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Herdsmen: Way out of the crisis

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These are uncertain times in Nigeria, which demand deep introspection and coming together with one purpose to tackle the multiple problems which are now facing the country.  The mutually assured self destructive actions  of farmers and herdsmen in Benue, Taraba, Kaduna and some states in Northern Nigeria is worrisome and must not be allowed to degenerate  further  by acts of revenge  or other unhelpful retaliatory actions.  This crisis and others are problems which can easily be solved by building dairy and animal husbandry industries around farmers and herdsmen or pastoralists in the country.  Countries with large populations, like Nigeria rely on dairy farming to fight hunger, malnutrition and unemployment.  India is a good example with its 130,000 cooperatives, 300 million cows and buffalos produce 160 million tonnes of milk annually, the largest in the world and 10 per cent of world’s output.  This is followed by USA, China, EU, Pakistan, Brazil and Russia.  Nigeria on the other hand produces a paltry 40 thousand tonnes annually out of the 440,000 tonnes imported from Europe and New Zealand.

The dairy industry in Nigeria going by this statistics is virtually non- existent, but could contribute dramatically to the nutritional, economic and social development of the country, if appropriately harnessed along the best practices in countries like India, USA and China.  There are two key sectors in dairy farming. The farmers who   specialise in the cultivation of animal fodder (rich nutty fresh grass and dried hay) a big industry on which the larger dairy farms are dependent.  This is where the interests of farmers and pastoralists or herdsmen in Nigeria could converge in a symbiotic co-existence. The raising of cattle for meat only is missing out on 80 per cent of the benefits derivable from the animal. Milk cows are essentially raised to produce milk for five-seven years before they are culled for meat in Europe. In India, it is illegal in most states to slaughter cattle for their meat, yet the animal husbandry and dairy industries are thriving in the country.  The practice of raising cattle for meat without the supportive fodder industry in Nigeria cannot work and the attempt to circumvent it through grazing is an ineffective and primitive way of raising livestock. The solution to this problem is simply by building dairy farm complexes mainly in Northern Nigeria with vast expanses of land. For example, Niger State is three times the size of all the South Eastern states put together and about 26 times the size of Lagos state. Sokoto State is 8 times the size of Lagos State. It is the same with Borno, Benue, plateau, Yobe states in Northern Nigeria.

The dairy farms should be built around farmers and pastoralists. The former would cultivate both food crops and fodder, while the small scale Fulani herdsmen would live in their small and middle scale dairy cooperatives, similar to the farm settlements in the first republic in Nigeria, the Kibbutz in Israel and farmers cooperatives in India.  This initiative must be led by the Federal Government as a way of building confidence in the sector, after which private investors will come into the venture as the success of the projects become evident in terms of profit making and solving the serious social problems emanating from grazing.  The private sector will never key into the project, except the government takes the lead. It is important to clarify this fact. The alternative would be to take the hard tactics of military operations which may boomerang very badly. The possibility of both parties preparing for armed confrontations will be very high and the law enforcement agents are likely to take sides in the conflict along tribal lines, which may end in another civil war.

This initiative may increase Nigeria’s milk and dairy production to 50 million tons a year with direct and indirect jobs of over four million people. Farmers and herdsmen would be living in peace, as it was, before land constraints brought them into open clashes.  The idea that cattle herding in the 21st century is a way of life is ridiculous. The hard life of the Fulani herdsmen on the march,   sharing murky water with their cattle, without medical care, shelter and warm food is not a cheery way of life.  Why should the life of the Fulani herdsmen and their family members be different from Fulani excellencies, business moguls and political leaders? Why are Fulani influential leaders leaving the affairs and fate of the Fulani herdsmen to the Miyettis?  And only come out when these clashes occur? The Fulanis constitute a small proportion of the Nigerian population, but are predominant in Guinea Conakry where they constitute about 40 per cent of the population.

The Fulanis also called Peul in Guinea Conakry do not rear cattle, as we know it in Nigeria. They are dominant in real estate, academia, medicine, gold mining, retail businesses and other socio-economic endeavours.  In Sékou Toure’s Guinea, education was free for all Guineans and this sets the Nigerian Fulani herdsmen apart from their kinsmen in Guinea who are highly educated.

The Fulani herdsmen must be educated. The nomadic education policy is a sham and it cannot work. It is impossible to educate people on the march or on the run. The schools must be located in the envisaged cooperatives and the programme should be led by their kinsmen and women, who are political, economic, traditional, academic and social leaders as an investment into the security of their own futures.  This is the only way to avoid   the imminence of the type of war being waged by Kanuri/ Bura youths on the Nigerian State and Kanuri leaders in the North East.  The stigmatisation and profiling of Fulani herdsmen is unhelpful and can only aggravate an already tense situation. After all, we are all victims of accident of birth. The plight of the herdsmen is not much different from the vicissitudes of the poor Nigerians who are escaping to Europe and perishing in the process while crossing the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea.

The 12-15 million Nigerian children who are currently out of school is a present and future high security risk to the country and a ready cannon fodder in a messy future conflict similar to the wars in Liberia and Somalia, if this problem is not resolved very quickly. Finally, we should not despair, but continue to hope, work and pray for peace to return to our beloved country.

Ambassador Rasheed was director of Trade and Investment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


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