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Are we ready for the White revolution?

By Gambo Dori

ON Wednesday last week, I drove out of Abuja to keep an appointment with Muhammadu D. Abubakar, the National President of Commercial Dairy Ranchers Association of Nigeria, CODARAN, who resides and runs his business in Kano.Besides being President of CODARAN, M D Abubakar also runs a flourishing dairy farm in Fari, a village just outside the city on the Kano-Zaria highway. The farm comes with all the full complements of backward integration as it relates to many surrounding Fulani villages and hamlets.

There was a bit of a furore over my last week’s piece, Resolving thePastoralists Dilemma, particularly among the indigenous stakeholders in the dairy industry who are in the forefront in the struggle for the entrenchment of backward integration as a means of growth in the industry and also permanently resettling the pastoralists.

Many of those who got in touch with me did so because they felt we were operating on the same wave length. They agreed that we share the same view that a significant positive difference in the dairy industry which empowers the pastoralists would go a long way to encourage them to settle permanently. This not only settles the age-old herders/farmers conflict but also gives the herder a significant leverage to contribute to the national wealth. The herder then becomes a fulcrum for national economic development rather than the debilitating burden he is assumed to be now.

When I hit the road from Abuja this rainy afternoon I reflected on the path taken by many nations that were where we are now. We are a nation with a large number of cattle that are producing far below what they should. To worsen matters a disproportionately large percentage of these cattle are driven long distances across the nation causing havoc among sedentary farmers. India is a typical example of a nation where there was a complete turn around of fortunes. The national output of cattle rose dramatically due to the efforts of a singular individual –VergheseKurien – who transformed India from a country importing dairy products to the world largest producer of milk in 1989. Under Kurien’s leadership, the small cooperatives of dairy farmers were modernised and in the process improved the lives of the rural farmers.

These kinds of cooperatives were replicated in many folds across India. Verghese Kurien’s exemplary work, which was lifelong, earned him the sobriquet, Father of the White Revolution, in India. He was duly honoured with the highest awards in India. In the International arena, he was also the winner of the World Food Prize in 1989. One can also point at many of such success stories affecting the growth of the dairy industry in Denmark, Netherlands, Kenya, South Africa and Turkey.

I was soon out of Kaduna on the Kano road. There were a lot of delays on this highway that is now under repairs. Long stretches of the road were closed and the traffic diverted into the other half. This made the journey longer but in any case I soon found myself a few kilometres away from Kano in Fari village where the L&Z Farm is located.

I was welcomed to the farm by the moos of cows that were being milked in a shed and was ushered into a hall where M D Abubakar was having a meeting with a group of Ardos(leaders) of the Fulani communities to sort out some local difficulties. It was an eye opener to the way and manner the farm associates at close level with the Fulani community, and also an opportunity for me  to start appreciating the difficulties of passing on new ideas and methods to people whocould be set in their ways. The L&Z farms maintain their own herds of cattle in the premises and also purchases milk from the surrounding villages to process into various dairy products – yoghurt, butter, fresh milk – for sale in their various outlets spread around the country.

It is in this manner that L&Z maintains a very intimate relationship with the herding communities that are widely spread around that part of Kano city. They were able to attract the construction of milk collection centres at strategic points with all the appurtenances including cooling tanks and solar panels to provide  electricity. Some communities even have pasture farms complete with solar boreholes to provide forage so that the herds need not trek to distant places to feed.The herders are also provided with all modern extension services plus artificial insemination for their cattle. This is a crucial element in the efforts to upgrade their herds. I was also taken around to four hamlets to see the facilities provided for the herding communities.

Later in the day, M D Abubakar took me into the city to L&Z Dairy Fresh on Alu Avenue, the outlet which serves as the end of the chain that retails the farms’ products. There is a fine eatery tucked in behind the shop where we settled for a late lunch and discussed extensively on the prospects of the dairy industry and what government needs to do to advance its fortunes. At the very onset Abubakar took pains to dispel the unfortunate belief that the herders love the life of movement from place to place and in the process causing havoc on farm lands. The herders rely completely on the dairy products of their herds for their economic wellbeing, which can only be maximised where good pasture and water are available all the year round. This is what L&Z and similar outfits around the country are doing to encourage herders to settle.

He indicated the example of L&Z farms which maintain a relationship of mutual interdependence with the herding community. The communities are organised into recognised cooperatives that are provided with all needed facilities – pasture farms to provide forage, solar boreholes for water and milk collection centres plus various forms of extension services.They are also provided with schools for their kids, since the Federal Government nomadic education programme hardly impacts there. Most importantly, the herding communities are encouraged to own all these facilities so as to safeguard them.

We agreed that for any widespread impact by integrated farms such as the L&Z to be felt, there is need for it to be replicated, particularly in the far-northern states where most of the herds and their owners are domiciled. At present, their impacts are only local but the potentials for growth are immense. MILCOPAL, a pilot project by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture has been operating in Kaduna State since the early 1990s and is now serving as a prototype of sorts. The Danish company Arla is now building on the achievements of MILCOPAL in Kaduna, just like the Netherlands are doing through WAMCO in Oyo state. The Shonga farms in Kwara state has been around for some time too and a few others in Minna, etc.

However, what irks Abubakar is the fact that though many integrated farms are coming up across the nation, we still fritter away a substantial part of the annual budget to import dairy products particularly powdered milk from Denmark and Netherlands. The sad part of the story is that this imported milk comes from farmers in countries where the governments heavily subsidises them. It is this subsidised imported milk that is dampening the local initiative to produce in larger scales.He said all the stakeholders are unanimous on the need for the federal government to roll out a scheme of incremental stiff tariffs on the imports of dry powdered milk. This plus other measures such as reduced taxes on imported equipment for the industry will put them on the correct trajectory to success. We parted on this note.

 


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