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Economics and business of cattle

By Henry Okolo

NIGERIA’S cattle management, meat processing and supply chain logistics are  primitive and cannot support the quality health and safety requirements of an international meat burger franchise company. However, with its large youthful population and affinity for modern consumption, Nigeria holds the largest promise for an international meat burger franchise in Africa. Modernisation is inevitable but would require investments, time and commitment of stakeholders (government and investors).”

The comments above were the verdict passed after a presentation made to a leading beef burger franchise company whilst declining a franchise for the Nigerian market. These were made in 2004 and up till date (14 years later), the company is yet to approve Nigeria for its franchise. Only three countries in Africa (South Africa, Egypt and Morocco) then were judged to meet the requirement of the particular franchise company. This company has over 35,000 restaurants/franchises in more than 120 countries, including developing countries with lower population and GDP than Nigeria. It established that Nigeria can eventually support the consumption of over one million hamburgers a day, with over N200 billion per annum business opportunity.

It is this primitive nature of the cattle management and meat processing facility that is at the core of the problems with cattle rearing and the conflicts between owners of cattle and owners of land and crops. This problem can only get worse with time unless specific steps are taken by various stakeholders to transit to a modern cattle economy and business. Cattle management is an economic and business activity. Unfortunately, all challenges associated with this business have been seen through the lenses of ethnicity, religion and sectionalism with no attention paid to the economic and business realities. We need a cross sectoral approach involving the ministries of Agriculture, Industries, Finance, Central Bank, etc,  to create an economic and business solution.

Following the feedback made in the quest for the burger franchise, we undertook comprehensive study of cattle and modern meat processing facility in 2004. A group of Nigerian veterinary doctors and agricultural economists and experts from South Africa were commissioned to establish the cattle population, distribution, ownership and management structure in Nigeria. Then in 2004, the cattle population was estimated at about 14 million. Recent publication from the Ministry of Agriculture indicates that the cattle population is now in excess of 20 million cows which at an average unit price (conservative) of N100,000 would translate to N2 trillion or approximately $6 billion. This is a significant asset value and it is to the benefit of Nigeria’s economy that this and other similar assets are developed and protected.

The study established that the majority (over 60 per cent) of the cattle population were held or in transit in the North-Eastern states, particularly Borno and Yobe states with regular inflows from Northern Cameroun, Chad and Niger. In 2004, the Boko Haram crisis had not started. With the inception of Boko Haram crisis in the North-East, more than 50 per cent of Nigeria’s cattle population had to move out of the Borno-Yobe axis to other parts of Nigeria and outside Nigeria (Cameroun and Gabon). Borno and Yobe states have substantial land mass more than the entire South East and South-South. With the displacement of cattle from these areas, the natural consequence is immediate pressure in the other parts of the country.  The incidents in Taraba, Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Enugu, etc, derive from this fact.

In addition to the loss of Borno State as the major cattle holding/transit and grazing area, there has been increase in human population requiring increased agricultural activity, particularly crops. This competition for space and food is the cause of the herdsmen/ farmers’ crisis. Today, majority of the cattle are effectively free range animals with the owners not used to making any investment in infrastructure: land and animal feed (grass, water, etc).

The current economics of traditional cattle rearing is therefore predicated on free land and free feed. This is at the core of the herdsmen community crisis and governments at the federal and state levels, and cattle owners must engage and invest in transitional arrangements. Free land and free feed for cattle is unsustainable. Land, including farm lands, are owned by individuals, indigenous communities or state governments. Most farmers either own or lease lands from indigenous communities and invest in their crops. Appropriating these land and crops by force is a recipe for WAR which could erupt on a large scale if not urgently addressed.

While most of the cattle populations are owned by small holders (2-10), there are also sizeable populations of cattle owners with animal population well in excess of 100 and in some cases as much as 100,000 or more. These owners of larger holdings essentially invest in their animals and subcontract herding through a network of herdsmen and herdsmen managers. When you see a herd of 100 to 200, the herdsmen are paid workers and do not necessarily own the cattle. The real owners of the cattle are mostly affected by the struggle for access to land and feed for the cattle. By implication, they must be involved in the ongoing crises.

In addition to the work in understanding the cattle population ownership and trading system, studies were carried out on the establishment of meat processing plant logistics and infrastructure capable of slaughtering and processing 1,000 cattle per day with cattle conditioning/fattening facility to hold at least 100-day stock i.e 100,000 animals. The objective then was to build a facility to support the processing of one million hamburgers per day and process international standard meat cuts (Sirloin, Rib Eye, T-bone, Steaks, etc). We established that the Nigerian cattle stock conditioned and fattened over a period of 100 days with world class animal health care will produce the appropriate meat quality. Dedicated ranches and controlled grazing areas will deliver this quality. A viable blueprint for establishing ranches and cattle fattening facilities was also developed.

We established that with improved cattle management, the average live weight of Nigeria’s cattle currently 250-400kg could be improved by more than 50% i.e. above 400kg. Nigeria could indeed become a genuine exporter of quality beef products and offer traceability for its meat products. Creating the infrastructure for fattening and holding 100,000 animals and 1000 cattle per day slaughter/process facility would require investments in the region of $100 million, with excellent returns on investment.

Cattle rearing is an agricultural activity like other branches of animal and plant agriculture. Current cattle management practices are predicated on free infrastructure and free animal feed. However, as land and farms are owned by private individuals and states, the struggle and protection of owned land and farms will continue to generate conflict. The transition from a free infrastructure and free feed to paid infrastructure and feed is inevitable and will need to be managed.

There will be major implications for investors and participants in the cattle value chain. Properly managed, this will create a new agro-industrial business opportunity for owners of cattle and meat processing plants.

Cattle rearing and meat processing is an economic and business activity and not an ethnic or religious issue. The transition to modern animal management is inevitable but needs to be carefully managed with a sense of urgency by all stakeholders.



Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.