Maj-Gen. CG Musa is the Managing Director of the Nigerian Army Farms and Ranches Limited (NAFARL). In the following interview, he explained the scope of the project to Daily Trust Saturday, as well as what it is expected to achieve. The former commandant of the Depot Nigerian Army also spoke on how NAFARL can help further build the nation’s agro-economy, what farming means to him personally, and more. Excerpts:
Daily Trust: The Nigerian Army is a key part of the nation’s defence. What informed the army’s setting-up of a farm and ranch?
Maj.-Gen. CG Musa: Currently, the military, which the Nigerian Army is part of, is tasked with security and general integrity of Nigeria. One of the last objectives, again, is any other aspect for which it is called upon. Now, the president has given a directive on the issue of security. Food is important to everybody, especially the military, because a soldier, they say, marches on his stomach. If you don’t feed your soldier, it will be an issue. So, to key into the president’s drive for food security, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. TY Buratai, established NAFARLS.
Then there’s the issues of ranches: We know the security issues we’re having on cattle rearing, herder-farmer clashes, and so on, and we want to also demonstrate that there’s a better alternative by way of ranching.
We’re doing this holistically to support the presidents’ drive into agriculture, food security, and to add to the GDP of Nigeria. Also the army will benefit by getting internally-generated revenue, employment opportunities, and so on. And don’t forget that agriculture remains the only venture that the Constitution allows every individual to partake in.
DT: What, exactly, is NAFARL’s role in the Nigerian Army, and Nigeria as a whole?
Musa: It’s a window for the Nigerian Army into agriculture. It’s the unit responsible for the army in agriculture, and its value chain. Agriculture covers animal husbandry, crops, and then the value chain. The value chain is the added value gotten from the products of agriculture. So it’s not only that we produce and sell, but also convert them to other aspects, and also for export. So what we’re doing is, since we have the land all over the country, we intend to convert them into farms, and ranches. We also want to partner with individuals and stakeholders, so we can synergize to develop the project further.
DT: Speaking of clashes between farmers and herders, how will you play a role in the current push for ranches to be set up across the country?
Musa: Starting with Abuja, we want this to be a pilot for the ranches. And Abuja being the FCT, it’s easier for everyone to come around and see that ranching is possible, and is an alternative. Ranching provides an alternative where you have the pasture, well-groomed grass that is rich, so the animals will feed better. They don’t have to travel long distances, and since you’re going to keep them in an enclosed area and cater for them, there’s no need for them to run into anybody’s farm. So you will find your animals will be very healthy, because you have veterinary doctors to look after them, and they are also well-fed, well cared-for, according to international standards.
DT: How will NAFARL directly contribute to the army’s economy, and that of the nation?
Musa: We’re going to sell animals, either whole or to an abattoir to slaughter and process as beef. We’ll also produce and sell milk, at competitive prices. And because we’re a government agency, we’re going to be a lot cheaper, and it will be more affordable. With the funds, we’ll be able to do some other things for the army, taking care of our communities, and so on.
Don’t forget we have troops fighting all over the country, so at least we’ll be able to send them good, quality food, and take care of them. Then we also provide employment opportunities for their wives and children, and the communities around. We’re going to touch lives all through.
DT: NAFARL also engages partners actively. How does that work, especially in relation to partner organizations?
Musa: NAFARL is just about a year-and-a-half old, so to ensure we get the best of whatever it is we’re doing, we’re partnering with agencies like the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, research institutes, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), NIRSAL, and others that are into agriculture. What we have to offer, is land, which is secure, and free from any encroachment. Those pluses will attract people, and make us sit down together and develop an MoU, on which we’ll move ahead based upon.
DT: What’s the percentage of your focus on ranching, as opposed to crop farming?
Musa: It’s 50-50. It’s open. What we try to do is, whatever it is that works well in a particular area, is what we build upon more. So, if rice is good in this area, we build upon that. But you know that science has also made things possible: You can go to the desert and plant rice, so we’re also open to that. Basically, the kind of partner we’re looking for, is one with a particular strength in a particular aspect, so we can leverage on that.
So far, we’re working with the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk-Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), a government institution under the CBN, to develop the ranch. What they do is guarantee loans so that a farmer doesn’t lose. When you take a loan, they take 75% of the risk of that loan for you, as the challenge most farmers face is lack of funds. Nigeria still relies on sustenance farming, but we have to move forward to commercial farming, and things like this will assist us.
So, NAFARL is first and foremost looking at commercial farming, building the capacity of serving and retired personnel that are into farming, and the barracks community. The COAS established the Barracks Investment Initiative Programme, which is a very good one. If you go to most of our barracks, even before NAFARL, they have been producing one thing or the other. For example, if you go to Ojo Cantonment, most of the bitter leaf produced in Lagos comes from there. Most barracks have one thing or the other they bring to the table, so we want to be able to harness all of that, and bring them into all of it.
