Political economy of cows: A call for modern innovative approach, by Muhammad Sani Abdullahi

About five years back, Ambassador Kayode Garrick brought Nigeria a present from Uruguay in form of some useful lessons on cattle development transformation in the post-modern world. He gave us a food for thought in an article published by Guardian newspaper of April 11, 2016, which— of course because of its significance— the Daily Trust reincarnated it three years later (Precisely, on September 17, 2019). The piece is entitled “A cow should be a cow: Lessons from Uruguay”. Garrick packaged his gift of some modern best practices and economic benefits of a cow that would have been espoused by Nigeria long time ago.

According to him, it is high time Nigeria regarded cattle as one of the top sources of country’s prosperity. I think nobody can deny that everything in a cow is wealth—the beef, the hides & skin as well as the condensations of milk, while even the dung conservation helps the world effort in achieving Carbon Development. But, can Nigeria be like Uruguay, where beef export earned the country both $1.8 billion revenue in 2019 and the slogan, “Small Country, Big Beef”? Nigeria has the largest cattle population in sub-Saharan Africa (with 16 to 20 million cows). Yet, it is the largest importer of milk in the sub-region, spending N50bn annually because its own cattle population could not produce beyond 11.5% of the total dairy product needed which makes 89.5%. N50 billion, I repeat, is cost to balance the demand deficit of milk for local consumption!

If you think milk is not as expensive, check price tag on any beverage shelf for Saudi made ‘Laban’, UK made Emborg or Ensure buttermilk in a shopping mall. Laban has no better protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants content than the milk by Nigerian cows. Comparatively, the difference between Nigerian and Uruguayan cows is livestock development method: stressful roaming against proper ranching arrangement. Productivity differs. Why can’t the foreign manufactured milk product take advantage of Nigeria when our public corporations fail woefully to sustain corporate dairy companies and private ones? Now, we are at ground level in terms of supply of modern dairy product, animal healthcare, fodder systems, marketing arrangements and training of herders and farmers to counter huge demand deficit of milk in Nigeria. knowledge and practice of disease control mechanism and feed supplement among the wandering Fulani pastoralists is lacking.

Why, despite Nigerian cows’ numerical advantage over that of Uruguay in comparative advantage, productivity of the former falls far too very short? Nigerian cattle as it is left to, trek for at least 25 km a day come rain, come shine, losing weight, and the loss is compounded to translate into all the other valuable end products of cow such as beef, milk, horn, hides, manure and blood. This great trek the cows are subjected to in Nigeria leave them underproductive and undervalued. As a cow treks miserably that long, she loses nutrient and energy needed to grow much weightier and fleshier. Demand for beef is influenced by three factors, thus: increase of population, per capita income and urbanization. Studies show that Nigeria is taking front seat in all but mordernised measures are not taken to address this deficit.

It is not only trekking in the part of the cattle, but also human-inflicted cruelty that make it difficult for Nigerian cow to yield to the highest level of its economic productivity. Little does ordinary cattle ‘wandering’ Fulani boy know about modern veterinary services to grow sturdy plump cows that can rub shoulder with Uruguayan or Georgian cows. In modern time, cow is pampered like a royal kid. The most expensive restaurants in the world run their private animal farmsteads where cows wear tantalizing rings not trying to copy the allegorical power-drunk Napoleon (the coupist pig and king of the farm) in George Orwell’s Animal Farm who cunningly altered the 3rd Commandment of Animalism just to wear cloth like tyrannical but toppled Mr. Jones, displaying inequality. In such modern ranches, a cow is dressed up in identifiable regalia as social identification number – like NIN to Nigerians – to ensure that she lives efficiently to give efficient yield. As it is, in Nigeria proper ranching arrangements have to be made by all means for we have the means.

This brings us to where the cookie crumbles in current political Nigeria. The Rural Grazing Area (RUGA)! After unfolding the proposed programme of creating cattle colonies across Nigerian landscape, which was vehemently rejected by some sections. A research finding by Ethnic Studies Review (2020) asserts that the rejection of RUGA policy was as a result of fear of ethnic domination and suspicion, with a recommendation that there is the need of collective and inclusive policies in line with a modern political economic policy for sustainable development. If I may quote the Thursday back-page columnist of The Nation, Olatunji Ololade, under a title: “Ethnic to the Bones”, published on February 11, 2021, it reads in part: “Curiously, the presidency and governors’ endgame is the reintroduction of the Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) as solution to the recurring conflict between nomadic herders and farmers. In time, they will urge the people to accept the scheme that they initially rejected”. And I say oh yes!

Now, come to think of it, only with the creation and systematic reform of livestock sector, especially the questionable pastoral system we can make ‘a cow a cow’—an important economic commodity. It is through institutionalization that the government will change not only the system but the attitude of the stakeholders in cattle economic value chain process and outside it. My consistency is that: with installation of all necessary machinery in place in a modern way, centres of milk collection will be established across northern Nigerian states while mechanized grass farming in southern states should be initiated and developed for the supply of the needed grasses, healthier and cheaper for hay making industries in Nigeria. If we can remember, there was a proposal of importation of grass from Brazil by the immediate past Minister of Agriculture. It is cheaper to cultivate grasses in the south and transport it than to import from Brazil.

Incidentally, that is where the recent submission of Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State comes handy. The submission is that the Federal Government should intervene by first initiating a bill to prevent in-flow of foreign herdsmen and movement of cows form the north to the south and to stop cattle trekking southward. I think the law should also compel every stakeholder in the cow value chain to be a contributor in technology-based cow information system. Similarly, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State recently gave the kiss of life to Bobi Grazing Reserve in Mariga LGA of Niger State to compliment FG National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP). Indeed, Gov. Bello’s rural development program is awesome. The whole essence is first to bring back peace and hope in Nigerian rural communities where herders and farmers are in a serious face off.

Secondly, it is to boost Nigerian economy. In fairness to APC Government at all levels, there are several smart policy interventions that will stand the test of time in Nigeria.
If we step up under this proposed arrangement, food security and nutrition is assuredly secured; millions of jobs will be created from animal scientists to the gatemen; investment in livestock sector will be attracted and foreign exchange of Nigeria will skyrocket, boosting the economy. This has to be done in Nigeria. Think of it, we currently have unemployment rate of up to 27 % and 62 % poverty level against Uruguay’s 7. % and 7.9 % in 2017 respectively. With our cattle population, agribusiness in fodder will make our youth rich and self-employed and employers of labour because youth are friends of new technology and innovations which Nigerian livestock sector need today. Let us stop the roaming and adapt the ranching.

Muhammad Sani Abdullahi
[email protected]
is with Media & Communication Department
Progressive Governors Forum.

DISCLAMER: The views expressed in this article does not represent the position of Progressive Governors Forum