‘If there’s pasture, we won’t travel’
Before us is the fair complexioned Hakimi of Tulluwa, which is one of many Fulani settlements within the Cattle Breeding, Milk and Meat project at Rabah, Sokoto State. He is surrounded by many nomads, who nod as he speaks “Yes, we will stop migrating with our cattle if there is animal feed here for us. We used to travel from Rabah right up to Kwara, Kogi and Niger states. It takes us a month and two weeks to get to Kwara from here, and a month to Lokoja. It’s a three weeks journey to Minna. We are happy with this cattle project which indicates that it will cultivate feed for the cattle. One of our brothers lost five hundred cows to rustlers while trekking to Kwara. We prefer to stay here.”
Aminu Abubakar, another herder, adds “Our youths have been employed at this project site. We now have an access road where previously we had an ordinary path, and electricity is being brought. I hear cattle are being flown in from Argentina, and they will be mixed with our local breeds to produce better breeds which will yield more milk and beef.”
Jamilu Abubakar is optimistic that the whole country will gain from the Sokoto project when it becomes operational, even though Nigeria is still a country which is littered with many abandoned projects, which should have raised the quality of life had they come into being. Saleh Momale, Acting Executive Director, The Pastoral Resolve (PARE) explains how the Sokoto project could benefit from foreign support “The project officials should explore the possibility of bringing in other international donor organisations. These will also support the implementation of the project, either with technical skills, by deploying experts, or through linkages with organisations like FAO, IUCN, World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism, and UNEP. All these people will be interested in supporting initiatives like this, so they have another window of getting international technical assistance and support.” But he cautions “Those implementing the project need to think ahead of how to address some of these known challenges in Nigeria. How to address the challenge of corruption, engaging community participation, providing information to communities on budget and expenditure for particular activities, and announcing when monies for such activities have been released, so that if the community do not see that,then they will blow the whistle.” Daily Trust also gathered that a number of investors are also keen to invest in the project.
The Sokoto Cattle breeding project nursed into being by the administration of Governor Aminu Tambuwal, sets out to do many things: First, the Sokoto Gudali breed of cattle will be cross bred with breeds from Argentina to form a hybrid, which will produce more milk and meat than the breed hitherto yielded. This means more money, a higher turnover, and better prospects for all those involved in the milk and meat trade in the state and even in neighbouring west African countries. The milk and meat trade is likely to enjoy a revival, and this is a plus for food security as well as efforts at checking the spread of the desert. For this project in a semi-arid part of the country with its many pivots which can water sixty hectares in one hour, is inevitably a guarantee of a greener environment. Huge agricultural machinery such as Combine harvestors, dairy equipment, tractors and boilers, have been imported for the project and they have already arrived Sokoto. A man would not need hundreds of cows to harvest a lot of milk, for just a few of the hybrid Gudali breeds will do and he will realise more money than a hundred cows of the original Gudali breed, would ever have yielded. A document made available by the Ministry of Agriculture, indicates “Scientific data indicates that the reproductive performance of indigenous cattle is low, hence the need for proper livestock production environment to improve the productivity,and the most promising approach to the improvement of the reproductive rate and genetic potential of the indigenous cattle is by AI technique.” Also, one critical background to the project was the technology transfer. This has to do with the training of staff who will maintain the project. Staff were sent to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they were trained in genetics and breeding, embryo transfer, artificial insemination, and invitro fertilization. Two sets were trained in livestock management and marketing, while another two were trained in crop specialization and agricultural engineering.
This will be an ‘agricultural revolution’ on an epic scale in a land which is very familiar with the idea of revolution. This is not all. There are plans to import semen and embryos as part of the Artificial Insemination (AI) ingredient of the project, and this will also trigger a massive uplift for the breed and allow many to rise out of poverty, or at least raise them into better economic circumstances. In the first week of march,semen and embryos will arrive Nigeria, flown directly from Buenos Aires to Sokoto, and this is a project which strove to keep to deadlines, every inch of the way. Breeds of cattle from Argentina and Brazil will be flown to Sokoto very soon. The horn less Gudali would look very different in just a few years from now, when it would have been cross bred with the high milk and meat yielding Brahma, Brangus and Girolando breeds, from Argentina and Brazil, respectively. Daily Trust is told that the milk yielding Girolando, has never been cross bred with Sokoto Gudali, and there is some excitement in Sokoto, at this impending crossing of Gudali and Girolando, indicates Dr. Adamu Abdulkadir, Coordinating Director, overseeing the Sokoto Cattle Breeding Project.
