Cattle ranching in Southwestern Nigeria
The Nigerian livestock industry constitutes an important sector of the Nigerian economy, though marked with poor productivity as a result of crude and traditional method of her pastoral system. Of the estimated 20 million population of cattle in Nigeria, 70% of this population is located in the northern part of the country while the remaining 30% are found in other parts of the country. Open grazing is the predominant practice of cattle rearing in Nigeria and it is mostly practiced by Fulani herders who move for days on foot with their herds from the north to the more rain-fed southern parts of the country. Nigeria with an estimated 20 million heads of cattle occupies the 14th position in the world compared to Brazil, India and China with 212,189 and 114 million heads of cattle, respectively being the top three nations with the highest heads of cattle.
Prior to now, the open grazing system was practically appropriate when there was less competition between man and livestock for land. However, due to recent changes in prevailing climatic condition; drought; increased pressure on the use of land by humans for other purposes; and the growing population of cattle heads, the scarce abundance of pasture in most part of the north could no longer cope with the forage requirements of these cattle and as such pastoralists opted for more sustaining nomadic approach to raising their herds by migrating to the more humid southern parts of Nigeria where there is abundant vegetation to comfortably cater for their needs.
Concerns on the nomadic approach to cattle rearing
- The migratory nature of rearing cattle in Nigeria would not encourage cattle to gain body weight as most of the nutrients obtained in transit are used up while covering long distances thus the animals are often emaciated resulting in low carcass yield
- Most of the cattle reared in Nigeria are illegally brought into the country from neighboring countries through porous borders without records
- There is increased risk of disease and parasite transmission from one location to another (Trans-border and within Nigeria) thus endangering the local cattle population as well as predisposing humans to zoonotic diseases
Aside from the above, along the migratory routes arises indiscriminate ways of grazing and which has resulted in issues relating to cattle rustling, destruction and damage of cultivated farmlands, communal clashes between herders and farmers with consequent losses of lives and properties. Though, this has perpetually been an issue of concern to the nation for decades but in recent time it has become a more prominent threat to national security.
The Nigerian Government in her quest to address this issue came up with several programmes; grazing reserves, cattle ranches which have hitherto failed while there have been recent attempts to introduce cattle colony and RUGA settlement. RUGA Settlement according to the federal government seeks to assist pastoral families; animal farmers, not just cattle herders, to settle in an organized place with provision of necessary and adequate basic amenities such as schools, hospitals, road networks, veterinary clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that will process and add value to meats and animal products. This initiative however has received several backlashes from the people especially in the southern part of the country with the claim that the idea is marred with political/religious undertone.
From the foregoing, it would be appropriate to make some remarks about ranching as it is of more importance to cattle production in Southwest Nigeria.
Ranching involves the demarcation of an area of land, including various structures, given primarily to the practice of raising grazing livestock such as cattle or sheep for meat, milk or wool. The practice exposes cattle to paddock grazing with improved varieties of forages and fodders all year round and modern livestock management practices such as feedlot fattening, artificial insemination and others. This practice is an improvement over the traditional livestock management system and it is not new to us in Southwest Nigeria. The incidence of cattle ranching in SW Nigeria could be dated back to the colonial era when farms and a couple of ranches were established by the colonial masters across different locations in Nigeria. As part of measures to further promote the practice of sustainable agriculture in Western Nigeria, in the 1960’s the leadership of the then western leader (Chief Obafemi Awolowo) invested in agriculture. Prominent among these development was Fashola stock farm in Oyo state which was equipped with cattle breeding and multiplication facilities while the progenies were further distributed to other ranches (Imeko, Akunnu, Odeda cattle ranch etc.) within the western region for commercial cattle production.
The era of military administration following the first coup suffocated and frustrated all efforts to make the enterprise functional thus it became a failed project. However, amidst recent concerns by the populace of southwest Nigeria, DAWN commission proposes the revisit of the abandoned ranching project.
