The debate over better ways of finding a lasting solution to the farmers/herders conflicts in the country has again resurfaced among stakeholders in the livestock industry.
The debate has again taken most parts of the media space in Nigeria in the last few weeks, this is just as the long abandoned idea of ranching or RUGA (as some would rather prefer) continues to gain traction across divides while stakeholders have advised northern governors to provide the needed environment to encourage the multi billion dollar cattle market in the country.
This followed another upsurge in kidnapping and other violent crimes carried out by suspected criminal herders and bandits in some parts of the country, though there are reports that some of these crimes are carried out by other citizens masquerading as herders.
Although there is no clear legislation on ranching in Nigeria yet, there are indications that government might give in to pressure to enact a legislation that would effectively back up ranching not just as part of measures to address the security crisis arising from open grazing but also to open more vistas for employments for the youth in the country to complement government’s economic diversification policy.
This will no doubt provide another opportunity for most youths who are neither educated nor trained in any skill, to take advantage of the opportunities abound in the cattle industry and become agropreneures in the next few years.
A farmer and investor in the livestock industry, Retson Tedheke told Leadership Sunday that “Not many Nigerians know the opportunities in the cattle market, though it is capital intensive, it is one of the gold mines in the agriculture sector that has been widely ignored by governments at levels in Nigeria in the last decades”, Retson Tedheke, Cattle ranching is a very important industry in some parts of the world like US and Brazil where it is progressively becoming even more vital to the economy of these countries. For instance, today, the Brazilian commercial cattle herd is the largest in the world. Beef and milk are the top two livestock products in Brazil and it progressively rose from $1billion in 2003 to $7.449 billion in 2019.
Amazon Brazil is home to approximately 700 million heads of cattle, and is the largest exporter in the world, supplying about a quarter of the global market. Low input costs and easy transportation in rural areas make ranching an attractive economic activity in the forest frontier.
According to reports obtained by Leadership Sunday from Abiec Projections, the estimated value of Brazil’s 2019 beef exports was $7.449 billion and reached $8.568 billion in 2020.
The report also showed that Brazil’s 2019 beef exports reached an estimated 1.828 million tonnes, up from the previous record of 1.643 million tonnes in 2018 and the volume was projected to soar 13 per cent to 2.067 million tonnes.
In Nigeria for instance, in 2020, the cattle market contributed about 6.7 per cent to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The report was confirmed at a roundtable on private-sector driven National Livestock Development Policy held in Abuja when the president of Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), Prince Adetokumbo Kayode, said it was achieved through the provision of meat, milk, wool, hides and skins in activities that have great value chains attached to each of them.
Despite the potentials in the cattle industry, Nigerians and even governments at all levels have failed to invest in this sub-agro-sector as they have done to other areas of agriculture.
Retson Tedheke, who spoke with Leadership Sunday recently, called on President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the Central Bank Governor and state governors in the North to take advantage of human resources not only to create wealth for the region but also end the spate of insecurity in the region and the looming dangers the country is facing.
Retson, who is also the managing director, NFGCS Ltd, said: “Nigeria is sitting on a time bomb that is likely going to consume any form of progress made if we are not proactive when it comes to this herders/farmers conflict that is now snowballing into a full blown ethnic crisis.
“Times are hard, yes, however, what government is capable of doing is only limited by what it is capable of thinking backed by the political will. The North of Nigeria holds the key to massive rural industrial revolution capable of changing our national narrative. Northern Nigeria has the land and the population to match. With the will, there is nothing we will not achieve, if we are ready to drastically reduce this continuing conflict between crop farmers and cattle farmers.
“The easy road to success never lasts. The easy option of herders heading to the rain forest in southern Nigeria is not a solution to the challenges of the cattle and men involved in this business. In 1998, China started planting trees to arrest the challenges of flooding, in just about two decades, China reforestation program has succeeded in solving a problem that was a massive challenge for a nation”.
Reston also urged governors in the North to start acting than taking.