He states “the aim and objective of the project is to improve the genetic build up of our local animals, for instance the Sokoto Gudali which is one of the popular breeds of animals in Nigeria. It is an animal that has dual properties. It can give you milk as well as meat. We want to improve the genetic build up. As it is now, the breed will give you three litres per day, but by the time you improve the genetic build up, it can give you eighteen litres a day. At present the Sokoto Gudali weighs 150-200 kilogrammes, and when we improve the genetic build up, it will weigh 250-300 kilogrames.” He explains “You have your local breed that genetically produces low milk, genetically produces less meat. By the time you do artificial insemination, at least you are mixing two genes, so there is a likelihood that you will get 50%,70% or even higher.”
Mohammed Alkali, Commissioner for Animal Health and Fisheries Development, Sokoto State, speaks on the same theme “the idea was to improve the genetic make-up of our local breed by cross breeding, and thereby improving the quality and quantity of milk and meat that is produced.” Dr. Saleh Ibrahim, who has a media background, and an interest in animal husbandry, adds “Through this project, the state is trying to raise pastoralism to another level. The cows will yield more milk, and it is a model scheme that states can emulate. It will generate employment, and will give the state better IGR.”
The Sokoto Cattle breeding project has already cost the government N3bn and it was started during the tenure of former Governor Aliyu Wammako. Located at Rabah, the home town of late Sardauna Ahmadu Bello, it covers one thousand hectares of flat land, small valleys and one major water body which has water all year round and ‘wont go dry’. Over the next few years the project will expand to cover another two thousand hectares and it can feed 10,000 cattle. Already, offices have been built, and accommodation for staff are available. There are laboratories and stores available at the project site. Dr. Abdulkadir adds “This project is going to have positive economic impact on the populace of Sokoto State, and beyond. It’s a revolution. This is what we have been praying for, for a long time. We didn’t take it to be business, and that’s why we are having problems. But now, it’s going to be more commercial. It’s going to be agribusiness, not the traditional way, or the cultural way we have been doing it. We should not see it just as a hobby, but as a business enterprise. There’s a ranch attached to it. The one thousand hectares of land we isolated, is for the development of pasture and cereals for the animals.”
Averting farmer/herder clashes
Focusing on the incessant farmer/herder clashes, and the need for a solution, he argues “I believe with this project we are now having an answer to farmer/herder clashes. At the ranch we are going to produce feed, soya beans, maize, sorghum, essentially to feed the animals, and we will also grow a lot of pasture grasses. These grasses and feed we are going to produce, will not only be used by the project. It’s going to be produced in excess, such that the Fulani can come and buy.He wouldn’t need to travel with his herds. Thats why we are saying that people should come and see what we are doing.” He sheds light on some of the challenges encountered while working on the project “Untimely release of funds was a problem. We have a workplan for this project. By the time you look for money and you write a memo. By the time the memo becomes money, it will take three to four months, and this will affect your workplan. We lost two years due to political problems. We lost another year to our boys who were studying outside. While they were studying we couldn’t continue with the project, who will maintain it? They have the technical know how, and we had to wait for them.”
He comments some more on the project “We require semen and embryos even more than the live animal. We still need live animals because these can give us sources of revenue, and most of these animals they are bringing are heifers, pregnant heifers.If they are bringing one hundred, it means its two hundred, but technically, semen and embryos are very important as far as this project is concerned. When the AI centre is ready, it will produce millions of straws of semen for people to come and buy. As we are buying now from Argentina, by 2019 people will start buying from us. Instead of going to Argentina, or US, or Canada to buy, you will have the semen and embryo here in Nigeria. People will come to us.”