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Nigeria’s poor dairy production

MINISTER of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh and business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, recently  expressed concern  about the poor output of Nigeria’s dairy farms. Speaking  recently at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, while signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with one of the world’s largest dairy companies, Arla Foods, towards boosting dairy production, Ogbe told Mr Steen Hadsbjerg, Senior Vice President and Head of Arla Foods for Sub-Saharan Africa: “We have a large number of malnourished children, almost 30 per cent. We are creating a situation in the cattle breeding programme where a poor widow in the village, who has four or five cows to milk, has the facility to preserve them for local consumption.  The cows are not properly taken care of, so the quality and quantity of milk and beef that they produce is low.”

On the other hand, addressing some students of the Lagos Business School who visited the his petrochemical refinery in Lagos on Monday, October 17, Dangote lamented that  98 per cent of the dairy products consumed in the country were imported. He said:  “Ninety-eight per cent of all the milk and dairy products we consume in Nigeria are imported.  This is why the Dangote Group plans to develop dairy plants and develop homegrown milk production, to reduce importation. By 2020, it is estimated that the Nigerian population would have risen to between 207 million and 210 million. If we do not make efforts to grow and process our own foods, God forbid, we will go hungry.”

Ogbeh has also expressed worry following the comparative analysis that reveals that cattle in Saudi Arabia and Brazil produce much more milk than their Nigerian counterpart. The Nigerian cow produces a litre of milk daily while the Brazilian and Saudi Arabian cow produces 30 litres daily, on the average.  Apart from the milk, cattle in the developed economies yield more beef than the Nigerian species. They are reared in ranches and  grow to be between 700 and 1000 kg, whereas the Nigerian species reared under the nomadic system never exceed 250 kg as a consequence of the stress which they undergo through the archaic system of cattle rearing. Subjected to endless wandering, these cows lose weight and nutrients, hence the poor output.

It is indeed sad that Nigeria currently spends up to $1.5 million annually to offset the incurred debt on dairy products, whereas a change in the system of cattle rearing would drastically reverse the situation. In our previous comments on the menace of Fulani herdsmen, we dwelt on the imperative of embracing the modern cattle rearing methods which are yield-sensitive, environment-friendly and economically profitable. If the herdsmen with their native expertise and proficiency can improve on their methods, there is little doubt that their lifestyle and status will improve beyond their imagination. What is more, embracing the modern system will swell Nigeria’s savings and eventually buoy the economy.

It is doubtful that Nigeria gets anything from the current dairy system other than the local nunu drink and cheese, whereas it should be possible to exact other dairy products like butter from the process. To achieve this, the Nigerian species would have to do better in terms of diary yield. In this connection, agriculture extension workers should be deployed to teach  the nomads the modern ways of cattle rearing. There is a desperate need to grow the Nigerian dairy industry to meet modernity along the way and it is imperative to start immediately. In this regard, we commend the Kano State government for taking the initiative to train its cattle farmers in the modern methods, which will definitely empower  and make them prosperous.

Although it is normal to expect resistance from herdsmen who are set in their ways, we expect the state governments to prevail on them to improve their mode of operation  and educate them on the losses inherent in the nomadic system. If the government is serious about its plan to tap fully into agriculture as an alternative means of national livelihood after the disastrous experience with crude oil, then its prospects to earn foreign exchange should be enhanced. If Nigeria fails to export dairy on the ground of comparative advantage, at least it can save its hard earned foreign exchange by cutting down on imported cheese and butter.

State governments in cattle producing areas should take more than a passing interest in this potentially immense revenue earner by investing in the needed human capacity through intensive training and agriculture extension services. Private investors can also be encouraged to expand the venture to the point of supplying raw materials to indigenous dairy firms. The herds of cattle in the USA, Australia, the Netherlands and other developed climes are ideal examples for Nigeria and we think that this is the way to go.