Cattle ranches of old now in limbo
• Old Western Region Ranches In Ruins
• Obudu Ranch Resort Wilting Away
• Oyo, Ogun Move To Revive Farms
Over the years, nomadic livestock production in the country has been impeded by a series of challenges, due largely to the declining availability of pasture, overgrazing and the expanding fatal conflicts between pastoralists and crop farmers.
In the last three years or thereabouts, wanton killings, cattle rustling, robbery incidents, abductions; encroachment on farmlands and general insecurity have been on the increase, even as heinous activities linked to herdsmen have escalated beyond control.
The Federal Government’s decision to establish Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) settlements across the country was purportedly aimed at addressing some of these lingering problems. It, however, met a brickwall after many Nigerians kicked against the idea.
Towards the end of 2018, the immediate past Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, announced government’s plan to re-open existing grazing reserves across the country as a way of addressing the farmers-herdsmen clashes.
Ogbeh stressed that although some of the 415-gazetted grazing reserves had been encroached upon, there were still about three million hectares of land available for reserves, which could still be rejuvenated.
In the face of the challenges faced in the livestock sector of the agriculture ministry, stakeholders are asking what went wrong with the idea ranches established by regional governments in the First Republic.
A ranch is a farm where cattle, sheep, horses and other livestock are raised on large tracts of open, demarcated land. It could also be specialised and devoted to raising a particular type of animal. Many examples are found in North and South America and Australia etc.
The defunct regional governments established ranches as part of their agriculture policies, and those ranches contributed immensely to revenue generation, job creation and also gave a sense of sanity to the business of animal husbandry.
But investigations revealed that the ranches, which were sited in all the regions, were converted to Federal Government property when the military took over governance. They were eventually abandoned for several years and currently in ruinous condition.
Interestingly, while there are ranches that have existed for over 100 years and more in the United States and South America, where ranching originated, the pathetic state of ranches across the country is blamed on abandonment, failure to invest, lack of technical know-how and the political will to execute.
It is surprising that successive administrations in the country have failed to revive these moribund ranches, which are capable of generating more revenue for the country, creating employment and contributing to the attainment of food security.
According toThe Guardian findings, there is no technical know-how to sustain what was inherited from the regional governments.
In the Southwest, the premier of the defunct Western Region, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo created ranches across the states, which were managed by the Western Livestock Company, which later changed to Odu’a Farms Cattle Ranch.
Established in the 1970s, the ranches were located in Ibadan, Shaki, Ikun, Agege, Ikare, Akunu, Oke Ako via Ayedun Ekiti and Imeko, among others in present day Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo, Ogun and Osun states
The Awolowo-led government archival materials stocked these massive ranches with cattle imported from Argentina.
The ranch in Akunu Akoko, Ondo State, for instance, sits on 8, 061 hectares of farmland, with five big dams, which go through Ikakumo Akoko, Ise and Auga Akoko, all the way to the Edo State boundary. The land is currently lying fallow, while facilities there have all been abandoned.
It is the same story in Oyo State, where a total of nine ranches scattered across the state have also been abandoned.
Investigations revealed that these facilities in Oyo were not just mere ranches, but complete farm settlements with dedicated segments for animal husbandry, fishery, poultry and even piggery. This is apart from the large expanse of land dedicated for growing of crops.
Over 16, 000 hectares of land was allocated for the establishment of cattle ranches in Oyo State, while about 2, 000 hectares of land was carved out for the Ikere Gorge Dam, while over 5, 000 hectares was set aside for the ranch in Ibarapa. All that is now in ruins.
In Imeko, Ogun State, a massive ranch sitting on a 4, 000 hectares of land has since been abandoned, while at Oke Ako via Ayedun Ekiti, after Ipao, in Ekiti State, about 12, 000 hectares of land is also lying wasted.
Reports have it that Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, has begun moves to revive farm settlements in a bid to increase the food production capacity of the state, and to boost its economy.
He disclosed plans to revive over 5, 000 hectares of land located in Ibarapa, with the provision of immediate access roads and necessary empowerment packages, noting that the remaining eight settlements would soon receive similar facelift.
