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How Nigeria can make fortunes from dairy production, by Aderounmu

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Aderounmu

Nigeria can make fortunes from dairy production, if cattle rearing is taken as a business and not culture. This is the submission of the Head, Operations of Development Practice Academy (DEPRA), Mr. Adebimpe Aderounmu, in this interview with South West Bureau Chief, Muyiwa Adeyemi.

You held a summit on Dairy Enterprise Development recently before the Federal Government banned importation of dairy products. Do you think Nigeria can self-sufficient as regards milk?
That’s a contextual question. Yes, Nigeria can produce enough milk for local consumption and export, but that will take us a period of time with planned, proactive, consistent and progressive actions.

The 2019 Development Icons Forum that you mentioned was organised by Development Practice Academy (DEPRA). We saw wasted opportunities within the dairy value chain and focused on ‘The Path of Dairy Enterprise to Sustainable Development’. The concern at the event was how to realistically get a nexus between research, policy and practice in the dairy sector. This is the only way to address the identified development gaps and move the country forward. Enough of working in silos; we need allied researches to aid operators under an enabling policy climate. With that, Nigeria is unstoppable.

Looking at the dairy sector, Nigeria claims to have about 15 million cattle. Yes, there is rarely no state in Nigeria you don’t see cattle, but how realistic is such data without a cattle census. It might be more than what we claim or less.

You may ask if it’s a profitable venture? Yes it is, if we decide to get it right. Dairy countries like Denmark, The Netherlands and even South Africa take it as business not as cultural heritage or ethnic symbol that Nigerians give to it. Dairy is business. If dairy farmers sneeze in some countries, their governments catch cold because of the huge contribution of dairy business to their economies. But here we tie a lot of sentiments around it. So the Forum felt that it was possible for Nigeria to begin to look at dairy as business. It does not tamper with the choice of social practice or the cultural values as it were. In fact, as an individual, you can choose to keep cattle that produce one or two litres of milk per day as a culture, but that should not affect another person who desires to keep improved cattle that give 10, 20 or 30 litres of milk in a day for business.

Knowing that SMAP Farms, an indigenous dairy farm, has improved our local cattle breed to produce 10 to 15 litres/day at F1 is an improvement. This is something that needs to be worked upon for the business to move ahead. If we did not start, we will not get there. Getting 40 to 50 litres of cow milk per day is a deliberate progressive process.

How many litres of milk do we consume in Nigeria daily?
The statistic is not available. We consume beef relatively. Lagos alone, I learnt, consumes about 10,000 cattle per day. Unfortunately Nigeria is not a milk-drinking country. I believe we just take it for status symbol or often use it as colourant to change the look of whatever we eat, except medically prescribed. It is only in the far North that milk is consumed a little, not as needed. That might be because we never had enough. It may sound funny, but that is the truth. And I wouldn’t want to hide this under poverty, it’s because we were not positively deliberate in our development approaches.

Recently, a single milk processing company in Nigeria informed that it needed about 1.8 million litres, but could only get less than 100,000 litres of milk per day. This is just a single processor. How many are we having? That tells you the deficit. Nigerians must wake up to fill the gaps.

For the cultural aspect of it, the traditional approach cannot fill the existing gap. For a Fulani woman, milk is a social currency; she will not encourage a third party to mop up the little milk produced. This calls for an innovative way to advance dairy in Nigeria. For God’s sake, the country needs more milk. We are not growing well.

How did you view government’s policy of banning dairy importation?
I think banning the importation of dairy products or stopping forex for sourcing dairy products from outside the country is a good policy. But as far as I’m concerned, there is more to it than just making the pronouncement. We probably might need a number of actions to run concurrently with the implementation of such a policy. It is good, as it will ginger the nation towards coming up with our own policy. But as broad as the dairy value chain is, so are the activities that we need to put in place. As milk-producing livestock breeding improvement is a must, so is the need to encourage people to go into dairy farming as businesses beyond ethnic tint. The other side is that the policy should be implemented progressively because banning the importation of a scarce product encourages smuggling. I think the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) needs a more pro-active approach to drive dairy revolution across the nation by demystifying lending approaches for a robust funding access.

