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Ruga and Ruga+ — by Dr Aliyu U Tilde

Ruga and Ruga+  —  by Dr Aliyu U Tilde

As I was editing this article, the news came that the Federal Government has suspended its Ruga initiative to allow time for its review. I doubt if it will forget the idea for doing so will be a blatant display of cowardice by the President and a substantiation of the allegation that he does not have regard for the feelings of Northerners or their interest. This will cause his party a bad PR especially against the background of 2023. Well, whatever it is, the article is still on point.

The article is not about whether I support Ruga or not. Of course, given my DNA and profession, nobody expects me to oppose it. It is like government promising to build factories of spare parts for Igbo manufacturers. From their Eze down to their toddler, everybody will be happy and supportive.

The article is about some issues surrounding the Ruga project, herding cattle in a specific area for tendering and processing of products as a means of resolving farmer-herder conflict in the country. Before we go into the issues it is important to say that the noise opposing Ruga is as unnecessary as the ado the government is making about it. Going by the statistics, the government in fact needs to do more than Ruga. It should introduce Ruga+.

Noise About An Old Wine

Participation in Ruga projects is voluntary. Contrary to the widespread misinformation peddled by some Nigerians, nobody is begging anyone for Ruga land, please. Whenever any state feels like partaking in cattle husbandry, it can approach the government for the benefit. The noise against Ruga by non-interested parties is informed by mischievous politics, religious bigotry and ethnic sentiments. If government provides facilities, grants, waivers and tarrifs to farmers, manufacturers and businessmen, must herdsmen, for example, shout against it or must the government seek their consent first? The noise is not worth replying.

The noise from the government too is unwarranted. It portrays the Ruga project as if it were a major scientific breakthrough in governance, a penicillin that would cure the country of the herdsmen microbe and at the same time giving the herdsmen the false assurance that a paradise where no roaming with herds is here. The truth is that Ruga alone is neither a penecillin nor a paradise. The situation demands more.

Ruga is simply a herding concept that would have been accomodated in the context of existing grazing reserves. In fact its objectives of providing grazing land, fodder and processing facilities to herders was there in the concept of every grazing reserves established between 70 and 40 years ago. Why the fuss then? Why would not the federal and state governments rehabilitate their grazing reserves quietly and save the nation cacophony of hate speech? How much noise did previous administrations make when establishing those grazing reserves?

The noise on both sides is unnecessary. Let us move to the glaring fact.

Fact

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture has not given the nation any detailed plan of the Ruga project. What we know so far came from the clarification which the Presidency gave few days ago and the statements by the Permananent Secretary of the Ministry on two occasions. Both have promised Nigerians, according to a report filed two days ago, that “constructing Ruga settlements will stop roaming of cattle herders with the attendant clashes with farmers.”

I am afraid to say that the above objective can only be achieved by a long term strategy that will ensure full settlement of all of Nigeria’s 20 million cattle. That will be a huge project that will require possibly decades and enormous resources to which the present Ruga initiative is just a small fraction.

If each of the 13 willing states gives, as did Niger State, 31,000 hectares of land, at the rate of 2 cows per hectare of grazing land, the present phase of Ruga that some of us are ready to go to war on will nationwide cater for only 744,000 cows or a dismal 3.72% of the national total. By the time it is completed in all the 12 states, 96.28% of our cows will still be roaming the country. Therefore, Ruga can only be a first step in the long journey ahead.

My point is even if it is granted that government will pull the Ruga project through without abandoning it half way or public servants turning it into a gold mine as it is the tradition, it must not mislead the public into thinking that the initiative is an immediate panacea to the farmer-herdmen crisis. It will take decades of sustained effort to achieve a full settlement.

Strategies

Now, the land arithmetic is not on the side of full settlement, unfortunately. Settling all our 20 million cows will not be possible due to politics and competing demands for land. 20 million cows require 10 million hectares or 100,000 square kilometers. That is 10.8% of our total 82 million hectares of arable land. If we discount the 42% already under cultivation, the land belonging to 20 or so unwilling states and the ever expanding demand of agriculture, where will the 100,000 sq km come from? So our Ruga initiative is ab initio limited by space. I would not like to further demoralize the reader with the accounts of the money required.