DT: Speaking of the economy of the barracks, what’s the percentage of civilian staff you’ve engaged against the number of military personnel you have on staff?
Musa: Since we’re just starting, naturally we’re going to have 30% military, 70% civilian for continuity. Most military personnel have 35 years of service. So whatever you’re doing, you must move so we want to make sure its sustainable. We have a lot of civilians and a few military personnel who will also be trained.
DT: Speaking of transition, in the recent past you’ve served as the commandant of the Depot Nigerian Army, in Zaria. Apart from the obvious differences between a training institution and an agricultural one, have you found any similarities in the work at both places?
Musa: Both of them work towards saving lives. Without the farm, the depot wouldn’t have worked. Then being a depot, I was able to train personnel that would also come in, secure, and also work on the farm. In fact, what we’re doing now is we’re only employing people that have a passion for in agriculture. Agriculture is a thing that if you don’t have passion, it will be very difficult. Because imagine you’re planting a seed now, and you don’t have the patience to wait three months for it to grow. So, the depot developed the personnel, and NAFARL is now engaging them.
DT: How many ranches and farms does NAFARL have across Nigeria and at what stage of operations are they?
Musa: The main ranch we have is the one at Giri, here in the FCT. Now we have individuals and units that also have smaller farms, and animals. In Kontagora, we have officers with animals, too. I can say that if we add up, according to the last time I went around, we have about 3,000 cows, 1,000 goats and 1,000 rams, because we’re handling them on a smaller scale. So we’re now harnessing all of them to come in. While we’re doing the commercial, the small-holder farmers will be the ones to also aggregate together. By the time someone brings 10, and 9 others bring 10 each, you’ll have a hundred. You can build up like that, so that there will be a good market.
DT: It’s still early days but what is the goal for NAFARL in a decade from now?
Musa: It’s going to be a major agricultural hub in Nigeria. We’re aiming at a unique center, where anything you want on agriculture, you can get. We’re going to build training schools all over the country, so we’ll build up the capacity.
It’s not going to be only for military personnel. Our drive is to ensure that we improve agriculture in Nigeria, for all Nigerians, and not only military personnel.
DT: How much government support have you been receiving, say from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development?
Musa: Everything we’ve achieved so far is borne by the COAS. He has been the main driver, and has been the one pushing everything. He has done so much, because he’s passionate about agriculture as he too is a farmer. So that’s why it’s easier for him to understand. It would have been difficult if it were someone who is not farmer. When you tell them about grass, they’ll say the animals should eat any grass. But a farmer knows it’s a specific type of grass and the amount, how to get it, and how to develop it.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has been very supportive. The minister, when we started February last year, visited the ranch and was there when we commissioned it and also donated materials and machines. He has also sent in contractors to handle 25 hectares of pasture land here at the ranch in Giri, and they’re doing the same in Jaji, Kaduna. At some other locations, too, he’s sent some individuals to help us build capacity. We’ve been having a very good working relationship with the ministry.
The COAS also acquired 600 hectares of farmland close to Keffi, in Nasarawa State. The intention is to build a pilot standardized integrated farm where we have animals, poultry, fish, and crops. We’re working on that aspect, and also looking at expanding to other states.
I went to Brazil recently, for a weeklong agriculture show, and we discussed with them and they’re so eager to come to Nigeria because their weather and soil is very similar to ours. An added advantage because we have excellent soil, whatever they are producing there, ours grows faster and thrives better, so they’re very interested in coming over. For example, in Israel, it takes about 10 months for their bananas to mature, but the same variety took 8 months here in Nigeria. They were astonished. The same goes for so many other products. Nigeria is blessed, and if we tap well into agriculture, we’ll defeat poverty and unemployment.
DT: Before this appointment, how much of a farmer were you personally?
Musa: I think since I was a kid, I’ve always loved farming. I was born and raised in Sokoto. My mum used to have a small farm, so I was the one taking care of it. In my secondary school, Agricultural Science was my favourite subject, and I got an A in it, so it’s something I’ve always loved, and wanted. When I was a lieutenant-colonel, I acquired about 25 hectares of land in Nasarawa State that, till date, is an integrated farm. I process my own palm oil from the farm now; I do about 200 crates of eggs daily; I have broilers, fish, and animals including cows. In the rainy season, I also plant maize and beans. What I do – whatever I’m getting form there – I give to the animals, and the manure that comes from the animals, I use on the farm. It’s a very interesting process.
DT: Have any of your kids shown an interest in farming too?
Musa: Yes. Two of them are really interested in farming, and I really want them to. What we’re putting into it is definitely for their future.