By Gambo Dori
AS I planned, I drove out of Abuja last Tuesday morning to meet up an appointment in Kaduna that would take me around places of experiments of some successful clustering of herders’ settlements into successful economic entities.
These are small clusters compared to the settlements envisaged by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture’s Rural Grazing Area, RUGA, resettlement schemes that have run into a storm of criticisms. Nevertheless, it was the success of clustering these small settlements that influenced the federal authorities to embark on its nation-wide application.
That Tuesday morning was balmy, the sky was overcast with dark, pregnant clouds threatening rain, when I took the right turn at the Dutsen Alhaji junction and drove through the string of settlements and road side markets dotting the route to Jere through Bwari.
In the recent past one would be apprehensive for the fear of kidnappers laying siege but now with the obvious presence of large number of security men one could drive with confidence. It was at Jere that I joined the Abuja-Kaduna dual carriageway and from the density of the traffic, I surmised that confidence had now returned to commuters on that road again.
While driving towards Kaduna I ruminated on the long drawn saga of resettling the herding nomads. After many trials in parts of the country over decades with varying degree of successes, the government at last tried to bring out its version of the resettlement scheme now dubbed RUGA.
I had always imagined it to be a business model that would have not only solved the immediate social problem of herders/farmers clashes but would also have kick-started a revolution in the dairy and meat industry, creating massive employment opportunities through tested linkages.
The trade opportunities thus created would have been a cash-cow for the nation to earn foreign exchange, in addition to the earnings from oil through the export of surplus dairy products. It is a pity that there was a poor perception of the scheme from many quarters making its implementation as envisaged somehow untenable.
It was with these thoughts that my car nosed into Kaduna where I raced to have a stopover for briefing at Milcopal office at the other end of town leading out to Zaria. Readers might recall that I had mentioned Milcopal on this page many times. It is the cooperative association serving as the apex body for a cluster of milk producers in the state. They constitute the milk collection centres and processing as well as the marketing outlet for various cooperatives.
Milcopal gives lots of assistance in terms of training the herders to keep up with modern instruments to improve the management of the animals and extension of many other veterinary services. Milcopal is into some arrangement with both Kaduna State Government and Arla, a Danish outfit engaged in dairy production and marketing.
I have mentioned on this page a number of times the many ambitious undertakings by Arla particularly what they are doing in conjunction with the Kaduna State Government to resettle a large number of herding communities with a view to upgrading their herds to raise their contribution to the dairy and meat industry.
My purpose that day was to visit some of the clusters and experience some of the successes associated with resettling the herders. During the briefing at Milcopal I realised that I was in company of a few others who came from a development agency. I later found out that this development agency has done some outstanding work with herders in Kano and Niger states and are now at the doorsteps of the Kaduna experiment. We started the visit at Amana Cooperatives located at Kadudu, the headquarters of the cluster, a few kilometres after the Kaduna river, off the Saminaka road.
At Kadudu we were welcomed by the plaintive moos of young calves whose parents had either gone out to pasture or were awaiting milking.
We stopped at the milk collection centre to watch a demonstration of how the locals had mastered the modern equipment used to milk cows. I was surprised at their dexterity. No doubt these herders would never go back to the backbreaking and wasteful milking with their hands. There is a fodder farm adjacent to the milk collection centre already green with high quality grass.
There is also a school within the vicinity. We held a meeting with the leaders of the herders association and a few of their members. Surprisingly I noted that the ladies in the group were not as laidback as one would expect but quite outspoken.
One of the problems they hammered upon was the idleness imposed on them when the tedious act of milking and marketing was taken away from them. The pastoral ladies now had plenty of idle time in their hands, and needed something to do.
We left and returned to Kaduna and drove out again towards the millennium city to visit the Zaidi Farms – a large ranch some few kilometres away from Kurmin-Mashi village. The ranch run by Idi Mukhtar Maiha, a former managing director of Kaduna Refining and Petrochemical Company, KPRC, who surprised many by opting to head to the farm after retirement.
The Zaidi farm is a well-integrated enterprise and applies the best practices in animal husbandry. It is into close arrangement with the Kaduna State Government, Milcopal and Arla.
In fact, when the ranch was officially launched by the deputy governor in April, the Danish ambassador was there in person to underscore the close relationship. There is a milking point for the livestock around which the management of the ranch have organised large number of heading families that are around them to participate. The ranch enables them to get access to the kind of services given at the Amana Cooperatives.
The leaders of the rugas, including their ladies were at hand to receive and chat with us. I did not have enough time to make a comprehensive inspection of the farm leaving that for another time. But I had noted that there was need for an all season road leading to the farm from the main highway. It was quite a distance and with the rains already here, transportation of milk and eggs that are produced there in large quantities would face a lot of challenges.
The next day we drove out of Kaduna on the Abuja highway. Our destination was Kagarko, a short run from Jere town on the road leading to Kwoi.
The Kagarko Milcopal cluster is an old milk collecting centre whose activities had to be suspended due to the activities of bandits in the area. Now that the area is more secure activities are in full swing. We were met by a large and enthusiastic crowd of the herding elders. We then engaged in the same routine of chats on successes and expectations with the herders’ leaders.
It was from that point that I drove the short distance, through Bwari, back to Abuja. I guess it was a worthwhile trip which I would suggest to all those commenting on the present efforts to resettle pastoralist herders to take.
I have so far seen what is happening in Kaduna and Kano states and if there are similar arrangements in Plateau, Niger, Katsina and other states with abundant land they should be encouraged to keep going. When others are ready and willing they could always key in.
Resettling the pastoral herder where he would have access to fodder and water all the year round with upgraded milk collection centres, including other appurtenances of modern life would be a win-win for us all. To me the brouhaha is needless.