INTERVIEW: How Nigeria can protect its livestock industry amidst coronavirus — Research Institute Director


Tunde Amole, the country director of International Livestock Research Institute, believes Nigeria could achieve food security if it has all the data of who is doing what in the agricultural value chain and if the food safety bill which has been on the floor of the National Assembly since 2016 had been passed.

In this interview with Abdulkareem Mojeed, he speaks on the critical strategies and guidelines Nigeria can employ to reduce the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the different agricultural value chains with major emphasis on how the livestock value chain can continue to breath regardless of the pandemic, as a key provider of protein all Nigerians depend on. He spoke on the problem facing the value chains and current research breakthroughs being effected to sustain the sector.

PT: What are your views on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the Nigerian livestock value chain so far?

Tunde Amole:If you look at the effects of Covid-19 generally it has affected the whole world, everywhere is either totally locked down or partially locked down. It means that movement trade and every other thing are globally affected. In terms of livestock, if you look at the demand and the supply chains and all the activities within it; they have been affected.For instance, let’s look at feed supply, either there is lockdown or not, animals cannot do without eating, we have to provide feed for them, even if we have stockpiled feed before lockdown, your feed will finish. You can imagine this cluster of pig farmers in Oke Aro in Lagos,according to a report that is still the largest cluster of pig farmers all over Africa. More than 10,000 pigs come out of that place everyday; to sustain that farm during this period is going to be very challenging. Feed supply would be affected because somebody needs to produce the feed, somebody needs to transport the feeds to essential places where they are required and people need to pick it up from there to feed the animals. If you have dairy animals, everyday they would produce milk, layers would produce eggs everyday and broilers in the cycle of 4-6 weeks.These animals need to be sustained, and by this time the feed market would probably be greatly affected and the animals would not be in good diet at this period.

Even feeds are made from either crop residue, grains- soybean, maize among others. We’re approaching the planting season, farmers would be in the preparation to plant their food and while we look at what human beings would eat, these same crops are what the livestocks depend on. So it is going to greatly affect the feed value chain.It is going to affect the processing, many people are stock down now they cannot process their chicken, even though people wants to buy but they don’t have enough hands to process their chicken because probably staff are lockdown somewhere and they could not get into processing.If you want to process chicken now,it would take you some time. You’ll need a power supply,a lot of hands and a van to move it.The markets are not variously open. It is going to affect people who have processed their animals before this time, because they’re stocked and some of those products will get spoiled, particularly when you look at where the lockdown is taking place- Abuja, Lagos, Ogun and even Osun state. The demand and supply chain would definitely be affected, from the feed to processing to sales would be affected and there would be loss of animals, we’re sure that would happen.

If the livestock production is affected during this time, when the pandemic is over what are we going to fall unto? What are the crops we would start eating? What are the animals we would depend on? If you would recall, livestock is an essential part of our nutrition, it provides protein and as you know our protein consumption particularly in this sub-saharan Africa is very very low, and that is the fear I have. If in the advanced world where they consume healthily balanced diet, the effect of this pandemic is alarming, we can only pray here that it will not strike us the way it has struck them, because the doctors said that if you are not in good state of nutrition and health, then you will not have enough antibodies to deal with this virus. Now, people who are not even eaten well before the pandemic, the pandemic has come, if God did not come into this matter and several other factors, then there is going to be a problem. After the pandemic, people need to recover and we don’t have animals again,what is going to be our source of protein?

PT: Having taken a cursory look at happenings globally, in your own perspective, what do you think Nigeria needs to do, to sustain its livestock value chains in this regard?

Tunde Amole: You would have noticed that the experts told us that Covid-19 was sourced from the wet wild market in China. So there is this wide market of animals, not from livestock. Covid-19 did not come from livestocks, rather if we have a good livestock system and we’re eating healthily we would be well immuned. However, that is not where I’m going. The report reaching me says Food safety bill in Nigeria has not been passed since 2016, we don’t have food safety bill, that this is the protocol for anyone to process meat, whatever kind of meat, either wild or domesticated, which would tell them the quick checkups to do before processing any meat, because the source of this pandemic is actually from what we ate. It started from the wet wild life market in Wuhan, China.So first,we must also prevent ourselves here,the government must quickly pass the food safety bill, you know in Nigeria,in our food system in the food value chain, both the crop and livestock value chains. The handling and safety precautions measures are not really serious. These are the areas we need to look into. For me, I believe if it is not safe, it is not food.We should be able to eat what is safe.

Secondly, the government must bring up a policy particularly to give palliative measures at this time, but you see the challenge now is, I’m not sure we have all Livestock farmers registered, both at the federal, state and local government levels respectively. If at least we have about 80 per cent of these farmers registered, then the government would be able to trace, at this time, the degree of palliative measures that should and would be provided, because both now and later after the pandemic, the issue of nutrition would still be a challenge.If by now we lose a very good number of our animals.After the pandemic, before a cattle can be slaughtered reasonably, it must be after a year and half or two. Even broilers that grow within 4-6 weeks, if the pandemic ends today, it would take the next six weeks to have a broiler bird on your table. Immediately after this, there must be palliative measures by the government, the government must take the responsibility to provide succour particularly for those in this value chain. But like I said, we should take a lesson from here, and make sure we have data of who is doing what. That is one of the things we lack in Nigeria and it is affecting us. I’m not sure we have a correct censor number of people in Nigeria, so we cannot even plan for electricity.

We don’t have the numbers of registered farmers that would be necessary at this time to attend to crucial sectors- those who are at the point of production,processing and retailing. We should just take a lesson from here, we tie up all these knots and then we’re not praying for another epidemic but if we have a strike, we could be able to adjust based on the data at hand.

