- Government comes up with new ideas to check herdsmen/farmers’ clashes
Although the title of the three-day National Conference on the Transformation of the Livestock Industry held in Abuja this week gave the impression that the entire gamut of the livestock industry would be the focus at the event, most of those who spoke dwelt extensively on the need for ranches, to reduce, if not eliminate the frequent clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
This is understandably so.
In recent times, herdsmen and farmers’ clashes have become rampant in virtually all parts of the country, leaving in their trail tears, sorrow, feelings of marginalisation and death. Unfortunately, the Federal Government does not appear to be doing much to stem the tide, thus giving the impression of bias on its part in favour of the herdsmen.
Although herdsmen have been itinerant by nature from time immemorial, trekking long distances from the northern part of the country to the south in the course of grazing their cattle, this mode of doing the business has become antediluvian. In many parts of the world, cattle are no longer made to go through the stress of traversing long distances on farmlands and other places, which ultimately affect the quality of beef and livestock production generally, apart from damaging crops on farms which often is the basis for the clashes.
While the herdsmen of old were noted for carrying daggers, bows and arrows and other soft weapons, these days, they carry sophisticated weapons, including AK-47 rifles. They say they have to be so armed to protect themselves against the activities of cattle rustlers. While we recognise their right to protect themselves and their cattle, the fact is that; one, they are not licensed to carry such arms. Again, in the course of grazing their cattle, they have also destroyed farmlands and become generally hostile to their host communities whenever the latter protest the destruction to their source of livelihood. The tension thus created led to a situation where some state governments decided to take their destiny in their hands by banning the activities of the herdsmen on the streets, or curbing them in some other ways.
The matter became so serious that the Federal Government could not continue to ignore the calls for modernisation of cattle rearing. In September, last year, the national farm to market rail scheme commenced in Gusau, Zamfara State, when about 500 cows were transported from Gusau to Lagos by rail. It was historic in that before this time, cows had always been transported by road, with its attendant problems – bad roads, heavy tolls and other losses. Laudable as this scheme was, it was suspended early this year for inexplicable reasons.
Even if it had not been suspended, the scheme alone could not resolve all the challenges posed by movement of cattle on road. For instance, we continue to find cattle on school fields, classrooms, sporting facilities, including the National Stadium in Abuja. It has become apparent that there is no other way than ranching, and this, mercifully, was the preponderance of opinion at the conference.
It is heartening that the Federal Government seems to be warming up to the idea of ranching, by providing insurance and about 3,000 heavily-armed agro-rangers for ranch operators to secure the ranches. This should make the operators happy since they would not pay for the services of the rangers. Although we have always believed that cattle-rearing, like other endeavours, is strictly a private business, we support the idea, even if in the interim, at least to reduce tension occasioned by herdsmen/farmers’ clashes.
We hope the Minister of Agriculture, Prince Audu Ogbeh, would live up to his promise that “at the end of this conference, we will take the recommendations seriously and begin to implement them.” There is also the need to address other challenges in the sector as the country still spends a lot of money on importation of frozen chicken, turkey, among others, when we have the capacity to produce enough, with the necessary encouragement and support from the government.