August 14, 2019

Rage over Ruga : Why Niger plans N13bn upgrade of 50-yr grazing reserves

Nigeria's eyes turn to the UK as climate summit draws closer

By Wole Mosadomi

Minna – THE planned introduction of Rural Grazing Area, RUGA, Settlements in the 36 states of the Federation by the Federal Government was suspended following the heated controversy it generated and its rejection in many quarters.

RUGA grazing

A nomadic Fulani man and his son walk with their cattle on the way to Nigeria in a remote area near Maradi, Niger on July 29, 2019. In the African Sahel, located between the Sahara Desert and the equator, the climate has long been inhospitable. But now rising temperatures have caused prolonged drought and unpredictable weather patterns, exacerbating food shortages, prompting migration and contributing to instability in countries already beset by crisis. (Photo / AFP)

At the root of the strident opposition to the Ruga project is the suspicion and fear arising from the perceived ulterior motive behind the introduction.

But unknown to most Nigerians, Niger State had 50 years ago established a grazing reserve to create a conducive environment for Fulani herdsmen to rear their cows. Vanguard gathered that the idea of keeping the Fulani herders in a settlement was to allow them pursue their business without stress and to ensure that their animals do not wander across the country, leading to clashes between the herders and farmers.

The idea obviously achieved its purpose because, while fatal clashes were recorded between farmers and Fulani herders in parts of the country without such settlements, Niger State had remained relatively free of such clashes.

Indeed, when the President Muhammadu Buhari administration recently announced the planned introduction of the controversial Ruga settlement project across the country, the Niger State Government had not only jumped at it, but started modifying the existing one in the state to suit modern-day operation.

Already, a total of 44,000 hectares of land has been set aside for 23 grazing reserves in the state. Of this, 14,000 hectares is in Iri village in Rijau Local Government and another 30,000 hectares located in Kampani Bobi area in Mariga Local Government Area of the State.

The State governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, has even gone a step further to improve on what he met on ground as a game reserve. His frequent meetings with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has opened a gateway of collaboration between the State and the apex bank to take the grazing reserve to the next level.

Though there is no official statement on what exactly the apex bank would do in form of assistance to the state to improve on the settlement areas, there is, however, bright future for the elevation of the project to the highest level by the partnering parties and others.

Apart from the Fulani herdsmen and probably the farmers which most Nigerians are familiar with due to their frequent clashes over land, there is another body called the National Sheep and Goat Development which the state government has brought on board the grazing reserve project. The intention is to make their work more comfortable and forestall future clashes between them, the Fulani herdsmen and the farmers.

National Sheep and  Goat Development

Governor Bello said that out of the 23 grazing reserves across the country, only two were gazetted, adding that his administration was ready to accommodate genuine cattle breeders to operate in the state.

In an interview, the state coordinator of the body, Hussaini Abdulkhadir Yero, explained that the body is a licensed organisation and working in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

He said Niger State remains one of the first states to put a structure on ground as it has acquired land in some local government areas for goat and sheep rearing scheme. However, the steps taken by the state government on the “Ruga” project have not gone without a protest, as a non- governmental organisation, NGO, has already raised an alarm over a recent development with respect to land.

Director of the NGO called Schools for Africa Working for Peaceful Co-existence Between the Fulani Herdsmen and Their Host Communities, Reverend Phyllis Sortor, told the State Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, during a courtesy visit recently, that a greater part of the grazing reserve has been encroached on by farmers. She said this might negate the idea of establishing the grazing land and subsequently lead to avoidable clashes between the two contending bodies-the Fulani herdsmen and the farmers.

She said up to 90 per cent of the 30,350 hectares of the grazing reserve has been encroached on and that this has subsequently forced the herdsmen to move over 1,000 cows out of the area to the Eastern parts of the country. She promised the state government of providing teachers, medical interventions, promote household training and support teams at the reserve only if government could expedite action for the reactivation of the grazing reserves.

Members of the community where the grazing reserves are located see it as a welcome development in their area as it offers them an opportunity which could be utilised to boost their personal economy in particular and that of the communities in general. The new secretary to the state government, Alhaji Ahmed Matane, while recently answering questions from journalists on the grazing land, said the state government will look into the encroachment issue by farmers and settle the matter amicably.

The state government, he said, has developed a 10-year development plan for the 30,000 hectares of grazing land in Oroh near Kampani Bobi in Mariga Local Government Area of the State.

The immediate past commissioner of agriculture and natural resources, Alhaji Haruna Nuhu Dukku and his livestock and fisheries counterpart, Alhaji Zakari Bawa Balance, told journalists recently that work on the grazing reserve would commence soon, adding that the Federal Government has approved the project and that other partners have also shown interest in the project.

Meat packaging  centre

It is planned that the grazing reserve will have abattoir and meat packaging centre, yoghurt making factory and other other agro-allied industries. It will also have other infrastructures like pasture, electricity, water, schools, r oads, hospitals, earth dams and other facilities.

Work has already commenced on the access roads, veterinary clinic and police post, just as work on boreholes around the existing communities within the reserved areas are nearing completion.

The commissioners who jointly addressed journalists on the development said government was aware of the deep encroachment by some farmers on the reserved area and therefore advised them to keep off in order to avoid clashes between them and the herdsmen since the area is exclusively reserved for the herdsmen.

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The project is expected to gulp N13 billion. According to the state government, it was designed 50 years ago by the Federal Government and officially handed over to the Niger State government in the year 2006.