RUGA Farm Settlements : Fulani Herders’ Dilemma

Rasheed Akinkuolie

By Rasheed Akinkuolie

The plan by the Federal Government of Nigeria to establish Rural Grazing Area or ‘RUGA’ in the country was met with stiff opposition by some stake holders in states  and communities.
The unresolved  clashes between Fulani Herders and  Farmers in some communities, kidnappings for ransom, robberies, forcible land occupation and murders  attributed to Fulani herders, may  be responsible for the hostile attitude towards the project.
The rejection of the scheme without giving due consideration to the merits and  benefits is a wrong approach to what potentially,  may be the immediate and long term solution to the several socio-economic  crises in the country.
In the life after the exhaustion of crude oil, the saving grace will ultimately be animal husbandry, food and cash crop agriculture, which are inexhaustible, essential and always on high demand for human existence.
Nigeria should in this regard, draw good experience from India, European Union countries, USA , New Zealand, Russia,  and most developed countries, which have grown  their economies and assured food security for their teeming populations by livestock and general agricultural production. The animal husbandry and farming systems developed by these countries should be the model for Nigeria’s Ruga project.
Free range ranching of animals  is rare in most countries, except in countries with vast territories, like in  the pampas of Argentina, which covers over 700,000 square kilometers of grassland, the Steppes of Russia and the prairies of Canada and USA.
In most  countries, cattle and other livestocks are reared within  paddocks in farm houses and barns, where milk collected from cows  are pasteurized  and processed into other dairy products.
The scenic  sights  of cattle, horses and other animals grazing  in Swiss, and European country sides are good examples of such farming methods. Nestle and Dutch  baby milk formula are sold world wide with a global annual  income,  which should  be in excess of 100 billion USD.
In India, milking cows are  kept within small farm lands and around homes, where they are provided with fodders and milked to produce cheese, ghee, yogurt, butter and other dairy products. This  simple farming practice makes India the largest producer of milk in the world, with about 130 million tons annual output,  and revenue in excess of 150 billion usd.
This stands in contrast to the 44,000 tons produced in Nigeria, whereas over 400,000 tons is imported annually at a whopping cost of about 1.5 billion USD.
The  Kibbutz settlement in Israel, which incorporates  animal farms, clinics, schools, abbatoirs and  communal living is another good example of  livestock farming  within limited space.
The  Ruga project should be based on these models because of the constraints of space in Nigeria. As a take off, the old defunt farm settlements should be renovated and expanded to host the new Ruga settlements.
It is hoped that the project will be accepted  with an open mind,  because of the larger national interest,  and it’s potential to substantially solve most of the deeply rooted economic and social problems of Nigeria, which are linked to  poverty, unemployment, poor management of resources and hunger.
However, the minds of cynics, doubting  and suspicious stakeholders  must be disabused.  The implementation must be transparent, clearly defined and explained without ambiguities.
The settlements must have a mixed population of both Fulani herders, local farmers and other social groups. The herders may provide the cattle, while the farmers supply the fodders and other victuals. Veterinary  doctors, milk maids, milkmen, and marketers of dairy products  should also  form an integral part of the Ruga settlement.
The gestation period for an animal farm to make profit may take a few years, and most private sector  operators, especially  in Nigeria,  do not have the patience nor the desire to take such risks, but would rather prefer to import, buy and sell products.
In this regard, the government must take the lead in building the infrastructures, while  local and international experts in the field of dairy farming should partner with the government and other stake holders to manage the settlements as administrators, with representatives drawn from the federal and state ministries of agriculture( livestock department) to oversee public interests.
The following are the envisaged benefits of the Ruga project, if given a chance :
1. Nigeria will be self sufficient in milk production, and like in India, milk and its derived  products would constitute substantially to Nigeria’s food security, protein and micro nutrients intakes.
2.  Nigeria could be a net exporter of organic milk and dairy products, to replace crude  oil, as the major foreign exchange earner for the country.
3. Modern abattoirs established  in the settlements will process  safe and wholesome meat, which will replace  the  unhygienic make shift abattoirs in the country.
4.  Ruga will enable  herdsmen live in peace  with farmers, thereby addressing a critical  security situation in the country.
5. Ruga settlements will generate employment and improve physical development in rural communities, where they are located.
5. It will prevent cattle rustling, which is undermining and threatening the  development of  animal husbandry in Nigeria.
6. It will enable government settle herders and their families , build schools for their children, provide potable water, clinics, and such amenities which will soften the hard daily toils  of herders, who are always on the march.
Cynicism , skepticism and mutual distrust have been the bane of development and several missed opportunities  in Nigeria.
The word ‘Ruga’ which in fulfude language means settlement should not be misconstrued,  as suggesting  a clever way of imposing a herders settlement on communities. It is even trite to think so. This project is viable and the potential to  solve several socio- economic problems with the multiplier effects on security, poverty eradication and food security should be the focus of both government and all parties in the country.
Ambassador Akinkuolie Rasheed was Director (Trade and Investment) MInistry of Foreign Affairs, Nigeria