Tinubu Needs to Drive Sustainable Livestock Reform

RENEWED moves to reform the livestock sector have rekindled the national debate on the appropriate mode of rearing animals in the country.

President Bola Tinubu, while responding to the programme proposed by the National Livestock Reform Committee, said the Federal Government would cover the cost of acquiring the land for cattle rearing.

This, he believes, would create jobs for veterinary doctors, bring up medical facilities for herders, make the livestock industry viable for private sector participation, and help establish new educational opportunities for herders and their children.

This looks good on the surface. The imperative of stopping the prevailing open grazing of cattle and its attendant problems, and adopting ranching, the acceptable, modern and economically profitable mode, is manifesting daily. Tinubu should rally all stakeholders towards achieving that objective. He should not accede to the retrogressive preference of some influential groups that supported his presidential bid for a continuation of the primitive open grazing farming.

Livestock farming is a business; it should be separated from politics. The government estimates Nigeria’s livestock potential at N33 trillion annually if properly harnessed. Currently contributing 17 per cent of the country’s agricultural GDP and 5.0 per cent of national GDP, its 20.7 million head of cattle is Africa’s sixth largest, according to The Mail of London, quoting diverse authorities. The industry generates 36.5 per cent of Nigerians’ total protein intake, says the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

But the sector is under-performing largely because it is driven by the centuries-old open grazing. This leads to lower meat and milk yields, lack of job opportunities, and conflict.

Nigeria’s livestock management must be guided by clarity; the government must take into cognisance the legitimate concerns of herders, farmers, and other stakeholders. Currently, illegal and brutal Fulani encroachments and criminality have carved a bloody trail across the country and contributed greatly to insecurity and terrorism in the country.

Genocidal killings are ongoing in Southern Kaduna, Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba, and Adamawa states perpetrated by herders and Fulani militia. Farmers in Oyo, Ondo, Osun and Ogun, Kwara, Kogi, Enugu, Ebonyi, Edo, and Cross River and Delta states, have also borne the brunt. The Global Terrorism Index designates the Fulani herders/militia the world’s fourth deadliest terrorist group.

Chaired by Abdullahi Ganduje, ex-governor of Kano State, the NLRC claims that the reform will help deescalate insecurity, but it glosses over the atrocities of the herders, and their untenable claim of entitlement to graze their cattle on other people’s land. The committee was also silent on the partisanship of the Federal Government and its security agencies for the Fulani.

This reached reprehensible heights under Muhammadu Buhari. Tinubu should change the story. Everyone benefits, especially the cattle owners, when ranching is adopted. All the tricks adopted in the Buhari era – cattle colonies, RUGA, water bill, and others – to confer undue advantage on herders should be dropped.

A Northern elite initiative led by Ganduje, now the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, the NLRC admits that livestock is a business and implies that open grazing is unsustainable. States with ample land and livestock populations should roll out policies to attract private foreign and local investment in ranching, and meat processing.

The NLRC’s 2023 report spotlights how Nigeria is lagging. It has the largest number of ruminant animals at 156.31 million, with 7.6 per cent of its population being pastoralist.

Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States have thriving livestock industries with huge private investments. They also have strong local and international demand and favourable business environment. Brazil’s government has consistently supported livestock farmers by encouraging ranching, investing in research, providing access to low interest credit programmes, and encouraging international best practices and technology deployment.

To tap the immense potential and end the endless conflict over grazing land, this administration should drive a national ranching programme driven by private investment.