The Secretary-General of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Saleh Alhassan, has warned that it will take a minimum of 25 years to transition from open grazing method of cattle rearing to ranching in Nigeria.
Open grazing has been publicly condemned and blamed as the reason why cattle herders clash with local farming communities over the control of lands, with such clashes leading to the death of hundreds over many years.
To stem the wave of violence, the federal government has presented the National Livestock Transformation Plan, a N179 billion 10-year initiative targeted at putting an end to the agelong herders-farmers crisis, and to massively improve the livestock industry. The initiative stipulates that ranching is the way forward for cattle rearing in the country.
While addressing issues around the plan during an interview with The Punch, Alhassan, said it'll take a lot of deliberate planning to make ranching become the sole option of livestock production in the country.
He assured that his organisation is fully committed to supporting the federal government's plan by sensitising herders to sign up for it so as to develop livestock farming in Nigeria.
He further urged the federal government to provide security for herders in ranches so that they're not attacked by cattle rustlers.
He said, "First and foremost, access to the land must be made flexible, even for small scale herdsmen. Then, we must have research into livestock production. It's not that this thing has not been done before, it has but it failed, principally because there were no planning and adequate institutional framework for it.
"What we are saying is that for ranching to become the sole option of livestock production, it takes a period of time, but the period that we need is at least 10 years, looking at the one stated in the National Livestock Development Plan.
"If we want to completely transform from open grazing to highly mechanised form of livestock production, which is ranching, we need a period of not less than 25 years. This is the reality. This is for you to be able to change the stock, acquire the right varieties and develop them. And let me tell you something, the gestation period of any ranch to give you profit is not less than six years.
"Whether you're going into dairy or meat production, that is the period it takes for you to make profit. We are willing to support government initiatives that will bring any development to livestock farming, because you must start from somewhere to get to another level. So, we are fully in support of this policy.
"When they roll out the pilot ranches, we will cooperate and sensitise our people to be part of it. And when the ranching takes effect, you must have watering point that will serve a large number of herders and then you must have security, so you don't develop the ranches and then you have criminals and cattle rustlers raid the ranches and kill the herders."
Alhassan further warned that if the government is not allowed to implement the plan, Nigerians will not be able to afford beef as ranching is too costly for the average cattle herder.
He said, "We must understand the contribution of livestock to our national development. Today, if you destroy pastoralism or open grazing, I'm telling you Nigerians cannot afford beef.
"For instance, if you have 40 cows you want to ranch, you need not less than N4m for that. How many herdsmen have that? So, as you push us to do ranching, you must do mechanised agriculture so that we can minimise the quantity of land that we use for cultivation."
National Livestock Transformation Plan
Under the federal government's plan, cattle herders are expected to be registered and recognised with cooperatives for the purpose of the ranching scheme. These cooperatives will then be able to get rental agreements for land from state governments and also benefit from ranch resources on several terms including loans, grants, and subsidies.
The funding of the plan from the federal government and state governments is expected to last for the first three years in the pilot phase for a total of N70 billion while private sector interests and investment between the third and tenth year is expected to be in excess of N100 billion.
The proposed ranch size models, according to the plan, is a cluster of 30, 60, 150 and 300 cows ranched in a location within the donated reserves.
Adamawa, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba, and Zamfara have been selected as the pilot states to launch the plan, with 94 ranches to be established and operational in clusters of 4 ranches in 24 locations in those states.
Of the 10 states designated as pilot states, the governments of Benue State and Ebonyi State have publicly denied agreeing to provide land for the federal government's initiative.