Since we cannot expand the Nigerian landmass to the size of India, China, USA, Brazil or Agentina, alternative strategies must be sought. May be we go on a killing spree or expel the many herders from the country to reduce the cattle population to say 7 million, the size of Egypt’s, with a similar landmass. This short cut will not be taken even by the worst bigot.

The principal problem is the breed of cows we have. We can get the same quantity of beef and milk that our 20 million cows produce from a much fewer but better breed of cows. In Nigeria a 100% dairy cow with good pedigree can yield between 20 and 30 litres per day, that is 10 times what the majority of native cows yield. If crossed with Frisians for example, good native cows can yield between 8 and 15 litres of milk per day, i.e. up to 7 times of the 2 litres per day that an average native cow yields. In terms of beef, the benefit of cross breeding with beef cattle is the same. The benefit comes from fast growth rate and increase in fresh weight per cow. In a nutshell, we can produce the same quantity of beef and milk for just a manageable number of 5 million improved breed of cows instead of the unwieldy 20 million ‘wild’ cows that have very limited yield and require a landmass that we cannot afford.

Another promising angle also exists – that is the intensive cattle husbandry which the elite can venture into. The yield of beef and milk is higher per unit area though the management practices and feeding requirements are much higher. This makes it possible for France, with just 64% of Nigerian landmass to grow up to 19 million quality cattle on just 17.5% of its landmass.

Intervention

What is common to both extensive and intensive husbandry of cattle is the need for government subsidy as practised in all advanced economies. Government must invest in land, infrastructure that include dams and access roads, breeding and animal health facilities, organizing market outlets, etc. This is what all governments do where modern husbandry is taken seriously. Though Rwanda is a small country compared to Nigeria, it nevertheless invested in a large-scale cross breeding of cattle such that between 1995 and 2017 years, it was able to reduce its percentage of local cows to 38%. The problem is that it has just 1.16 million cattle. Nigeria has 20 million, all local breeds, by the latest FAO estimates.

Those arguing that cattle husbandry is a private business and must not attract any form of patronage from government are misleading the public on the matter. There is no business that government is not involved in. None. One only needs to think well. Every business needs a secured environment, roads, markets, etc. And where thousands of investors are involved, government organization and regulation becomes extra-essential.

If we Nigerians do not want government to invest in livestock as it invests in other forms of agriculture, let us be ready to live with the traditional way of animal husbandry. Let us keep our 20 million native cows in the bush and continue to contend with the bloody menace of farmer-herder crisis forever.

This is where Ruga is a right, though small, step in the right direction. Each ruga can be a centre for inoculation of new methods of husbandry from where the larger population may learn and borrow. It can thus serve as the required transformation trigger in the sector. However, unless successive governments are ready to sustain the ruga and other livestock projects by making the right interventions, the present Ruga project will just be one of those projects started and abandoned half way and from which only some fat cats have benefitted. Then, even the few cows the rugas would settle will abandon them due to official negligence as they have abandoned all previous grazing reserves in Africa. God forbid.

Ruga+

Will the nation allow the government to go to bed contented that it has started a process which if completed will settle only 3.71% of its cattle population in its eight years tenure? Can’t we press it to do something about the remaining 96.29% of cattle and herders roaming our landscape?

The Vice President has denied associating with the Ruga initiative, saying that it is not part of his NLTP project that is planned to consume some N179 billion, of which government will invest the initial N79 billion and private investors providing the remainder later. The project was scheduled to start in 2018 and end in 2027. One year is gone already. It is still on paper. That is typical of the VP when it comes to herdsmen issues. He will make sweet promises at meetings, time without number, but do nothing later and forever. Livestock is not bribing voters through Trader-moni. Cows do not vote or rig elections. Until 2023.

The government has to do more than Ruga for livestock development in this country. If it will pair it with security, the demand becomes bigger and more urgent. This is an effort that must not be limited to Federal Government. The culpable state governments in both northern and southern parts of the country that scandalously allowed their grazing reserves and livestock investments to rot away must repent and do the needful: revitalize the reserves and provide livestock services in every community as they used to do up to the 1970s.

Finally, let me note here that we can get a timid President to recapitulate on his Ruga initiative now but the economic and security consequences of doing nothing will remain both horrific and tragic. The choice is ours, Nigerians.

For me it is ruga and ruga+, all the way. I just had two beautiful births of Frisian crosses on my farm (see pictures) as I was writing this piece. Continue with your Ruga noise. I am deaf.

Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
3 July 2019

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