As the nation seeks solution to the protracted herders/farmers’ clashes that has claimed thousands of lives and property, EMAMEH GABRIEL (Abuja) takes a look at developments in some farm settlements where ranches have begun to gain acceptance.
As governments across the country continue to place premium on finding solutions to the perennial clashes involving herders and sedentary farmers, some farmers are beginning to adopt the idea of ranching as a major antidote, not only to avert but also put an end to the incessant farmers-herdsmen clashes in parts of Nigeria.
The minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbe, had recently revealed that no less than 16 states governors across the country, have already pledged support for cattle ranching while donating, at the same time, five hectares of land each for the purpose.
It will be recalled that Audu Ogbeh had, in 2016, told Nigerians that 11 states had provided 55,000 hectares of land for the establishment of ranches to curb clashes between farmers and pastoralists in their states. He listed the states to include Plateau, Kaduna, Kano, Gombe, Katsina, Taraba, Niger, Adamawa, Jigawa, Sokoto and the FCT.
The minister had then also stressed the need to improve livestock and dairy industry in the country, revealing that the country had more than 19 million cattle, 41 million sheep and 72 million goats as at 2011.
“The way forward is to strive to attain self-sufficiency in animal protein by checking constant exposure of our cows to long distance trekking in search of pasture which affects their productivity.”
He also assured that the government was doing everything possible to establish ranches to be planted with high quality improved tropical grass and legume species and make provision of irrigation for all year commercial fodder production to enhance settlement of pastoralist and ensure cattle, sheep and goat improvement through an expanded breeding programme that would use artificial insemination.
Corroborating this development in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP Friday, the special adviser, Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mr Femi Adesina, said state governments are already making provisions for ranching and such is the first step expected to address killings between herdsmen and farmers.
“You are aware that 16 state governors recently consented on ranching. This goes to show that we are moving forward,” Adesina told LEADERSHIP Friday during a recent visit to a farm settlement owned by a farmers’ group, Nigerians Farmers Group and Cooperative Society (NFGCS) in Mararaba Gaate in Kokona local government area of Nasarawa State.
While some states have keyed into the federal government’s cattle colony initiative, others are already establishing laws prohibiting open grazing in their respective states.
The idea to establish cattle ranches started gaining wide acceptance recently when clashes between farmers and herdsmen were taking tolls, not only on the lives of innocent citizens, but also having huge negative impacts on agricultural activities in affected states.
The House of Representatives had also recently backed the idea for the establishment of cattle ranches in states instead of colonies as initially proposed by the federal government, while calling on both the federal and state Ministries of Agriculture, to educate and encourage herdsmen on the benefits of ranching.
Clearly, most of the clashes between the herders and farmers, especially in Benue State, was due to the practice of herdsmen roaming across the length and breadth of the country in search of pastures for their cattle, which most cases led to trespassing and damaging of crops and farm produce.
Analysts have suggested that the federal government must have reasons for keeping the herders in established expanses, preventing them moving from one point to another in search of grazing fields.
They have also observed that it is safer to curtail the movement of the cattle since such movement often results in the destruction of crops and clashes between the herdsmen and the farmers.
They said ranches are capital intensive and successful bid for ranches must involve mass investments from governments and other stakeholders.
What it implies is that government must ensure that there is enough water and all-year-round grass for grazing. The Fulani herdsmen must also be encouraged to cut grass in the rainy season and store same for use during the dry season in addition to being educated on how to manage limited space.
While it is agreed that ranches are capital intensive and there is the need for governments at all levels to encourage the practice with the provision of the necessary facilities to herders, the gains go beyond ending herdsmen/famers’ clashes and the killings involved.
Farmers who have adopted the ranch model, said the benefits are numerous but government must be responsive by providing the orientation for the average Fulani herdsman to shift from the mindset of roaming and adapt to the reality on ground.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Friday during a recent inspection by Mr Adesina to their farm settlement, the National Coordinator, Nigerians Farmers Group and Cooperative Society, Comrade Retson Tedekhe, said while he cannot ruled out the idea of open grazing, which would depend on understanding between all parties involved, there must be a process of integration and adaptation and the government must also be ready to come in and cut cost.
