In the last few days there has been fierce debate as the Federal Government, which earlier promoted the idea of cattle ranch, opted for ‘cattle colonies’ leaving many people to ask what cattle colony is.
The introduction of cattle colonies came following the recent harvest of deaths in rural communities across Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States blamed on suspected herdsmen.
The minister of agriculture and rural development, Chief Audu Ogbeh took his time on Thursday to explain to Nigerians his concept of ‘cattle colonies’ and how that defers from cattle ranch.
“Colonies and ranches are the same thing in many ways except that a colony is bigger that a ranch; a colony is a biological expression for any species of animals whether by nature or by human design that are found in a large community sharing the same terrain, such as bee colonies in certain areas.
“In Colony 20, 30 ranchers can share the same colony, a ranch is usually owned by an individual or company with few numbers of cows, in a cattle colony you could find 100, 200, 300 cows owned by different individuals,” Chief Ogbeh stated.
He added “The reason for designing colony was that we want to prepare on a large scale, a place where many owners of cattle can co-exist there, they feed well because we can make their feeds from agro waste, get good water to drink as cows drink a lot of water, we can give them green fodder; we grow it on a large scale harvest and feed the cow; give them veterinary services and protect the cows against rustlers”.
However, since declaring the policy last week, there have been outrage and overt opposition by some section of the society that government has hidden agenda to forcefully amass communal land nationwide for prowling herdsmen -a charge chief Ogbeh denies.
Audu Ogbeh, while explaining the concept said that there was no truth in the speculation that government was conspiring to grant supremacy over communal land to Fulani herdsmen.
“Cattle colony is not using Fulani herdsmen to colonize any state. It is going to be done in partnerships with state governments that would like to volunteer land for it. Federal government will fund the project and those wishing to benefit from it will pay some fees,” the minister reiterated.
He declared that the idea of the cattle colony was envisaged as a measure to tackle the herdsmen-farmers conflicts and a platform for government to make more commitments to the development of the livestock subsector.
According to the Minister, while cattle ranching is more of an individual venture for the herdsmen and those wishing to invest in the livestock sector, cattle colonies is a larger project where up to 40 ranchers can share same facility that will be provided by the government at a reduced rate.
Speaking further “ranching is more of individual venture for those who want to invest, but cattle colony is bigger in scope and size. It is going to be done in partnership with states government who wish to be part of it. Already 16 states have volunteered land. Nobody is going to seize land from any community for the project”, he noted.
Ogbeh said once the colony begins, the Federal Government would embark on a large scale artificial insemination to improve the breed of cattle so that the yield of milk can increase.
He observed that while a cow in Nigeria delivers about a litre of milk per day, in East Africa, a cow gives 15 litres of milk and in Europe they do averagely 50 litres of milk per day,, saying that Nigeria is still a long way from achieving the target which other countries have achieved.
He sought for supports from states in area of extension officers who will be recruited within the locality so that they can be in contact with rural farmers, they will be taught on what to do as well as train the farmers on planting operations which will go side by side with the programme on cattle colonies.
The Minister also announced that the Federal Government would soon hold a stakeholders’ forum with the herdsmen and other stakeholders on the implementation of the new policy.
In 2016, the Federal Government promised to grass-up 50,000 hectares of land across the federation with improved grass seed imported from Brazil in land provided by state governments and some of the grazing reserves.
That programme did not happen and the ministry blamed it on lack of funds and the opposition and criticism it received by many stakeholders including the herdsmen.
Dr Ochinya Ojiji, a Peace Conflict Resolution expert, who has worked extensively in solving the problem between herders and farmers in some states in the past said the herders/farmers clashes have been going on for a long time but the country has failed to find lasting solutions to it.
The expert noted that places like Kenya in East Africa where animal rearing is part of their lifestyle also experienced similar problems because of cattle movement due to dry weather and climatic conditions.
He however opined that the country needs to employ an early warning mechanism which will track the movement of animals from one region to the other, affirming that with this, such conflict has been managed in East Africa because they have been able to contain the animals.
Dr Ojiji stressed that “What we need to bear in mind is that this is a practice that has been going on for a very long time, in other words the seasonal movement of animals in other parts which is the northern to southern part is ongoing and is as a result of change in the climatic condition; and anytime it becomes dry in the north you should know that they are due to move so why don’t we learn something from what is been going on from East Africa.”
He explained that the purpose of early warning mechanism is to track the movement of animals so that people will be at alert including the security agencies that this is the period where animals begins to move from one region to the other.
“The issue of ranches being discussed is a very delicate one. The infrastructure needed is not there at the moment so if you put in place the law of banning cattle grazing then what happens since there are no infrastructures? even the politicians who were accumulating animals through gifts or donations given to them, they have large number of cows now, they are the ones that have these animals and they have given them to Fulani’s to help rear them on their behalf have not even be able to put in place the ranches people are suggesting.
“How can we begin to say the small scale cattle rearers should go into ranches, how do they do it? So for me, banning open grazing is an unworkable solution because the real cattle rearers will not have the resources to put in place the ranches,” he said
On colony he stated that if government can do that, it would be wonderful however noted that “it’s also a cultural practice of the people and the whole idea of moving is like a way of life of the people. So in the immediate time it may be difficult to contain them in one particular colony as suggested, but maybe in the long run it will work out but they have to be patient seek understanding from both parties because the reality is that the cattle rearing business is an important component of our economy life.”
A think Tank group led by Professor Ibrahim Gambari, General Martin Luther Agwai (Rtd), Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, Professor Attahiru Jega and others in a Memorandum published last week noted that “the Nigerian livestock industry is largely dependent on natural vegetation. Although there is a vast hectare of natural vegetation in the country they are not maximally utilized due to poor planning and conflicting government policies. It was estimated that there are over 40 million hectares of grazing land in Nigeria, out of which only 3 million hectares are specifically tagged as grazing reserves.”
They stressed and suggested that “the idea to encourage nomads to settle was first made in 1942 but never implemented. A clear policy of land grant to pastoralists should be developed and implemented by state governments.”