Case for the establishment of ranches
- Nigeria is a major producer of livestock (cattle and goats) in Sub-Saharan Africa and it is the largest importer of milk in the region, with an annual importation bill of $1.3bn. The country’s cattle population is estimated at 20 million. However, only 2.3 million cattle (11.5%) are utilized for dairy production
- Clashes between nomadic herders and farmers have claimed roughly 7,000 lives over the past five years and cost the Nigerian economy $13 billion (11.57 billion euros) annually, according to a report in May by the NGO Mercy Corps.
- Per capital consumption of beef in the world is presently estimated at 26.1kg/person. Nigeria however is still struggling to meet up with the minimum daily requirement of animal protein put at 35g daily by the FAO, thus emphasising that Nigerians are deficient of the needed animal protein which could only be increased through intensive livestock production.
- With over 200 million people and an emerging middle class, Nigeria is witnessing a boom in demand for meat. According to government estimates, Nigeria, consumes 360,000 tonnes of beef each year, accounting for half of all consumption in West Africa.
- Also, a larger percentage of beef produced in Nigeria are consumed by people in the southwestern part of Nigeria. The population of southwest Nigeria is presently estimated at 40 million and has the tendency to grow to over 60 million in 10years, thus emphasizing that there is a ready market for beef and dairy products in the region.
- Over 8,000 cattle heads slaughtered in Lagos daily, at an average of N150,000 per cow (that is N1.2 billion daily in Lagos alone).
- There are already existing ranching structures in the southwest that have not been put to use in a long while. It is expected that the cost of investing in ranching would be relatively low.
- The abundance of vegetation in the southwestern part of Nigeria, coupled with determination of the federal government to increase agricultural production plus the zeal and vested interests of the present southwest government to prioritise agriculture, it may be necessary to revisit the abandoned cattle ranching programs of the past.
Benefit of the ranching programme to southwest
A few of the following benefits among several others are highlighted below:
- The introduction of ranching would bring about the production of healthier animals thereby promoting the accessibility and availability of safe and healthy meat for consumption
- Bring about increase in commercial production of cattle thereby promoting the availability and accessibility to meat, milk and leather at cheaper and affordable rates
- Cattle raised in ranches due to restricted movement and access to healthier and more nutritious forages have more carcass weight and milk yield
- Would put a stop to the menace and ugly appearances created by herdsmen and their cattle on roads and streets of southwest cities
- Ranching would Curb/curtail cattle rustling and invariably put an end to incessant clashes of pastoralists and farmers thereby promoting peaceful co-existence
- Create enormous employment opportunities for the teeming population of Southwest Nigeria
- Enhance the proper documentation of livestock in the region thus assist government and other institutions concerned to make necessary policies
Having highlighted some of the the benefits that could be accrued from ranching. Governments of Southwest Nigeria must embrace the popular slogan that “government has no business in business”. Rather than wanting to invest directly, they should create the enabling environment for investors to come in, operate and thrive. The opportunities down the entire value chain are mind boggling.
DAWN commission hereby propose:
- Resuscitate existing farm settlements and cattle ranches scattered all over the southwestern states and encourage new ones to spring up
- An analysis of previous government ranching programmes be carried out vis-a-vis why they failed in order to avoid the same mistakes
- Encourage private individuals and business oriented individuals that would make better use of the available resources to invest or partner with government.
- Government should provide basic amenities and infrastructure that would support investment in livestock and make new and existing businesses thrive
- Encourage investment through low taxation and importation tariffs on equipment/facilities needed for investment in livestock
- Ban the movement of cattle outside allotted spaces and the use/possession of illegal weapons by herders in the region (Ekiti state has demonstrated that it is possible)
- Ensure registration of herders and their herds for proper documentation in the immediate
- Encourage periodic training of locals on the adoption of new and improved breeding programmes such as artificial insemination via media outlets and provision of extension services
- Establish breeding and genetic improvement facilities in the region and increase the capacities of research institutes and tertiary institutions to continually engage in top notch researches that would improve cattle production and the potentials of our indigenous breeds of livestock
In addition to the aforementioned, government should also explore the possibility of encouraging the cultivation of forages that would be transported to the northern part of the country for cattle feeding thus creating capacity for employment and revenue generation.
Oluseye Oyeleye (Mr.)