Southern Nigeria depends on Northern Nigeria for beef. The cattle industry in the North, mostly developed through the activities of indigenous nomadic and settled herders and cattle dealers as a result of a response to increased market opportunities nationwide, especially in Southern Nigeria.
Traditionally cattle herding is not common in the south, due to environment factors that encourages tsetse fly habitation and for more than a century the south has relied on Fulani cattle herders for meat. The Fulanis who are practices nomadic herding move their herds from place to place in search for greener grass and water.
Unfortunate, despite environment changes in resent times like drought and desertification in the north and agricultural expansion and deforestation in the south; advancements in livestock farming technologies like breeding and genetics; increased resistance of cattle to Trypanosomiasis; and reduction of tsetse fly population in the south, Nigeria still rely on the nomadic life style of the Fulanis to sustain its cattle industry.
Nigeria’s cattle herding industry and policy is built around the Fulani ethnic group of the northern part of the country. The country relies on their way of life for beef and milk to feed a population of 180 million people. It is expected from a country whose economy depends on natural resources and outdated traditional structures to do so, as cattle herding is the traditional occupation of the Fulanis.
It is generally believed that the size of Nigeria’s present cattle population is in the range of 10 to 15 million and the majority of which are humped zebu are owned by the Fulani people. Nigerian Governments since independence have avoid carrying out major developmental programs in the industry for political reasons.
The Federal government has deliberately avoided discussions on cattle herding modernisation focusing only on developing the meat processing sector, as the cattle herding sector over the years has become an ‘ethnic group’ itself. This has made it more of a political than an economic issue.
The Fulanis who are very traditional and conservative hold strongly their several century old traditional methods of cattle herding – nomadic herding. A very influential ethnic group in the Northern part of the country, they have ensured they controlled the sector as cattle remain a significant symbolic repository of their values.
This control of the cattle herding industry by the Fulanis, the neglect by the government and the lack of interest among southerners have hindered development in the sector as it has remained the way it was more than 100 years ago.
The sector has not developing like the other agro-sectors. The rate of development of the industry is tightly tied to the slow rate at which the Fulani ethic group progress culturally. A group that still moves herds about from place to place grazing even along the major street of the nation’s capital.
There are no scientific or technological input from them into the sector and as such yields per cow in the country are some of the lowest in the world. For instance while a cow in some other part of the world can produce over 50 litres of milk per day, an average cow in the Nigeria produces less that one litre of milk per day.
It is time for southerners to invest in cattle herding as environmental changes and agricultural expansion has helped reduce the high population of Tsetse fly and prevalence of Trypanosomiasis infection among cattle in the south.
High population of Tsetse fly, the vector for Trypanosomiasis in the south has been one of the reasons cattle herding is not a traditional practice in the south, but with a decline in the distribution and abundance of tsetse in the south caused by long-term process of agricultural expansion that has destroyed the natural habitat of the cow killing insect, Trypanosomiasis is no longer threat to cattle herding in the south.
Also, as a result of local evolutionary adaptation, the Zebu breed of cattle commonly found in Nigeria which are usually susceptible to trypanosomosis now has relatively reasonable levels of tolerance. This is evident in herder’s continuous movement and increasing settlement in the southern part of the country to raise cattle.
This has brought about new herding business opportunities in the south which is obviously now favourable for cattle herding. Unfortunately, the state governments and business communities in the southern states are yet to notice or take advantage of the opportunities by starting ranches in their communities.
The beef protein market in the country is underserved especially in the south and there is opportunity for entrepreneurs to establish ranches integrated with beef and milk processing plants around major cities especially in the south.
Lagos for instance is a very big market for beef. It is the largest city in the country with a population of 21 million people (2016 est). According to Lai Omotola, the CEO of CFL Group, in an interview with Thisday, about 4,000 cows are slaughtered daily in Lagos, alone. He pointed out that a certain big retail outlet slaughters 400 cows daily and still don’t have enough to service their customers.
The Southern part of Nigeria, with a large cattle demand has not been keen in venturing into its production as they perceive cattle herding as a nomadic venture meant for northerners. In the south of the country cattle herding is seen more as a Fulani culture and less as a business for a southerner.
There is a need for a discussion in the public domain on the need to invest in ranches in the south. This is can help change the mind-set in the south. The government and business communities in the southern states should disrupt the cattle herding industry by investing in ranches in their states. This will boost the economy of the states, discourage open grazing and herdsmen-farmer clashes currently ravaging the country.