3 October 2017

Nigeria's Beef Supply Survives On Steady Inflow From West Africa

opinion

There is a saying among politicians that "war is too serious a thing to be left to soldiers." When I first heard it, I wondered what politicians had to do with war. But, what they were saying was that there are certain issues that shouldn't be left to professionals alone. The issue of agriculture is not the business of the ministry or the ministries of agriculture or local governments alone. It actually belongs to the private sector.

Today, we are dealing with the livestock sector as an industry, long forgotten and ignored by the various sub-sectors of the agriculture establishment. For nearly 30 years, we actually forgot agriculture. We abandoned food production to the peasant farmer in the village. And we expected him or her to feed us at very cheap prices. Today, we are all grumbling that food prices are too high. I once asked a question: if the peasant farmer was to cost his or her labour, who can buy one tuber of yam?

They don't cost their effort. And when they sell, they put everything there and they call it profit. It is not profit. Thank God we are evolving. And, thank God we are broke. If we weren't broke and oil still selling at $120 per barrel, talking about this subject would have been a terrible waste of time. Now that we are broke, we are thinking. Today, we are dealing with this subject because we have problems in this sub-sector alone.

The estimation is that we have 19 million cows or thereabout. But our population is almost the same as that of Brazil. And Brazil is nine times the size of Nigeria. A single state in Brazil, called Mato Grosso do Sul. A one-time governor of that state is the world's largest single grower of soy beans. He cultivates 30,000 hectares per annum. His brother is the next. Brazil has 305 million cows, by their last census. We have 19 million.

We can't even match Botswana, or Australia, or New Zealand, or Holland. Twenty five per cent of the land of Holland is used for ranching. And Holland is the largest single exporter of milk on the planet earth - very tiny country, standing on a piece of land way below sea level. What's the problem here? Over the years, of course, we relied on import, spending billions of dollars each year importing milk and milk products. These are not necessarily the best kinds of milk, but milk powders which we bring in and reconstitute.

Why is the Nigerian cow the lowest producer of milk on earth, producing an average of a litre of milk per day? Why is the cow in Kenya or Uganda, or Botswana or South Africa, able to produce 15 litres of milk a day? Or, should we refer to Europe where on cow produces up to 50 litres per day? During an exhibition in the UK a few years ago, a cow was dressed in Union Jack for producing 67 litres of milk per day! Our cow treks long distances in search of grass and water. Cows don't like to walk. I keep some. They like to eat and relax. They have four stomachs. They hurriedly eat the food, relax and regurgitate for proper chewing and swallowing.

The birth weight of a cow is about 60 kg elsewhere in developed world; ours is about 15 kg. Why can't we remember? Of the 450 grazing reserves on paper, all of them are gone. People don't even know that the Federal Capital Territory that we have today was a cattle route. That may explain in part why it may be difficult to persuade the cows to leave our streets. Cows used to come from the north-west, passing through there and going all the way down to the east.

Why did conflicts suddenly start and become so serious and has become a threat to business security? Years ago, there was no complaint of this kind. Herdsmen kept their cows, and if their cows wandered to a farm, they settled the farmer. What changed? Why haven't we remembered that cattle and sheep keep coming in from other countries into Nigeria because our borders are porous? They come from as far away as Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad, every time they have short supply of grasses.

Most of these herdsmen carry weapons. How come AK 47 has become so popular in the country we live in? Guns are easy to buy at N60,000 for one. The herdsman carries guns to protect himself and his cattle, just in case he gets attacked or somebody stops him from grazing when he wants to. Why are our meats so poorly handled? You see how we kill cows and goats. You see a chunk of cow meat in the boots of our taxis, or tied up on the back of a commercial motorcycle. You see people who kill goats by the markets, washing the goat meats with water from the gutter. Why do we not remember that a lot of these cows have what is called bovine tuberculosis? This is transferable to human beings.

We love meats. You will be surprised to hear that Lagos State alone consumes 6,000 cows every day of the week. This is not to mention parties, funerals, birthdays and other ceremonies. Imagine how many cows are consumed in Port Harcourt, Owerri, Ibadan, Abuja, Enugu, Kano, to mention a few. Which means we have been consuming 70 to 80 thousand cows a day. We are not calving as many. This means the 19 million cows we claim to have will actually be exhausted if we recognise the population growth. This also means that we are only surviving because of the influx of cattle from West Africa.

How then do we deal with this matter? We need help. We can't do it alone. We don't want to pretend that we have all the solutions. We need all relevant players at home and abroad. How did India solve with its own shortage? How did Ethiopia solve this problem which we are dealing with now? We are open to practical recommendations, which we will seriously begin to implement. We as a people can sit together and solve our problems. Quarrels, anger and abuse don't help. They only worsen matters. People read various meanings into herdsmen-farmers' conflicts. Some read religion, some politics, and some ethnicity.

