RUGA farm settlements: Fulani herders’ dilemma
The plan by the Federal Government of Nigeria to establish Rural Grazing Area or ‘RUGA’ in the country was met with stiff opposition by some stakeholders in states and communities. The unresolved clashes between Fulani herders and farmers in some communities, kidnappings for ransom, robberies, forcible land occupation and murders attributed to Fulani herders, may be responsible for the hostile attitude towards the project.
The rejection of the scheme without giving due consideration to the merits and benefits is a wrong approach to what potentially, may be the immediate and long term solution to the several socio-economic crises in the country.
In the life after the exhaustion of crude oil, the saving grace will ultimately be animal husbandry, food and cash crop agriculture, which are inexhaustible, essential and always on high demand for human existence.
Nigeria should in this regard, draw good experience from India, European Union countries, USA, New Zealand, Russia and most developed countries, which have grown their economies and assured food security for their teeming populations by livestock and general agricultural production. The animal husbandry and farming systems developed by these countries should be the model for Nigeria’s Ruga project.
Free range ranching of animals is rare in most countries, except in countries with vast territories, like in the Pampas of Argentina, which covers over 700,000 square kilometers of grassland, the Steppes of Russia and the Prairies of Canada and USA.
In most countries, cattle and other livestock are reared within paddocks in farmhouses and barns, where milk collected from cows are pasteurized and processed into other dairy products. The scenic sights of cattle, horses and other animals grazing in Swiss and European countrysides are good examples of such farming methods. Nestle and Dutch baby milk formula is sold worldwide with a global annual income, which should be in excess of $100 billion.
In India, milking cows are kept within small farmlands and around homes, where they are provided with fodders and milked to produce cheese, ghee, yogurt, butter and other dairy products. This simple farming practice makes India the largest producer of milk in the world, with about 130 million tons annual output, and revenue in excess of $150 billion.
This stands in contrast to the 44,000 tons produced in Nigeria, whereas over 400,000 tons is imported annually at a whopping cost of about $1.5 billion.
The Kibbutz settlement in Israel, which incorporates animal farms, clinics, schools, abattoirs and communal living is another good example of livestock farming within limited space. The RUGA project should be based on these models because of the constraints of space in Nigeria. As a take off, the old defunct farm settlements should be renovated and expanded to host the new RUGA settlements.
It is hoped that the project will be accepted with an open mind, because of the larger national interest, and it’s potential to substantially solve most of the deeply rooted economic and social problems of Nigeria, which are linked to poverty, unemployment, poor management of resources and hunger.
However, the minds of cynics, doubting and suspicious stakeholders must be disabused. The implementation must be transparent, clearly defined and explained without ambiguities.
The settlements must have a mixed population of Fulani herders, local farmers and other social groups. The herders may provide the cattle, while the farmers supply the fodders and other victuals. Veterinary doctors, milkmaids, milkmen, and marketers of dairy products should also form an integral part of the RUGA settlement.
The gestation period for an animal farm to make profit may take a few years, and most private sector operators, especially in Nigeria, do not have the patience or the desire to take such risks, but would rather prefer to import, buy and sell products.
In this regard, the government must take the lead in building the infrastructure, while local and international experts in the field of dairy farming should partner with the government and other stakeholders to manage the settlements as administrators, with representatives drawn from the federal and state ministries of agriculture (livestock department) to oversee public interests.
The following are the envisaged benefits of the RUGA project, if given a chance:
1. Nigeria will be self sufficient in milk production, and like in India, milk and its derived products would constitute substantially to Nigeria’s food security, protein and micronutrients intakes.
2. Nigeria could be a net exporter of organic milk and dairy products, to replace crude oil, as the major foreign exchange earner for the country.
3. Modern abattoirs established in the settlements will process safe and wholesome meat, which will replace the unhygienic make shift abattoirs in the country.
4. RUGA will enable herdsmen live in peace with farmers, thereby addressing a critical security situation in the country.
5. RUGA settlements will generate employment and improve physical development in rural communities, where they are located.
5. It will prevent cattle rustling, which is undermining and threatening the development of animal husbandry in Nigeria.
6. It will enable government settle herders and their families, build schools for their children, provide potable water, clinics, and such amenities, which will soften the hard daily toils of herders, who are always on the march.
Cynicism, skepticism and mutual distrust have been the bane of development and several missed opportunities in Nigeria. The word ‘RUGA’ which in Fulfude language means settlement should not be misconstrued, as suggesting a clever way of imposing a herders settlement on communities. It is even trite to think so. This project is viable and the potential to solve several socio- economic problems with the multiplier effects on security, poverty eradication and food security should be the focus of both government and all parties in the country. Ambassador Rasheed, former Director (Trade and Investment) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nigeria, wrote from Lagos.
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