You recall that the 2019 Development Icon Forum flagged off Dairy Enterprise Support Initiative with stakeholders along the value chain. The platform has farmers, researchers, dairy and animal scientists, processors, animal nutritionists and feed producers, artificial inseminators among others. As I speak, this process has different sustainable engagement models that could be useful to Nigerian dairy transformation. As a development platform, it advocates and provides support services to successful running of a dairy enterprise.

I keep asking, if Nigeria is this blessed and dairy has such a huge value chain, why would a politician give my brother or son a motor bike that costs him over N200,000 as dividend of democracy if he could procure cows for the young man and with improvement, the young man smiles to the bank? For crying out loud, what does he need bike for? What are our retirees doing? They aren’t going to be following cattle all about, it has to be zero grazing and if you look at the dairy transformation in India, Kenya, Uganda and the like, it is small holding. That’s the way to go. You don’t need to have a large farm before you can go into dairy production. You can have one; two, five or 10 and then some other young folks can go into feed production. If the only thing I have inherited from my father is five acres of land, why can’t I plant good species of grass for supply to dairy farmers and make money. This is not rocket science. Nigeria has got to move. Our inertia is just too much for a meaningful development process. I mean, it’s like we deliberately don’t want good life.

Nigerians have been crying loud over the issue of pasturing several kilometres and its implication on the farms. We talk of Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) and ranching, which do you think is more suitable for the country for dairy production?
I think the mix up there is just probably the presentation of the RUGA settlement concept. It may not be bad for the choice of who wants it. But in my little understanding, you can ranch animals conveniently without living in a colony of ranchers. Being a pastoralist is a cultural lifestyle and not a crime, but livestock farming is a business. As a sustainable development practitioner, I can tell you that ranching is the best dairy production option that is sustainable, 21st century-compliant and best-contextualised practice. Considering, the poverty level, experience, development status and other systemic factors, small-holding is the best in Nigeria.

Farm settlements are not alien to Nigerians; it’s about having your own portion and keeping the operational guidelines of such settlement. There might be nothing bad in doing that, but it might be counter-productive when it’s only to house the herders. That is no productive approach to dairy farming, because cattle business has no ethnic sentiment; whether you inherited it or not, if you are there for real dairy business, you should be concerned about your cow producing two or three litres of milk per day.

Let me paint a scenario; like my grandparents kept goats in their time, this Dairy Enterprise Support Initiative encourages a small hold of just two to five cows. I think livelihood can improve significantly without roaming about with the animals and you save time for other productive engagements. So if it is two I can afford, I do it, and someone with resources can go for 10 or more. Go to India, Uganda, Kenya and the like, you see this operating.
Recently, I was at a conference with a Ugandan who briefed me on how Uganda had nationally transformed the outlook of cattle business. So, what stops Nigeria? The country is just the spoilt child of nature. We have all it takes to do dairy business successfully.

How can Nigeria ultimately improve the economy through agriculture? Do we have the right policies to make agriculture real business?
It is very simple and logical. Only that Nigeria is where we make simple issues very complex for whatever interest. There are few encouraging steps by governments but not cumulative enough to rely on. Is it our gene that has problem or the air we breathe within this geographic entity? Nigerians are fantastic outside the country. So, what is our problem here? The issue is that policies are good on paper, but we refused to work them out. We don’t walk the talk here, and our value system in keeping to our words is nil. Any policy without realistic and engaging framework to push through is not a right policy. The land tenure act and collaborating policies that we have can never make agriculture real business. It has to be reviewed if we mean business.

In most African countries, more than 65 per cent of foods that are consumed are produced by peasant farmers, then any effort to enhance peasant farming will take us to a better level and those who wants to go into commercial farming should equally be encouraged.There are more engaging and productive models to drive our agricultural sector. I don’t know if you are aware of NAIJAAGRIC Forum, it is a strategic convergence of critical stakeholders in the agricultural sector from the 774 local government areas of Nigeria to promote national agribusiness and innovations. Nigeria must contextualize whatever we are doing, not adopting models just because they are good elsewhere. We should design our own drives. We have all it takes.

