Experts in the livestock sector are advising that the federal government should kick-start the process of putting to use the unused arable lands as one of the solutions to the grazing crisis in the country.
They said if recovering the old grazing reserves and stock routes will be too difficult or cumbersome, making use of fallow arable lands will be perfect option.
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President Muhammadu Buhari had recently directed the review of 368 grazing sites, across 25 states in the country, in what the federal government said was “to determine the levels of encroachment on the sites.”
The president’s directive followed the approval of the recommendations of a committee chaired by his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari. This is coming at a time the President also said only 2.5 per cent of the nation’s arable lands were being put to use, leaving the larger parts abandoned.
As has become the norm in recent times in the country, the directive had however elicited mixed reactions from citizens.
This was because the issue of grazing reserves, stock routes and even ranching has become a vexed topic for political calculation and alleged ethnic subjugation. Whenever the issue of grazing is mentioned, many immediately come out with what they think should be the ideal situation.
But in the midst of the controversies, what is certain is the place of livestock in the socio-economic development of the country.
Experts have alluded to the fact that if well managed, the livestock industry has the potential to be a great earner and contributor to the GDP of the country.
An example was given about the situation in Texas in the United States of America, a desert but has so many livestock due to the expertise and dedication of the government and the people in the sector to leverage on the advantages that the sector can contribute to the economy of the country.
Speaking on the livestock sector, the controversy and efforts of government to turn the tide in Nigeria, a former governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Abdulahi Adamu, said the sector had been a knotty issue for previous administrations, which requires solution.
The senator said the problem in the livestock sector had been with us for a long time now.
“The problem will continue to be there until we put our heads together and devise solutions to these subsectors in agriculture production.”
Many also believe that it was because of the commitment of the present administration to settle the issues arising from the sentiments that President Buhari, while speaking in Daura, Katsina State, on the issue, urged more Nigerians to embrace farming, adding that he was surprised to hear that only 2.5 per cent of arable lands in the country is being cultivated.
Many, in the country, posited that if well thought out, the vast unused land can also be put to use in the other sectors of agriculture like livestock farming.
Experts believe that relevant government authorities can make use of the fallow arable lands as alternative to grazing reserves, if reclaiming the old stock routes and grazing reserves will continue to generate crisis.
A livestock expert, Muhammed Salihu Ahmad, said the federal government could tackle many of the issues by concentrating on the unused arable lands in the country, but quickly added that there was need for expertise in this regard.
“To be honest, the technical capacity in managing this is very low. Go to the ministry of agriculture and you will discover that there are very few staff in the livestock sector and even where they are, most of them are into veterinary medicine. So, if you don’t have range managers who will have the expertise to think outside the box, think of innovative ideas that can manage these places, it may be difficult to use the abandoned lands,” he said.
Muhammed, a retired director in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, also blames the states for not doing enough, saying “Any one that cares can take the budget of the states in the last few years and look at it, the last 10, 20 years, and see how much have they invested in the livestock sector compared to the crop sector. Not only that, there are so many programmes and projects that were done on specialized crops or even the ADPs that handle crop production in Nigeria, but to the best of my knowledge, there was only one project that was done on livestock since independence; that was the Livestock Development Project and even that was funded by the World Bank. Nigeria has never done anything, not even the states, to develop the livestock industry.
“So, I think if the states will take this as an opportunity, they can make the industry grow, and it will help develop the economy and diversify our income from oil into other sectors.”
Another livestock expert, Mr Tayo Ajala, said there was an urgent need for the country to do something about her livestock industry, blaming previous administrations and state governments for not doing enough, saying that the neglect of the industry and the politicization of anything related to the issue was responsible for the present impasse.
“There is so much apathy across the land about the issue of livestock rearing. This conflict we are having is not just in Nigeria, it cuts across Africa and a lot of countries have tried many approaches in trying to resolve it. If we put aside the sentiments, it will be so easy.”
The expert advised state governments to note that creating reserves for the herders in their domain is an investment that will not only boost food production but create market and, in some instances, job opportunities for the locals.
“In most cases, locals will be the cattle dealers between the herders and the buyers, locals will be the butchers or have you ever seen a Fulani man doing butchery in Lagos, Ogun or Rivers? So, we must put sentiments aside and find a lasting solution,” he advised.
Mr Ajala further suggested that if it will be difficult for the old routes or reserves to be reclaimed, it is better for the government at all levels to work amicably for an alternative.
To me, the best option is to map out, from our unused land, new grazing reserves for the herders irrespective of their tribe or state of origin, with, may be, the state government tasking the users of the reserves on yearly basis.
“Of course, this may not necessarily be ranches as we often call it because ranches in their senses are too expensive for small-scale farmers who are mostly into herding activities in the country,” he said.
The expert said what the present administration was trying to do is not new, adding that “grazing reserves have been in existence for some time but because of mismanagement, they have not been put to good use. We know there is pressure on land use because of the population growth, the land is not expanding, but our population is expanding. Our demand for agricultural or food crops is expanding for human consumption. But we are not taking cognizance of the livestock, and the cheapest way of raising livestock anywhere in the world is through pastoralism. Unfortunately for us, we have neglected the sector so much that a lot of the factors that are in place to modernize the production are not existing today,” the expert said.
Muhammed, a retired director, urged Nigerians to give the president the benefit of doubt, saying, “certainly, the president is just talking about revisiting them and doing a review, he has not concluded on what to do with them. Personally, I feel people should drop the apathy and think of how we can live in a symbiotic relationship, work on the grazing reserves to carry more animals so that the animals will not run from one place to another.
“But all these have failed to settle down well with some state governors who see the policy as an attempt to re- introduce open grazing which many of them have already criminalized in their states, he added.”