Retson, who walked LEADERSHIP Friday round the ranch in their farm settlement to look at how they have been able to manage their cattle, creating a method that caused them to adapt, said it is a process that will take time but at the end of the day, it pays better.
He further revealed that they have been able to sustain this because of the synergy they built between them and herdsmen in the settlement, who have eventually adapted to the ranching model.
“I am an advocate of common sense approach to solving the farmers-herdsmen clashes in Nigeria. What do I mean by common sense approach? You cannot move from one form of open grazing to another form of ranching and think there would be no conflict.
“There would always be conflicts in situations like that. How do you eliminate that conflict? The only way to eliminate that is to create a highbreed between ranching and open grazing. And whether you like it or not, that is what the government suggested in what it called the cattle colony option.
“Look at it in contest; how many herdsmen can confidently say today that they have the capacity to seclude their cattle and feed them considering the cost? They are very few.
“So, what do you do? You create an opportunity for them to assess what is vital for the cattle to have food and water. And also be able to give them the ability to go out once in a while if they need to.
“Once you create these processes of integration and process building, you then have a system that is capable of accommodating what they want to do and capable of telling them what they should do,” said Comrade Tedekhe, who spoke more of their success story of integrating herdsmen in their settlement, making them part of the process they are building to address a likely breakout of clashes.
He also said, “What we have been able to do at the Nigerians Farmers Group and Cooperative Society, is that we pulled together some herdsmen; set out the dynamics associated with ranching and made them understand that we can provide you water, we can provide you the ability to ranch; we can provide you the ability to have access to that which it requires to feed them.
“This will however pull them from going after people’s farms. It will give them the insight to the need to be able to utilise the important factors of feeding and water. Once we created that relationship, we eliminated the challenges associated with forcing them out of that which they have been known for.
“Around us now, you see the cows and the rate of growth and the fattening process, they love it, they enjoy it and they want theirs to be like this, he said.
“We have also provided them with other supports to help them out. We have provided them with barbed wires for proper perimeter fencing for the places where their cows will stay. Once you provide them this including security, boreholes for water and then you wet a certain area where they can take their cattle and graze, you will realise that, even when they graze, they will realise that thing they are looking for out there, they already have it.
“You have to give them an insight that the solution you are providing is better than what they are used to. Once you establish that relationship and understanding, the problem is as good as solved,” advised Tedekhe.
On the issue of security, he said, “When we came to this community, the first thing we did was to identify with the Fulani herdsmen. You can see in our ranch, most of the people in that sector are Fulani herdsmen. They are beginning to see that you can actually do this business differently from what they are used to.
“Once they trust you are able to do this for them, it would be difficult for them to try to antagonise you with the solution you put on the table. But if you go with the mind set of killing the man before providing a solution, you are always going to have issues with him.
“Once grazing fields are provided, water is made available; the next thing is adaptation on their part. Once this is done, there comes the paradigm shift in their minds. Their minds begin to think that now they can actually secure their cattle in a place where they can feed and there is water. Once you create that conflict in his mind, you have won him over.
Nikita Muhammed, a herdsman who also spoke to our correspondent, said he was beginning to learn how to adapt to the process of ranches. He said from the little experience he has gathered, ranching is better than open grazing.
According to Nikita who spoke through an interpreter, “I have less work in protecting and looking after the cattle, though we take them out occasionally to graze because they are still not fully used to a ranch, they are better than when they used to travel for miles looking for what to eat.
“You can how see the cattle are looking very nourished because here, they eat well and have a lot of water to drink. They are even secure against rustlers. That makes the job easier for us,” said Nikita who revealed that there are other economic benefits in ranches.
“I did not know until recently that we could make good money selling cattle dung. You can see today alone, two trucks came all the way from Kaduna looking for dung to buy for famers. They used them as fertiliser to grow their crops.
“I only hope that the government will come in and give us all the support we need to sustain what we have just started. We want the protection against any security threat in the future,” he appealed.
On the threat to their investment, earlier, Femi Adesina said the government has already deploy rangers across states against any security threat to farmers and assured that the government will continue to put in its best to make agriculture more attractive to farmers at all levels.