The problem arose because, as a country and for too long, we paid no attention to this sector. Over the years, how much have we spent supporting rice farmers or cassava farmers? The herdsman too is a farmer. If we can work it out, there is no reason why the herdsman and crop farmer can't co-habit. A country that has about 60 million hectares of land lying fallow has no business complaining about how to organise ranches and keep cattle away from our streets. We can do it. We should do it. And we will do it.

We are already talking to the World Bank and African Development Bank. Where there is need for their help, we will ask for it. We already had discussions with 13 states, each of which has given us 5,000 hectares of land and has promised to give us more. We are hoping that we can organise cattle colonies, allow individuals to own and keep ranches there, take a piece of land, develop the ranch and grow the right kind of fodders. When I first came in, I talked about growing grass for cows. I receive verbal missiles and criticisms. There is no way you can keep cattle without grass. Not just any grass, but special grasses are grown for feeding cows. Brazil took grasses from East Africa and developed them. Today, people go to Brazil to buy grass and grass seeds.

The largest dairy farm in the world is in Saudi Arabia, with almost 130,000 cows in one ranch. They buy grass from Argentina and Brazil because they can't grow grass. The Saudis made up their mind that they are only going to drink their own milk. So, grass is important. A former permanent secretary in Kaduna now grows grasses and sells. When he started, his family thought he has gone mad. He told me he makes money. If you grow grass, you harvest 10 to 11 times in a year. Good grass is good money. There is no way the ranches will succeed if we don't grow good grasses.

We are going further than grass. We are converting cassava leaves into feed for cattle. We produce 40 million tons of cassava here. Six per cent of that should be about 2.8 million tons in leaves, with about 28 per cent crude protein. Processing will destroy the cyanide and make it suitable for cattle feeding. Cassava peel is also being pelletised with support from Bill Gates. We are hoping also to harvest and harness rice stalks and wheat stalks to make sure that open grazing begins to reduce. We have discussed with Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association and they said to us that this new arrangement will help.

I have met with the Lamido of Adamawa. He said to me: "You are the first highest government official who has ever taken this matter seriously." I said: "Whatever help you need, I will give." I asked him if it is the culture of herdsmen to keep moving around. He said: "How can it be? Their lives are permanently in danger. Many of them die of snake bites. Their wives die giving birth in the bush. Some are killed by hyenas, and so forth." They too have their challenges.

Of course, eating people's crops is something that we don't like. But as a honest broker in the ministry of agriculture, we want the farmer to make money and be happy and free. We want the herdsman to make money and be happy and free. We don't want any conflict between them. We want to solve this problem. There is money in this business. A man in India, called Dr. Kurien, who wrote a book, titled "I too have a dream," was the one who organised India's milk industry.

The British wanted India to buy milk, but India said no, we want to produce our milk. It was women who led the revolt. Imagine a day when the widow in the village has three cows and there is a man collecting the milk every morning for a processing plant. I have seen it in Uganda. I saw jerry cans along the road and I asked if their petrol was white. I was told it was not petrol but milk from the villages. Uganda is the second largest producer of milk in Africa. Why can't we do it here?

Imagine the day when we mix milk with cocoa and give our children in schools. With 25 million children in primary schools and about 18 million in secondary schools, a pint of milk in a day is such that we will not need to export one cocoa bean to Europe. Imagine what it will do to the brains and brawn of our children. Imagine the boom in the economy. We have started a few things in the ministry but we need the support of stakeholders.

Oil and gas will not employ millions. India, Europe and China are now saying that at about 2030, they will soon have no business with petrol. Then we will have nothing to sell. We have to prepare. There is a market of 120,000 goat carcasses per week in the Middle East. An investor from Qatar came recently, asking how we can export goat meat. There were those who were unhappy when we exported yams. They said there is not enough. That is not true. There are plenty of yams. The problem is, somebody else was exporting our yams, labelling it with their country's flag, and we sat here complaining.

Let's resolve this matter. Let's find a way forward. There is a huge gap. There is money to be made. By the time we are 450 million in 2050, food consumption on a daily basis will amount to N1.8 trillion if every Nigerian consumes N3,000 food daily. In addition to keeping cattle, I encourage people to keep goats, pigs, snails, or anything to give us animal proteins. We cannot sustain the importation of $22 billion a year. We have no reason to do so. When oil and gas finish, should Nigeria be unable to generate income from any other source?

There is a 1989 law that says you can't export yams, or beans or rice or derivatives thereof. I am rushing to the national assembly soon to plead with them to repeal that law.

- Ogbeh is the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

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