He, however, explained that the ranches were not Odu’a Investment Company’s property, but owned by the Western Region, hence they remain the property of the state.
“The farm settlements are complete packages. Chief Awolowo imported cows from Israel and was going to grow the animal husbandry business there before they fizzled out,” Makinde stated recently.
Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, a few weeks ago, while playing host to a team from Irish Dairy Milk, in Abeokuta, disclosed plans to establish a world-class ranch through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.
“At this point in time in this country, there are lots of discussions on cattle rearing. Cattle ranching, for us in Ogun State, besides the fact that we are looking at agriculture as a sector, we are looking at livestock as well. So, we are actually looking at how to set up our own ranches to be owned by the Public-Private Partnership (PPP),” he said.
Abiodun said he would be glad to see the state actualise its dream of having a thriving cattle ranch that would enable it continue to serve as a livestock market for Lagos State.
“Nothing will delight us in this state than to have our ranches because even the cattle market that Lagos State depends on is right here in our state, and we’ve been discussing in the last few weeks how to ensure that we have a properly organised ranch, and a world-class abattoir,” he said.
While state governors tinker with plans to rejuvenate the abandoned ranches, not a few stakeholders are showing concern on the need to breathe life back into those facilities.
A Lagos State-based extension officer, Korede Kazeem, who is of the view that the South West should by now have its own cattle ranch, advised governors in the region to explore abundant opportunities available in their respective states.
“RUGA is being foisted on us because we are neglecting the resources we have. Our governors need to look at the business advantages that can be explored from ranching. We can create so much employment if we think out-of-the-box.”
The Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), a dedicated technocratic institution for the sustainable development of the zone, has plans to explore the ranching window.
Project Evaluation Manager, Odu’a Investment Company Limited, Olusoji Sangobiyi said: “Currently, Odu’a Investment Company has bankable business plans for integrated cattle ranching for beef production, diary and other large-scale commercial agriculture ventures, which would be of great social impact and benefits to the host communities. The involvement of state governments in contributing massively to the support infrastructures is highly anticipated.
“Since this would involve strategic joint venture partnerships, with investors that have technical competence, financial capabilities, and a public private partnership outlook, Odu’a Investment Company must get the approval, which can happen when they hold their next quarterly meeting.”
On the possibility of rejuvenating moribund ranches, Sangobiyi said: “Even though pressure is coming from different quarters, especially since the RUGA debate started, Odu’a’s resolve is to drive home its decision with guided a strategy, and not being stampeded. Our approach is to embark on ventures that would have serious social impact on the critical mass of the people.
In Cross River State, the Obudu Ranch Resort, formerly Obudu Cattle Ranch has also witnessed serious decline in its fortunes.
Reportedly developed by colonial masters in 1951 and later taken over by the then South Eastern regional government, the facility was part of the country’s forest reserve, which technically makes it part of the national park.
According to Managing Director of the Cross River State State Tourism Bureau, Mr. Clement Unimna, the region tried to maintain the ranch as an economic venture with the establishment of palm plantation, cocoa farms and the likes, while also looking at ranching as an economic option.
The decline of the Obudu Cattle Ranch reportedly started during the privatisation process spearheaded by the Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba-led privatisation council, which was put in place by the Governor Donald Duke-led administration.
After the council put up the ranch area for privatisation, it was later taken over by Farm Fresh, which produced cattle and other diary products. But immediately Farm Fresh left, everything about cattle and diary production there went down. Even though other outfits eventually managed the place, they did not go into full diary production.
For instance, the then ADC Airlines had over 10, 000 cattle at Obudu, but when it encountered a crisis, the cattle were sold off to address some of its financial challenges.
At a point, the state government imported special hybrid cattle, which it managed at the facility, but currently, the number of government-owned cattle at the ranch is less than 20.
On what government needs to do to reactivate the ranch and make it viable, Unimna, a tourism expert said: “The government needs to look into tourism and agriculture, especially agriculture, which is what a lot of people are going into now, and which is receiving lots of attention even at the national level, with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) introducing lots of schemes for farmers.
