Keeping at it in a single-minded and undisguised manner, the Federal Government eventually had its way when it made public on Tuesday its resolve to set up and fund cattle ranches across 10 states of the federation, in an apparent bid to assuage the thirst for destruction of the rampaging Fulani herdsmen. Unveiled at the National Economic Council’s National Livestock Transformation Plan, the government said that it was agreed with states as part of efforts to end the frequent attacks on farmers and other Nigerians by the negatively rambunctious herdsmen.
The government has now decided to set up 94 ranches to be funded with N70bn in the pilot phase of three years and then N179bn in a total period of 10 years. There will also be clusters of 30, 60, 150, and 300 cow ranch models in a location within the donated and gazetted grazing reserves. The designers of the programme say each ranch will be “an integrated business, which makes provision for (a) the development of commercial crop production to support livestock through the supply of quality fodder and other feed materials, (b) the formation of producers into clusters to create viable ranch herd sizes, and (c) creation of cooperatives to facilitate improved access to inputs, infrastructure, finance, markets, and support services.” Audu Ogbeh, Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, concludes that there is no going back on the project. He said, “This conflict is not peculiar to Nigeria; it’s happening in Argentina; it happened in the U.S. in the 19th century, in Pakistan and others. So, this is what we should have started doing 20 years ago. We didn’t and that’s why we are where we are.”
He’s wrong. The 10-year National Livestock Plan is gratuitous, discriminatory and offensive. Linked with the controversial bill to establish a Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria, the sinister motive of the initiators of the programme becomes obvious. As is often said, cattle farming is a private business, the responsibility for which should be that of the owners. Cattle farming in Australia, Canada and the United States is purely the affair of the state or provincial government. In the US, cattle rearing originated in Texas in 1820. In 1875, Texas (State) set aside three million acres in the Panhandle to raise funds for public projects. A Chicago syndicate purchased the property in 1882 for raising cattle, according to the Bullock Texas State History Museum. Private companies own the cattle business in Canada as well. Private businessmen equally operate the cattle business in Australia, with the S. Kidman & Co, owning 10 ranches, including the Anna Creek Station, reputed to be the largest in the world.
In Brazil, which is the second largest beef exporter in the world, the government aids the cattle trade by facilitating low-interest loans to farmers. Through this system, Brazil has grown to become a major player in the meat business. Brazil’s Foreign Trade Secretariat states that from an income of $1.9m in 1994, beef export income of Brazil jumped to $1.9bn in 2004, providing 360,000 direct jobs. Brazil’s cattle farmers own about 80 million cattle head in the Amazon region alone.
It has often been argued that ranching is the solution to the current scorched-earth policy of the Fulani herdsmen, but no one envisaged that the government would be the one to take up that responsibility of providing the facilities on behalf of the herders. Take, for instance, the case of people who run piggeries, will the government go to this length in funding and providing space for them in all parts of the country? The case of the Niger Delta people is a good example of how a people have been denied their means of livelihood and yet nothing is done to change their situation. These are people that depend largely on fishing for their subsistence. But this means of livelihood has been taken away by oil spills, which have poisoned and killed the aquatic life in that area. What effort is the government making to dredge inland rivers for them in Sokoto or Maiduguri, for instance, to regain their fishing business? What is so special about cattle farming that it should be turned into a national responsibility?
No doubt, Nigeria needs to improve its cattle business to the modern age. But it should be the responsibility of states where cattle rearing is the predominant occupation of the people that should provide the enabling environment while the cattle farmers pick the bill. As the Federal Government did with the Anchor Borrowers Programme for rice, it should facilitate such loans for cattle farmers. Such loans would be used to buy land in their states of choice. Besides, of the states to host the ranches –Adamawa, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara – four do not have much to do with cattle rearing.
What has been apparent in the decision of the government is the fact that it has gone ahead with the plans of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association to march their cattle across any part of the country, whether the owners of such land like it or not. The government, through many of its agents, had insisted that there were grazing routes dating back to pre-independence period, which they imperiously insist must be respected. When the idea was resisted, it came up with the concept of grazing colony. Now, it is ranches on other people’s land. Whether it is called grazing route or grazing colony or ranches, what difference does it make? It is the same dogged resolve of the government-backed Fulani herdsmen to have their way playing out.
We insist that establishing ranches is purely a private enterprise. And the rule of common law requires cattle owners to fence in their animals. States that see its economic potential are free to decide to support and subsidise it with incentives. When this newspaper and other voices called for ranching, it was never suggested to be financed by the Federal Government. Just as state support has not meant government establishing rice farms, fish ponds, cotton farms, cocoa farms, cassava or soya beans farms or SMEs across the country, policies should be put in place to promote ranching, not compel states or enmesh the Federal Government directly in cattle farming.
The government has its rice policy but did not ask Kebbi and Lagos states to collaborate to produce the popular Lake rice brand: this was purely an economic decision by the two states. States that so desire and have advantage in livestock, may partner the private sector or collaborate as some are doing with rice. The ideal however is to create an enabling environment for local and foreign investors to move in, establish profitable ranches and help solve our food security crisis and eradicate the primitive practice of herding.
If the expectation is to see an end to the bloodletting currently sweeping across the land, it is doubtful that this is the right way to go about it. Many states in India have made laws prohibiting cattle damaging private and farmland, public roads, canals and embankments. Intentional herding or grazing of livestock on another person’s land without their consent is criminal and must end here, too.
The most pressing responsibility of the Buhari government is to disarm, apprehend and prosecute killer-herders, halt their rampage and protect their victims. State governors should join the principled resistance platform of Governor Samuel Ortom, who has declared bluntly that Benue State has no vacant land to provide for ranches.