We need good data of what is going on, we cannot depend on the research being done in the US to now come and be applying it here, it wont work. Sometimes they say you don’t eat meat because it is causing this, the people telling us have done research about their own life and it is not affecting us here. How many grams of meat do we eat per day, here in Nigeria. The issue is that we don’t even have our own local research to tackle our own local problems.

PT : What are the major research breakthroughs from your institute and how do you think they can be of help amidst this pandemic?

Well over the years we’ve been working with the local and national partners, we work with National Animal Production Research Institute (NAPRI),and some other universities basically to handle the issue of feed in this country. And recently we just concluded a research work with Obafemi Awolowo University where we looked at developing the local chicken system by having some genetic work. The project was called African Chicken Genetic Game. It was led by Professor Funsho Sonaiya in OAU. We were able to find out that we can develop our local chickens, so that while the broiler chickens and the exotic breeds are growing up, the local ones will have higher yield in terms of weight and in terms of higher production. We have been able to do that. When you finish a research work like this, from the donor funding it becomes the responsibility of the federal Government and their ministries to pick up such research and multiply it . We do research, present the results to countries where we’re hosted. Because we don’t go into business, we don’t produce anything, we don’t trade, we only produce results to show this is working and evidence that we’ve tried it with farmers. Few farmers that are beneficiaries from the project continued and it became a private partner’s responsibility. The issue of Public-private partnership, the government needs to strengthen that particularly with some of us research institutes here, like International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and others.So that when we finish the results of any research and we say this is a novel output, the government and the private companies comes on board and it becomes of huge benefits for the country.

Another thing which we’ve been able to do so far is the process of converting cassava peels into livestock feed. We know that people are using cassava to feed their animals, but Cassava is a staple food in Nigeria, we have a lot of human food products from cassava- garri, cassava flour(lafu), fufu etc. So we don’t want competition to continue between humans and livestocks. But there is a portion of cassava that we’ve neglected over years which is the peels. Nigeria being the largest producer of cassava all over the world, producing about 55,000MT tons of cassava every year, generating about 14 million MT tons annually. For the past three years we’ve been able to convert these peels to livestock feed, to feed ruminants, sheep and goats, fish and pigs to replace maize, so that maize can be released for human consumption.And we have been able to train a lot of people in this regard.

PT: What proactive measures would you suggest that needs to be done currently and subsequently to promote food security in Nigeria and to sustain the livestock value chains amidst the Coronavirus pandemic?

Well, in a pandemic situation like this, nobody is an expert because nobody planned for this. What I may advise is that if we allow movement of personnel who are either carrying food, drugs or there about. Probably,if we allow people who are also supplying feed to the livestock people, and allow the livestock people to be running some essential things at this time, putting all safety measures in place, maybe it could be a good thing. Well, we look at it as a personal business, that oh, why do you want to close down some business then allow some to continue? But when we finish this Pandemic , we would depend on food. So, people who are in essential services, not only people selling food or feed but those who are even producing it. If we allow people selling food to keep selling they will continue to sell, if this lasts for three months, they will finish whatever they have for sale. So who will supply them? Is it by that time when the Pandemic is over that we’re going to start producing? It means we would also need to wait a while to get products from them. It is a dicey situation. I know the government is putting on all effort in place. Because will you say people should go out to start farming? Our challenge is that we still depend on hoe and cutlass to farm and man-to-man kind of livestock production system. If we’ve been able to advance to automated system of livestock feeding, it means we don’t need to take about twenty persons to the farm to feed animals, which would reduced the number of people touching each other, one person will just press a button and the feed will be supplied, while the other person would be at the mill processing the feed.

With this pandemic everybody is giving out money which we quite appreciate,when we finish this pandemic, can we beg people again to say give these billions to save the livestock industry? Give this billion to save the power supply in this country, you see these problems, we would solve it. There is no silver bullet that we shoot at this time that will save the whole thing, but you see at this period, while we save our lives and we go through this pandemic, we should continue to remember that the pandemic will end. Even in Wuhan where the Pandemic emanated from, they have started opening their factories. Do you know what they are producing first? They are producing face masks, to send to the rest of the world. So, while the pandemic is going on, and we have a total shutdown, there are things we can be doing underground. Taking all the essential measures, let people who are at the essential levels of producing crops be supported by the government, to go and plant. But you see, because we’re still practicing subsistence agriculture, it’s a dicey situation. Those who have livestock, if their livestock will survive for the next one month, let’s produce feed for them, because this thing will be over and we will depend on something. Even before the Pandemic, we have food and livestock shortages in this country. After all now I don’t know what will happen. Lets see this as a big lesson to do the total overhauling of our system. While we see this as a big issue, let’s learn a big lesson here and ask, what are the things that can keep running even when all systems are shorting down?

What are the things we can start doing now? People who are in food production, not only food sales. How can we give them some palliative measures now, release them to do some farming via government support. I’m not faulting the sharing of twenty thousand naira by the government to the vulnerable groups across the country, but if there is no food in the market, what would they use the money to buy? Who are the people in the production? Can we give them one hundred thousand and take the record that XYZ farms have been given money to produce maybe 20,000 tons of maize within a given period of time or else,after this epidemic people will carry twenty thousand in their hands and there will be nothing to buy. So the few things that people will hoard at this time, by that time it would become more expensive.While other activities like online meetings, money transfers are going on amidst this pandemic. Then we should think inward to allow some essential things to be running in food production. For instance, the federal government should engage major Agro-processing industries in the country via giving them some loans and ultimatum to produce excess food that would be sold in the market after this pandemic and if they can’t meet up, they should refund the money given to them. Since we cannot ask all food processing companies or poultry owners to produce, lets engage some major once. It is never a means of enriching anyone in this regard. The government is supporting you to produce for the benefit of the people.

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