“So, why can’t we as a state tap into it? We need to bring the expatriates back. For instance, when Donald Duke ventured into honey production, he brought in an expert, who built up infrastructure and trained farmers at the ranch on bee farming. Today, bee farming is a big business there. Now, we need to take another look at these areas and see if we need to go back to ranching, which I strongly recommend. We should get experts to train the people on cattle and diary farm management. If we can invest massively in agriculture and in the tourism sector, it would be to the betterment of the state as food production would increase and tourism potentials would be harnessed.”
At this point, Unimna said, the state should not be looking out for too much support if it can just weigh its investment priorities. “When Donald Duke was building Tinapa, it was envisaged that he would invest N10b and in less than five years the state would start having return on investment of about N30b yearly, with gainful employment opportunities. That was just Tinapa; then combine it with the ranch, this is just only in tourism, and then add agriculture. We can achieve much if we have our priorities right. For instance, if we develop our tourist attraction and put in place proper logistics, activities in this sector will pick up. In Botswana, people pay as much as $400 to $2, 000 for a night to stay in a hotel.
Unimna, who said running the Obudu Cattle Ranch successfully would be a very capital intensive project, explained that the state would need about N5b for the infrastructure and to train people and meaningfully engage them to take tourism in the state to the next level.
“Tourists from Botswana described the ranch in Obudu as a beautiful place for business and relaxation, but comparing ranching in Nigeria and what is obtainable in Botswana, Miss Babaloki Kaisara, a private tourism destination/customer experience consultant, and George Rekano, a destination marketing consultant, said ranches in Botswana are privately owned and since cattle do well in less rainy areas, there are many private ranches in their country.
They suggested that same could be done at the Obudu Ranch Resort with special species that are okay with the weather.
But the former Secretary General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nduka Eya, told The Guardian that Nigerians have not totally abandoned the idea of ranching, as it is still going on at subsistence level.
“Up till this day, individuals still have ranches for cows, pigs in their homes, where they feed the livestock that they are rearing. It is only the mega ranches that were managed by governments that have stopped because government, with the passage of time, proved that it was not a good manager of businesses. Most of the animals in government run ranches died or were killed. During and after the Nigerian Civil War, these animals became easy food for soldiers, and people who survived the war did not take interest in rearing animals, but tilted to agriculture and other menial jobs for survival.
“Southeast governors are encouraging people to go into ranching, and I personally have in my home, over six hectares of land, which I have the dream of running a cattle ranch there. Now that southeastern governors have come out to encourage ranching, I am going to take it up with my own state government because it is a paying job. My own is to restore the local cattle breed, which is going into extinction. And to achieve this, I have to enter into a partnership get the government to help me get a heavy loan, after which I will look for experts whom I will pay to run the ranch, build infrastructure there.
“So, as a person, I would say that ranching at individual or subsistence level never actually stopped, but it stopped at the government level.
In Jos, there was an abattoir, which could as well pass for an industrial outfit, where animals were slaughtered, packaged and exported. But suddenly the abattoir collapsed.
According to the Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Elder Anthony Sani, the reasons why cattle ranches failed in the country are not different from what have led to the failure of different aspects of national life, including security.
He said: “You may wish to note that agriculture used to be the mainstay of our economy. The rail transportation and national carrier, the Nigeria Airways all thrived in this country. Public schools produced quality graduates in those days. Similarly, textiles mills and other industries were on their way to finding their feet during the First Republic. All these happened because Nigerians paid taxes, which made them to own the government. That came with civil responsibility and there was no corruption. But when oil was discovered, it supplanted hard work and corruption gradually took over everything in the polity. As a result, there has been collapse of national ideals and moral values.
“Corruption has outsourced everything good by stealing our empowerment, stealing our opportunities and stealing our future making Nigeria to become a trust fund state. It is this state of affairs that collapsed not only the ranches, but all good aspects of our national life, including the security of life and property.”