consumed as meat. Also, whereas every part of a cow is very valuable and lucrative to support a thriving industry, the current cattle rearing practice in Nigeria is extremely unproductive and yields little beyond the meat. For instance, whereas products like cheese, butter, and milk are everyday staples in Nigerian homes, and whereas the hides and skin are key to the shoe and luxury goods industry, Nigeria imports virtually everything.

Only a paltry 11 per cent of the estimated 20 million cattle population is used for diary production and most of these breeds are imported, usually from Netherlands and South Africa. Thus, the nation spends between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion on importation of dairy to make up for the overwhelming shortfall. This is not surprising because the prevalent nomadic cattle rearing culture negatively affects the quality of our cattle in terms of weight, milk production, and even the quantity and quality of meat. Our cattle weigh a maximum of 300kg and produce about 1.5 to 2 litres of milk daily. But in Kenya where cattle are managed in ranches, they weigh between 700kg and 1000kg with daily milk production of 30 litres.

It is, therefore, commendable that the Enugu State Government has embarked on the construction of a modern ranch for breeding of Efi Igbo (Muturu Cattle) specie indigenous to the South East. Apart from addressing the protracted herder-farmer clash, this initiative will boost food sufficiency, stop capital flight, promote industrialisation and generate employment for young entrepreneurs. It is something the federal and other state governments should emulate. Meanwhile, we enjoin the Enugu State government to consider the concerns of some well-meaning citizens on the need to ultimately encourage private sector equity in this ranch initiative to ensure profitable management as well as survival beyond the current administration. But in all, we commend the government for the foresight.