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Grazing management without rancour – Part 1

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Nigeria’s available land would appear incapable of adequately sustaining a strikingly increased livestock population in view of the land use diversification to current and proposed large-scale field crop production, urban and rural expansion, road construction, industrial development, dam construction and irrigation projects. This is compounded by the soil fragility. Like most other tropical soils, Nigerian soils are very deficient in nitrogen and phosphorus. Contrary to the common assumption that grasses do not need fertilizers, improved and highly productive pasture grasses, just like rice, maize, sorghum and millet, require high fertilizer application levels for optimal performance in terms of yield, quality, weed suppression,  persistence under grazing and drought tolerance.

In view of the diminishing ratio of agriculturally utilisable land area to human population, it becomes suggestive that the antiquated, resource- exhausting, improvident and obnoxious nomadic pastoral system is not conducive to increased productivity that the Fulani herdsmen must be made sedentary. It is widely experienced that during livestock trekking from the northern to the southern parts of the country, principally in search of feed and water, the grossly underfed animal, unfortunately not endowed to speak or complain, demonstrates starvation by weight shedding. The annual alternation of weight gain during pasture abundance and weight loss during pasture scarcity leads the animal, in acute situations and after attaining the age of five to seven years, to reveal a haggard conformation. The after effect is a tough and fibrous meat, and one defective in nutriment.

The gigantic implication of settling the Fulani herdsmen for increased livestock production and curtailment of the habitual bloody conflicts between them and the crop farmers were exhaustively addressed and clearly documented at a 1982 Kaduna beef conference, jointly organised by the National Animal Production Research Institute (NAPRI), Zaria, and the Federal  Livestock Department of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. Briefly recounted, some of the most outstanding recommendations included (1) grazing reserve acquisition and development for improved livestock nutrition, integration of crop and livestock husbandry systems; (2) formation of sedentarised pastoralist groups and their integration among farming communities; (3) long-term loan provision against security of land leases, short-term credit in kind based on inventory financing of suppliers of livestock inputs, allocation of agricultural bank lending quota to beef production; (4) sufficient land allotment to commercial ranchers/beef producers by state and local governments; (5) more research on breeding and selection from indigenous stock for beef production (6) further research on and provision of necessary inputs to control, serious livestock diseases of economic importance (7) personnel training in effective livestock extension service (8) creation of livestock input centres; and  (9) establishment of a National Meat Marketing Board (its functions were adequately spelt out).

Had the above been implemented by the appropriate government organs, the livestock industry would not have been in its present hapless state. Copies of the proceedings of the conference under reference should, undoubtedly, still be found gathering dust in different government libraries, institutes’ departments and personal bookshelves.

The fundamental issues are the development and management of grassland resources. Pasture establishment methods depend on the country’s vegetation zone – Sahel, Sudan. Northern and Southern Guinea, derived Savannah or forest. Generally, development should be largely legume based in the savannah, using the adapted and very productive species, although grass species introduction is unavoidable. During the dry season, it is easy to drive an SUVfrom Damaturu, for example, through the sparsely vegetated land straight to Maiduguri, unimpeded. With increasing vegetation thickness in a north-south direction, the degree of bush clearing and land preparation prior to pasture establishment increases, often requiring specialised mechanical equipment.

•To be continued
•Prof. Akinola, a forage scientist retired from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso. He resides in Ilesa.



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