There is a need for clear role definition among professionals and MDAs in the sector. Inputs management systems should be rewired to be practice-based not politics-based as it were. Credit facilities should not be ‘political favours or baits’. I also think deliberate policies on the way agriculture is financed are required. Commercial banks are not really playing any significant role in agriculture to positively affect the economy. Which production line of economy are they funding? They keep taxing customers indiscriminately and the government seems to be unconcerned. No defined and monitored actions to get them support agriculture. Dedicated banks or funding agencies on agriculture rely on collaterals that most practicing farmers don’t have and may never have, instead of working out responsive and sustainable realistic models for our context. Most loans are not payable either because it was giving to ‘on-paper farmers’ who have the required collaterals.

Agriculture has gone beyond imaginative weather speculation; technology has so much advanced that you can project what the weather would be all season. Why can’t government make available such infrastructures, make predictions and make information available to farmers? You would agree with me that extension service is dormant as we speak. When last has an Agric. extension officer visited my village to tell them about new inventions and innovations of what they need to plant and how to plant it? Something has to be done beyond mere departmental nomenclature.

Agriculture can be encouraged as true business and significantly contribute to our economy by sincere, deliberate interventions of corporate interest. These are interventions I expect the government to do beyond budget. I don’t expect government to be farming. But if the government is trying to open trunks in a sustainable manner for legtimate farmers to key into it, Nigeria could be home and dry.

What are the major resolutions you came up with at the Development Icons’ forum?
First was the resolution to support the vision of DEPRA as a robust linkage-hub that enhances ‘research translations’ and the development of right knowledge, skills, values, strategies and resources needed to unleash full potentials at turning ideas to sustainable development realities and keep pace with associated dynamics.
It was resolved that Nigeria got to be realistic about who we are, what we want and how can we get and own it. You cannot pretend to develop. Growing the local content is key, ‘no one makes you inferior without your consent’, we cannot keep relying on foreign aids in whatever form. The ‘babiala begger’ syndrome that has plagued our development process needs urgent attention to define what have and what kind of Aid we need for national integrity.

To this, there is need for a proactive dairy policy and concerted efforts of Nigerian researchers to work on improving our local breeds. Until we do that, we are going nowhere in dairy. Importation of animals will never work, its like moving backwards while others are going forward. You will recall that the federal ministries and Agencies were well represented at the forum, I am happy to tell you that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources with stakeholders will soon birth a proactive dairy and livestock breeding policies, we are monitoring that process.

Again, the forum resolved on ways to enhance localized feed and feeding systems and nutrition for these animals. Indiscriminate grazing of animals is just not sustainable for obvious reasons. If it is one’s lifestyle to be walking about; you can keep your animals with good feed in a ranch, take your walk alone, and come back to meet them in good state. It will be more productive because you will have more money with no conflict, so we agreed that there must be a feed and feeding policy line for that which is implementable.

Again, we need strategic advocacy to let people understand how the business is done, the best use of the opportunities and mobilization, and how to leverage on our platform. The Dairy Enterprise Support Initiative has so far developed quite a number of dairy farmers’ clusters. If we can have something like this Anchor Borrower Scheme from CBN that allows all these in every state in Nigeria. Since we have different agro-ecological zones in Nigeria, the adaptability of the breeds are important, it should not just be one for all zones, it is not going to work.

While appreciating DEPRA as a multi-disciplinary capacity development window as a strategic response and intervention that addresses the development practice gaps; the forum recognized the presentation of the capacity development approach of SMAP Animal Centre and the Nigerian Institute of Animal Science (NIAS) on the first Artificial Insemination Training Centre in Nigeria that has trained graduates who are now on the field to fill the intermediate technical skill gap.

Another demand at the forum is need to develop capacities and effective synchronization of the activities of regulatory bodies, Ministry of Agriculture, professional groups and other government agencies for a shift from the characteristic idea of ‘fight on mandate’ while the job is left undone or duplicated.

In relation to the trailblazing efforts of the SMAP Farms in the Nigerian Dairy Development, the establishment of Private sector-driven National Dairy Board that is comprised of critical stakeholders in the dairy value chain was advocated.


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