Garbage in, garbage out – The Nation

  • Nigerian cows worst milk producers, says minister; they are probably the worst-fed too

Popular wisdom is that you cannot give what you do not have and this will apply to Nigeria’s agricultural sector where even in the face of the best efforts, results have not been quite salutary. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, (himself a renowned farmer) has in the last two years had a daunting task convincing his compatriots that going back to land is the way to go.

However, the harder he tries, the less the perceived impact on the economy. For instance, the country still suffers huge post-harvest losses in almost every crop ranging from tubers to citruses, tomatoes, pepper and nuts. Not much strategic effort has been made to develop processing and preservation facilities in major food belts of the country. Neither has export capacities been developed as a first measure to tackle what may have become Nigeria’s agric conundrum of lack in the midst of plenty and wastage.

At another level, a large quantity of such common repast like poultry products consumed in Nigeria are still smuggled through Nigeria’s land borders; tomato puree and the bulk of cooking oil are still imported. The market for Nigeria’s major staple, rice is also dominated by foreign smuggled varieties. Milk is imported in large semi-processed form and repackaged in Nigeria by foreign firms.

These items are daily dining table needs in nearly every household across the country and the import of this is that we spend billions of dollars in foreign exchange servicing these commodities that can be sourced in abundance locally.

Milk, for instance, which is the subject of this editorial, is of a peculiar report. Chief Ogbeh at a function in Lagos lamented the fact that Nigerian cows are the worst milk producers globally. The average cow in Nigeria, he said, produces less than one litre of milk per day. Whereas the Dutch cow does about 50 litres per day while the American cow would deliver nearly 100 litres of milk per day; the Nigerian example is sure pathetic.

This is really a dire picture and a source of worry. The minister attributed the situation to the nomadic cattle-rearing method in Nigeria which ultimately affects meat and milk production. He said that the earlier farmers started developing ranches, the better for the entire animal farming value chain.

One of the remedies being worked out by his ministry to give the agric sector a boost is the imminent restructuring of the Bank of Agriculture (BoA) to create a branch in every local government so as to bring finance to the rural farmers.

While we commend the minister for identifying some of the problems in his sector and initiating some solution, the matter of animal husbandry in Nigeria and the production of such essentials as milk and beef require a more robust approach, both for the political upheaval arising from the activities of the itinerant cattle breeders and the huge economics of providing these vital proteins for Nigerians. There is also the need to check the outflow of huge foreign exchange.

It is not enough to set up rural branches of the BoA as finance is not a key index limiting the setting up of ranches or modern cattle breeding enclaves. It is also not enough to blame the cows for what we feed them is what they give back. For a start, the minister could use his good offices to liaise with some governors and private investors to set up private pilot full process commercial ranches in three or four states of the country.

These farms would not only serve as models of modern animal farming, they would immediately minimise the itinerary of herders as they could easily supply these ranches cows for milk and beef.

Many states of the northeast and northwest have ample land for this experimentation. Investors are not in short supply; what is lacking is official will to take practical steps.

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