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Current nomadic pastoralism can’t work, says Livestock 247

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Ahmadu

Ibrahim Maigari Ahmadu, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Livestock 247.com, explains modern ways of livestock production to avoid conflicts and low yield. FEMI IBIROGBA reports.

• Says Nigerians should treat livestock as business

The state of abattoirs in Nigeria is poor. What are the health implications for Nigerians?
Before we make mention of abattoirs, we need to consider the animals, putting their health first. The abattoir is a terminal point. However, we would go back to how the animals are brought into the abattoir — one of the reasons we came into the livestock business is the realisation that Nigerians are consuming what we term ‘unfit-for-slaughter animals’ and Nigeria does not have a functional animal identification system.

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For instance, if there is an outbreak of foot-and-mouth cow disease in Zamfara State, how do you contain, trace and prevent the spread from Katsina or to Kebbi State? Then, we have zoonosis. A zoonotic disease is transferred from animals and humans like the Covid-19.

Five new diseases are said to emerge yearly, and out of these, three are basically zoonotic and infectious to humans at the present. Tuberculosis, Ebola, Covid-19 and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) emanated from animals.

There is also the issue of anti-microbial resistance in humans, which comes as a result of the misuse of antibiotics in animals and quackery, and the likes. When you consume meat with high residues of antibiotics, it will get to a time that malaria, typhoid and cancer treatments will not be effective on humans.

Cattle breeding in Nigeria, unlike poultry management, is not intensive (it is still open grazing). How do we move from here, going forward?
It all boils down to planning and this is what our company does. Of most of our livestock, herd ownership, according to the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), almost 90% is under smallholder management, pastoralists — people who move from one place to another. Only about 5.0% or less are in feedlots or ranching.

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Pastoralism is divided into about four groups namely, international transhumance, those that move from one country to the other. For example, herdsmen moving from Burkina Faso to Niger; the ECOWAS Transhumance Protocol of 1998 allows them to move freely within the 15 West African countries as long as they are not sedentary for more than 90 days (I doubt if this protocol has been changed).

This makes them international citizens and their movement is subjected to environmental issues like scarcity of water or the inadequacy of pastures to feed their cattle and they have the same pattern of movement, everywhere. That’s the first group.

The second is called national transhumance. These are indigenes of Nigeria that move within their territory and they have peculiar patterns for movements and in seasons. The third group is called the agro-pastoralist. The agro-pastoralists are basically farmers who settle in a community, rearing cattle and they cultivate crops to feed their cattle and to sell the cultivated crops to the neighbouring markets. They also graze, five to 10kms.

The last type is the pre-urban cattle breeders. They are into ranching or feedlots. They set up an exclusive location for their cattle and provide them with pasture, water and veterinary care.

How does your organisation relate with these farmers to sensitise them on the zoonotic diseases?
In the first place, we have an online platform that connects buyers and sellers of livestock, but that is not all we do. It was our priority at the initial stage of the establishment to ensure that we create a link between companies and the manufacturers of livestock, after carrying out proper sensitisation on the need to buy ‘fit-for-slaughter and traceable livestock.’

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All our operational staff are qualified and certified veterinary doctors. So, they go into rural communities to begin the sensitisation. We organise the farmers into cooperatives and have added their data to our platform. We have thousands of livestock merchants, all over the country, registered on our platform. Apart from linking them with the markets, our veterinary doctors provide animal health services in the process.

Before we came, they relied on quacks, substandard drugs and were abusing drugs, and this gave rise to the Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR). But with our intervention, they are aware that their stocks should be identified before they get listed on our platform. We developed an animal identification and management system by which the animal is given an identity through the use of an electronic microchip. Afterwards, we would create a profile for the animal and its owner before enlisting on our platform. This is the entry point. If somebody wants to buy livestock from our platform, he will be already aware of our inventory for which we have conducted pre-slaughter evaluation.

We have moved on now from concentrating on the market to embedding ourselves in the communities and some development partners have shown keen interest to enable development in this regard.

Many abattoirs are in a deplorable state. What do you suggest as a panacea for this?
The way forward is to have a mixture of private-public partnership. Our consortium is partnering with the Lagos State government to develop the Eko Meat Bank project. The project intends to be a total revolution driven by Abisola Olusanya. It will change the whole scenario of red meat consumption in the state. My suggestion will be the involvement of the private sector in establishing commercially viable slaughter slabs and abattoirs, because the public sector is lax in these areas.

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There has to be a deliberate policy for the reorganisation by bringing in the private sector. The government has to put enabling laws like Oyo State government did with the central abattoir, that no cow should be slaughtered if it is not from a specified and designated abattoir and anyone who slaughters privately should be arrested or be reprimanded.

Farmer-herder crisis has lingered. What is your view on this?
This has been going on for years. It is a competition over resources. The livestock sector has not been looked at as a business, and unless we begin to see the industry as a big business and it is de-ethnicised, we may continue to have clashes here and there. De-ethnicising the livestock industry would enable Nigerians to see the livestock business as a lucrative one and it will no longer be ethnically coloured.

Livestock is about meat, milk and leather. In Nigeria, the production is predominantly a Northern Nigeria affair — Hausa/Fulani. Lagos has the largest consumption figure in the Sub-Saharan Africa. Its production is mainly northern, but consumption is more in the south. So, there has to be partnership.

But unfortunately, because the business has been run by a particular ethnic group, it is not so much of a business of interest. Whenever the government seeks to improve this sector with policies, it often results in rejection, etc. The RUGA or colony policy was condemned. The National Livestock Transformation Plan is currently yet to be implemented for the same reasons.

The nomadic pastoralist has the right to feed his cattle with food and water. The farmer also has the right to farm. The current model of nomadic pastoralism cannot work. It should not be in this day and age that people should move around with cattle looking for water and food.

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Let me give you a pattern in Nigeria. The rain stops in the north between October and November and nomads begin to move around for food and water for their livestock. So, they move southwards. As of the time they pass with their cattle, it is usually during the harvest time. Also there will be no clash with farmers because the cattle will also contribute a great deal by clearing the land after harvest. The herders congregate around the southern belt. Around March or April, when the rains will have returned, the herders will begin to move upward north, and by this time, the farmers in the north central zone would have planted, but the herders and their cattle trample on it and this becomes a big issue as farmlands are destroyed.

What is your recommended model?
The livestock industry should be looked at like a business and de-ethnicised. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s policies on agriculture mainstreamed the poultry business into the billion-dollar business that every house in town and around is involved in. This is because it has been de-ethnicised and this is what the livestock industry needs to enable the herders get access to land so that they become ranchers. However, the herders need orientation so that they will understand that it is a business, and open grazing should be discarded.

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