“The northern governors must stop talking, they must start acting. The North needs to start a reforestation program that is targeted at planting one million trees annually over the next decade. They must begin the process of recharging the Lake Chad with the help of the federal government and support of donor agencies.
“They must start building mini dams in every local government along rain channels that can each hold a minimum of one billion cubic litres of water beginning from November when the rain ends to March when it begins,” he said.
He further advised that governors must commit to ruga settlements in every local government that is hybrid between open grazing and ranching.
He added: “They must devote resources to local vigilantes, vocational education, rural health infrastructure and rural electrification. This current road we are taking will keep increasing the conflict zones, it will keep breeding bandits, kidnappers, violent militias, increase in armed robbery and a vicious cycle of damaging destruction that will never end. We cannot pray this away, it is not going anywhere.”
Retson said on his part, his farm, Nigeria Farmers Group & Cooperative Society, has been in the last few years able to develop the exact model that the federal government, states & local governments can begin to implement immediately.
“And we are open 24/7. We have planted over 10,000 palm trees, 5,000 pine trees, 5,000 mangoes, 10,000 masquerade trees, 5,000 oranges, 5,000 guavas, 5,000 cashews and we are still planting.
“The farm spent about N60 million to connect electricity to the national grid on a 33kva line running from the main line covering about 5kms. We donated a 100kva to two Gaate communities. We have also built a dam capable of holding 500m cubic 11 litres of water currently serving over 50,000 animals free, a source of water for irrigation farming and also a source of drinking water for over 17 Fulani settlements and other communities.
“The farm can do more, but there is a limit to what the private sector can do knowing that investors may never be patient when it comes to long term development and planning. In #nfgcsfarm settlement that is about one hour 30 minutes drive from Abuja and between Keffi and Akwanga, Fulani herdsmen and farmers have been living peacefully since 2017.
“We currently have 30 Fulani herdsmen working in the farm, supporting 12 police personnel including 15 local vigilantes keeping the communities safe. Every day, over the past four years we have maintained between 150 and 500 staff mostly women and youth earning between N500 and N1,000 daily, building what will be one of the biggest community projects in a decade using local materials.
“The herdsmen are trying to understand the act of cow fodder hydroponic feeder systems, they are trying to understand the benefits of ranching and working with the managers of the farm to do what must be done for the greater good of Nigeria and Nigerians. Since 2019, over 50 staff of the farm including the farm managers have settled in the farm as the only home they know, meaning that we have built simple homes using wood, zinc and mats in what can be best described as cultural masterpiece. There is nothing that is in Abuja that cannot be found in Gaate.
“We must stop talking, we must start doing, we must see solutions that work and adapt them for the greater good of this country. There is a storm coming tomorrow that can be avoided today, there is a tomorrow for our children that must be protected today.”
Aminu Muhammed, a Fulani cattle attendant, told Leadership Sunday that ranching or RUGA must be seen a model for herders.
“We have been called all sort of names because some bad people who rustled castle into this country and use that as cover up to unleash mayhem on Nigerians. I think we should embrace ranching or RUGA, it depends on the area and acceptability to end this bitterness and killings.
“Five years ago, I thought it was not possible because we were used to roaming but now I understand the importance of ranching. You don’t have to walk from morning till night looking for places to graze and lay your head at the end of the day. It is saving us strength and our cows are looking better and healthier in the ranch, said Aminu.
Nikita, on his part, said it was not difficult for him to get used to ranching because we was already getting tired of nomadic life and the constant threats from rustlers.
“I feel safe in the ranch and wake up anytime to take the cows for a walk within the farm without fear. This is something we thought was not possible before now. But Mr Retson has given us the opportunity to learn more about cattle breeding. I didn’t even know that we could grow grasses on our own to feed our cattle during the dry season.
“Although we don’t have such resources, I believe the government must take what we have achieved here as a model to educate our kinsmen and other people in the cattle business to make it safe and more attractive,” he added.