The Kibbutz settlement in Israel, which incorporates animal farms, clinics, schools, abbatoirs and communal living is another good example of livestock farming within limited space.
The Ruga project should be based on these models because of the constraints of space in Nigeria. As a take off, the old defunt farm settlements should be renovated and expanded to host the new Ruga settlements.
It is hoped that the project will be accepted with an open mind, because of the larger national interest, and it’s potential to substantially solve most of the deeply rooted economic and social problems of Nigeria, which are linked to poverty, unemployment, poor management of resources and hunger.
However, the minds of cynics, doubting and suspicious stakeholders must be disabused. The implementation must be transparent, clearly defined and explained without ambiguities.
The settlements must have a mixed population of both Fulani herders, local farmers and other social groups. The herders may provide the cattle, while the farmers supply the fodders and other victuals. Veterinary doctors, milk maids, milkmen, and marketers of dairy products should also form an integral part of the Ruga settlement.
The gestation period for an animal farm to make profit may take a few years, and most private sector operators, especially in Nigeria, do not have the patience nor the desire to take such risks, but would rather prefer to import, buy and sell products.
In this regard, the government must take the lead in building the infrastructures, while local and international experts in the field of dairy farming should partner with the government and other stake holders to manage the settlements as administrators, with representatives drawn from the federal and state ministries of agriculture( livestock department) to oversee public interests.
The following are the envisaged benefits of the Ruga project, if given a chance :
1. Nigeria will be self sufficient in milk production, and like in India, milk and its derived products would constitute substantially to Nigeria’s food security, protein and micro nutrients intakes.
2. Nigeria could be a net exporter of organic milk and dairy products, to replace crude oil, as the major foreign exchange earner for the country.
3. Modern abattoirs established in the settlements will process safe and wholesome meat, which will replace the unhygienic make shift abattoirs in the country.
5. It will prevent cattle rustling, which is undermining and threatening the development of animal husbandry in Nigeria.
6. It will enable government settle herders and their families , build schools for their children, provide potable water, clinics, and such amenities which will soften the hard daily toils of herders, who are always on the march.
Cynicism , skepticism and mutual distrust have been the bane of development and several missed opportunities in Nigeria.
The word ‘Ruga’ which in fulfude language means settlement should not be misconstrued, as suggesting a clever way of imposing a herders settlement on communities. It is even trite to think so. This project is viable and the potential to solve several socio- economic problems with the multiplier effects on security, poverty eradication and food security should be the focus of both government and all parties in the country.
Ambassador Akinkuolie Rasheed was Director (Trade and Investment) MInistry of Foreign Affairs, Nigeria