Over the years, the Nigerian government has not given the livestock sector appropriate official recognition and support despite contributing 6-8 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 20-25 per cent of the agricultural GDP.
Trade in livestock and allied products runs into billions of naira yearly, with millions of people ranging from transporters, “check-pointers”, marketers, butchers and meat sellers benefiting from livestock production mostly done by pastoralists and rural farmers but it has suffered much neglect with crop-biased policies by successive governments, which made Nigeria a net importer of livestock from West and Central African countries.
However, gaps in technological innovation in agriculture in Nigeria today is also halting livestock development, leading to loss of revenue and job losses, as stockholders at the just concluded Agra Innovate West Africa Conference called on government to invest in infrastructure that will aid tracking of animals to monitor their movement, disease outbreaks, infection, breach in quality, manhandling and any sharp practice.
Stakeholders therefore emphasised that the renewed calls for a return to agriculture by Nigerians should not mean a descent to primitive agriculture. They said example of primitive agriculture is the movement of cattle and sheep through bushes, a practice that destroys crop farms and causes conflicts between herdsmen and farmers.
They said innovation and technological-driven agriculture should be for an improved productivity through a more accessible veterinary services, better nutrition and modern husbandry.
In 2013, Kenya adopted technological innovation through the use of mobile phones, which is improving the livestock industry by leaps and bounds in the country.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), mobile phones are allowing Kenyan farmers and veterinarians to issue quick alerts of possible disease outbreaks and track vaccination campaigns, as a way of encouraging innovation in the livestock sector.
Ironically, Nigeria is endowed with estimated 19.5 million cattle, 72.5 million goats, 41.3 million sheep, 7.1 million pigs, 278,840 camels and 145 million chickens, 11.6 million ducks, 2.1 million turkeys, and 974,499 donkeys (National Agricultural Sample Survey, 2011) making the nation the topmost livestock producer in West Africa.
Recently, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who spoke at a retreat on Livestock and Dairy Development, said despite the huge and robust population of Nigeria’s livestock enterprise, majority of livestock in Nigeria is kept by subsistence farmers.
According to him, the gap between actual and expected protein intake among Nigerians continues to widen. He said the livestock sub-sector contributes only 5.1 per cent to the nation’s GDP, making Nigeria a net importer of protein food of animal origin.
He lamented: “Our milk production is extremely poor with about 1 litre per cow in a day compared to Brazil and Saudi Arabia of 30-40 litre per cow in a day. Saudi Arabia produces 4.7 million litres of milk daily while Nigeria imports about $1.3 billion worth of milk annually to make up the deficit and I can confidently say your brands alone account for about 70 per cent.”
The Chairman of Shonga Farms Holdings Limited, Tope Damola, said government must be innovative in implementation of agricultural programmes, projects and activities, which he described as the reason farmers cannot track their animals.
He added: “We should turn the animal tracking to an industry. The infrastructure in the livestock industry is still very poor. Tracking animals also is a form of security. Government needs to invest in livestock sector and promote industry from it. When we began tracking, everybody was talking but there was a need and opportunity that was created.
If farmers go into animal tracking, the investment infrastructure may be hard but as people embrace it, especially given the population of animals, it would come to a stage where the cost of infrastructure will come to a barest minimum. Compare to what you stand to lose by not doing that. In my farm, for example, one cattle cost over half a million. So, for every cattle that got missing, I am losing N500,000. So why won’t I do tracking that will allow me to know where these animals have gone?”
Meanwhile, the Special Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye, said slow development in the livestock industry is a consequence of absence of innovation. He said cattle, sheep and goat need to be settled and roaming about with the herdsmen in search of feed and water needs to be stopped, as provision of these two items would revolutionise the sector and build it into an industry.
He said part of challenges facing livestock include poorly supported herdsmen who become embroiled in hostilities with crop farmers over encroachment of grazing animals on crop farms; tracking of animals hindered by logistic challenges and unreliable centrally coordinated data on vaccinations, medications, tagging and branding, census and animal slaughter for consumption to support planning and national strategy.
Speaking on tracking, he said: “Animals need identification features. This is related to the issue of traceability. It is much easier to trace any meat to specific sources in cases of observable breach in quality, disease and infection, malhandling or any sharp practice.
“Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and risk analysis as food safety tools will ensure that producers keep to certain standard operating procedures and that the values of what they offer to consumers are not in doubt.”
If Nigeria adopts tracking system, he said there would be reliable figures of animals slaughtered and consistent and measurable supplies of hides and skins to leather tanners for home use or export.
He added: “Disturbing findings in Minna, Maiduguri and Makurdi abattoirs (and elsewhere) on foetal wastage due to slaughter of pregnant animals could be unravelled and stopped. In Maiduguri, 15 per cent of animals slaughtered were pregnant, according to recent findings. In Ibadan, 35 per cent of animals slaughtered were pregnant; it’s time for change, it is now time to review and reform the activities of animal slaughter, time to halt the erosion of our genetic base. Federal and state governments need to legislate against slaughter of pregnant animals.
“Encourage effective surveillance in the slaughter houses by strict inspection and imposition of penalties on infractions and non-compliance, routine veterinary checks on animals presented for slaughter. Also, ensuring proper husbandry with adequate record keeping would help in early detection of pregnancy and preventing pregnant animals from being slaughtered.”
He hinted that government would soon re-establish breeding centres across the country, saying the FMARD is now embarking on standards and quality control, with emphasis on food safety. “This is the time to bring animal tracking under spotlight, for economic development, good health and, food and nutrition security.”