Disrupting The Nigerian Cattle Business By Collins Onuegbu

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Cattle is causing such pain in Nigeria these days. So much death and destruction has gone into producing the beef we all consume to our delight in most of our meals. And the tension in the country is increasing as a result. The simple process of breeding cattle is leading to ethnic and religious tension that’s capable of upsetting the delicate peace Nigeria has maintained for a while. While this problem is not limited to Nigeria, ours is peculiar because there does not seem to be any will or willingness to find a solution that could liberate the cattle business, a multibillion dollar business that is critical to our economy. Worldwide, beef is one of the biggest agricultural products, but its rearing has such profound effect on the environment that it’s easy to see how it causes such problems between those who breed and the places they do so.

But everyone is united in the knowledge that beef, the meat produced from cattle is the king of our palate. In the west and most of the developed world, steak and its variants are the king of meals. In Nigeria, from suya to steak and other things in-between, beef separates the have and the have nots. Beyond basic consumption, cattle has gone on to create its own place in our culture. In the East of Nigeria for example, the totality of your life when you die is summed up in the number of live cows that are used and donated for your burial. Same for weddings and other ceremonies. And this is not limited to the East. The rest of Nigeria have a favorite place for the cow and the beef that comes from it.

The churches have latched on too. Church Harvests in most Christian churches today is denominated in how many ropes(cows) that church members and groups donate. In different churches, these ropes have different price tags depending on how affluent the church is. So, while a rope in my rural village or somewhere in the slums of Lagos could be N100 thousand naira, in the more affluent Abuja and parts of Lagos, the same rope or cow could be twice or much higher as members outdo themselves to display their affluence in the house of God.

So, lets accept it, the cow is a major part of our daily life. Both for its meat and its influence in our culture and religion. I laugh at those who talk about boycotting beef. That’s a joke. People will keep eating beef until we produce steak in the lab and replace the cattle. This is going to happen but it’s just a little way off. When we get there, a lab in Lagos or Enugu will produce all the cow meat we need.

The Fulani in Nigeria have been the traditional keepers of cattle in Nigeria for generations. They have followed the tradition of old of open grazing to rear their cattle. As deforestation and desert encroachment and urbanization have changed the dynamics of this business, they have found themselves migrating down south for grazing areas for their cattle. In the process they have come into conflict with other farmers and other tribes. Cattle destroys what it feeds on. If I grow cassava and your cattle comes into my farm, the cattle eat up my cassava. There will no way I will be happy.

Sadly, as Nigerian population keeps growing and more beef is needed to feed all of us and more grazing land is required, this problem of cattle and farm owners will keep increasing. It has turned deadly in the past decade with cattle breeders moving more and more southward and arming themselves to protect their valuable assets. They have attacked communities that resisted them. And there has been death. The body count has been increasing by the day.

Government has appeared helpless or at times seems to be complicit. There have been insinuations that the Fulani, entrenched in the Nigeria government and security services are providing protection to cattle breeders. It does not help when our current president, a cattle breeder himself and a patron of the cattle breeder association gets accused of abetting and supporting by his silence and inaction. This is sad. Most government appointees including the minister of agriculture who could use his office to find a solution are playing games. Perhaps in fear of offending the president.

Their suggestion of decreeing land for cattle breeders is at best silly. Cattle rearing is a big and profitable business. That can pay for itself. If we do the numbers, the beef opportunity in Nigeria is a multibillion dollar business. And as the Nigerian population keeps growing and gets more affluent, this business will continue to grow. Those who are involved know this. And are ready to kill for it. And lobby those in power to protect their heinous business practice instead of looking at modernizing the business.

Why would the solution be to take peoples farmland and hand over to cattle breeders who make profit from their business? Cattle rearing has evolved over centuries and today, the method used in Nigeria is outdated and not sustainable. But this business is a big business that the country cannot ignore. So, it’s in everyone’s interest that it is made sustainable and not driven by one group trying to subdue the other.

I suggest that we look at the cattle business opportunity and see its modernization as an opportunity open to all Nigerians. I do not understand why it must be Fulani people imported from Niger republic that must keep cattle in Benue or Enugu or Ekiti. It is also not cast in stone that you must be Fulani to breed cattle. And if Enugu or Benue are good for cattle grazing, why are business people from those areas not taking the opportunity to open cattle farms using more modern techniques.?

If you are a younger Fulani businessman, are you not embarrassed that this business opportunity handed down by your forefathers is still left in the stone age while you aspire to be the cattle breeders of the future. Do you want to hide behind government to take over people’s farmlands when you are in a business that can pay its way?

Governments role here should be to provide incentives to those who want to modernize their practice. And for new entrants into the business using modern techniques that have been in use in other parts of the world. Instead of trying to decree easy passage for some at the pain of others who also have a livelihood to maintain. Cattle breeding should not be about blood and sorrow and a source of political and social tension.

The Nigerian leadership should be embarrassed at its poor handling of this business of cattle breeding. Why do we put politics above business and sustainable livelihood? We have messed up the oil opportunity and turned the Niger Delta into a theatre of war and waste. The manufacturing opportunity has been lost turning once manufacturing plants and warehouses into churches. Government has mismanaged the opportunity for education and turned our educational system into a system that produces mostly unemployable graduates. The list goes on and on. Our predatory leadership has shown little capacity for creating economic opportunities for Nigerians to live a better and more fulfilling life. It will be sad if we let the opportunity for cattle breeding become a blood sport because our government is just incapable or is partial at taking the firm and correct decisions that can open the business up to serious players who can clearly see the huge opportunities the business offers.

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