Minister Abubakar and livestock transformation
The new Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Mahmood Abubakar is understandably ambitious with his promise to prioritise the controversial National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP). The proposed plan can make a difference between life and death, depending on how it is implemented. But given the widespread reservation about the sincerity of purpose behind the proposed scheme, he needs to be cautious, to avoid a backlash that may escalate the dagger drawn by Fulani herdsmen against indigenous farmers in many parts of the country. The minister must balance his eagerness with realization that a false step is fraught with danger, and he must not sound as one bent on implementing the highly contentious plan without minding the consequence.
Citing the overall impact of insecurity in the country, the minister made the promise while taking over from his predecessor, Muhammad Sabo Nanono, at a brief ceremony in Abuja. The plan, a pet project of the President Muhammad Buhari’s administration, was launched in 2019 by the Federal Government, as a ten-year scheme, supposedly to curtail the movement of cattle, boost livestock production and quell the country’s lethal herders-farmers conflict.
On its face value, the plan appears as innovative policy to reform the livestock industry. Government adopted the National Livestock Transformation Plan in 2019, targeting not only cattle but the entire animal husbandry sector in the country. Under the plan, N100 billion will be spent with the federal government contributing 80 per cent in grant, while states will contribute land, project implementation structure, personnel and 20 per cent cost of the project. The plan will remain voluntary for interested state governments, a rule that became necessary following suspicions of alleged land grabbing plan. Many states and individuals fear that with time, Fulani herdsmen will use the scheme as a camouflage to take over state land held in trust for various local communities. Many Nigerians have equally expressed curiosity that the federal government wants to spend so much to prop what otherwise should be private business. Many states in the Middle Belt and south of the country are suspicious of the plan’s long-term goals, which they see as creating privileges for herders, particularly the Fulani.
However, according to the herders/farmers crisis sub-committee of the National Economic Council (NEC) headed by Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, the plan is not targeted only on cows but a holistic strategy to address animal husbandry. It has six pillars through which it aims to transform the livestock production system in Nigeria along market-oriented value chain while ensuring an atmosphere of peace and justice. The six key pillars are: economic development (investment), conflict resolution, justice and peace, humanitarian relief and early recovery (that is to IDPs), human capital development and cross-cutting issues such as gender, youth, research and information, and strategic communication. The committee proposed implementation guidelines to guide the Federal Government and states.
Nevertheless, it is uncertain how the minister intends to prioritise a plan that has no national acceptance. All the 17 southern states and some states in the middle belt have either enacted, or plan to enact laws restricting or banning open grazing. Attempts to implement the NLTP in those states therefore may escalate the conflicts in these areas. The minister needs to be reminded of the anti-open grazing laws and unwillingness of the states concerned to give out their land freely as cattle colony.
Inadequate political leadership, delays, funding uncertainties and a lack of expertise have so far hampered the project in addition to COVID-19, which has exacerbated the challenges. The task before the minister is to implement ranching in the cattle rearing northern states as a private business venture, which would serve as a lasting solution to the problem.
If the federal government can convince Nigerians about its sincerity on NLTP, the plan can represent Nigeria’s most comprehensive strategy yet to encourage Fulani pastoralists to switch over to ranching and other sedentary livestock production systems. Undoubtedly, modernising the livestock sector is critical to resolving the herder-farmer conflict, which threatens Nigeria’s political stability and food security.
Dr. Abubakar’s priority should be to establish the ranching culture among cattle herders, and eradicate the conflicts that have stalled agricultural production and led to gruesome murder of thousands of farmers, the repercussion of which is being widely felt in high cost of food items. The new minister needs to debunk high notions that government is encouraging the Fulani from outside the country to surreptitiously take over land belonging to local communities.
The ministry will need to work with donors and investors to secure funds for training and communicating the plan’s benefits to herders in particular, who have entrenched nomadic live-style. The ministry should start off immediately with pilot ranches while encouraging donor commitments and personnel training. If genuinely implemented, the huge potentials of ranching can immensely benefit Nigerians individually and collectively.
It bears repeating that nomadic system of rearing cattle is not only outdated all over the world, it is impracticable in a largely agrarian country like Nigeria. In any case, the country has lost too many innocent souls, needlessly, from conflicts arising from rearing cattle on farmers’ land. Abubakar, as Minister of Agriculture has an opportunity to write his name in gold by seeking genuinely to stop the obnoxious practice, and enthrone a legacy of a progressive agriculture policy in the country.