By OKPO EWA EDMUND II*
On Wednesday the 26th of April 2017 The Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel hinted the people of state at the flag off of an improved cassava stem plantation in Okobo Local Government Area with the aim of crashing the price of garri that his administration was going to establish a ranch in Uruan Local Government Area of the state which would accommodate about 2,000 cows to be imported from Mexico for the purpose of ensuring production of fresh milk for Akwa Ibom people.
This according to His Excellency was putting in place a framework that would ensure “we can actually turn around and feed ourselves,” saying agriculture remains the highest employer of labour.
But while some reasonable members of the masses on hearing this good news started exploring avenues to key into this ‘expo’ a few others rather chose to dissuade the rest of us with wildly mischievous pessimistic speculations wired by partisan prejudice. What is their quarrel? That there are better things to do with state funds than play the “Malaysian Paradigm”. According to them importing cows was a waste of public funds.
Meanwhile, these same latter days advocates of wise state spending were in this country when the presidency moved to import grasses from Brazil into Nigeria and said nothing.
Now, I know the question in your minds my good and reasonable people- “What is the economic benefit of cow importation to Akwa Ibom?”
The answer is simple. “Many!”
However, it is imperative that we understand the fact and truth that modern dairying is declining in Nigeria*, and the per capita consumption of milk is dropping. According to reports average milk intake has dropped from 40 to 27 kilograms in the last twenty years. The reasons for this economic misfortune abounds, primarily of which has been poor grass quality that leads to low milk yield. Others include: lack of storage and processing equipment, unsanitary methods of milk handling, breakdown of processing plants, inefficient milk collection which usually goes with the problem of competition between itinerant milk collectors and official milk collectors, faulty pricing and management policies and lack of economic incentives from the government.
Interestingly, both the idea by the Presidency to import grass from Brazil and the policy of Gov. Udom to import Cows from Mexico are two different approaches at salvaging same problem – our dairy production problem.
So let us look at the workability of each considering the problem at hand.
The local cow genotype (Bos indicus) that contributes about sixty-five percent of the milk in Nigeria is multipurpose. Yielding only about 0.7 liters of milk per day, the local breed is not, therefore, a good milker. Genetic improvement of the local variety relies on natural cross-breeding. Thus, less than 3% of the stock has been artificially inseminated (Michael and others 1991*). But then high calf mortality (20-25 percent) and long calving interval (20-26 months), slow maturation, and low productivity of the local breed of Nigeria’s cattle cumulate to hamper the expansion of Nigeria’s dairy industry and the beef market by extension.
Accordingly, it is appreciable that since, the basic problem bothers on nutrition the presidency thought it best in its wisdom to change the diet of the cows in Nigeria by importing grasses either to feed the cows in Nigeria or to plant them to multiply and feed the cows in Nigeria. Unfortunately the latter is in all modesty- at best an illusion and the former itself a puerile shot at the moon because considering how genetically damaged malnutrition has left our cows it is impossible to think that a mere change of diet would do the magic. How long will they graze the Brazilian grasses and how much of it can do the healing when even Brazilian hairs have not made our slay queens any virtuous?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Bringing in 2000 cows concentrated in a ranch presently built and grown with improved variety grasses will only lead to the following:
1. The cows will be more productive dairy wise
2. The cows will be more marketable beef wise.
3. The cows will multiply themselves exponentially enough for the rest of Nigeria to buy their cows for milk or beef purposes from Akwa Ibom.
4. Cross breeding could be done.
5. New phase of animal husbandry industry begins.
6. Dairy industry blooms.
So, it is obvious from the foregoing that Gov. Udom has a more realistic and productive approach to this problem in our dairy and beef industry. Incidentally, this will not be the first time such a step is taken as far as Agro-industrilization is concerned. This is because the Palm oil production that is the mainstay of the economy of Malaysia which is the world’s second- largest producer of Palm Oil after Indonesia* has been argued to come from either Nigeria or Dutch expedition of the early 19th century*. If the latter is anything to go by then we have additional assurance that Akwa Ibom in not too distant future could be Africa’s dairy and beef capital.
Truth is, there’s no way we will have 2000 cows multiplying in a ranch in this state that we will not have a milk or dairy industry and grand beef market in this state thereby creating job opportunities in spectacular scale for our people.
Hence, those who fault this are not different from those Jesus Christ alluded to in Matthew 11:16-17 when he lamented “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”
The good thing however is that Son of Man ended that lamentation in verse 19 with the following words- “But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”
So the same way we watched the presidency waste our money to build a helipad at Daura for himself which he barely uses and which has not benefited the people of Katsina in anyway at all, in the very same way we have watched the presidency award contracts to itself and still fail to execute it, in the same way we have watched the presidency squander our funds on presidential tours and in the same way we now watch His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari now work from home just to mention a few executive dissipation and irrectitude anyway let us therefore watch the wisdom of our Governor Udom prove itself even as we position ourselves for the dividends when they come when they do come.
*1: Okpo Ewa Edmund is a lawyer, arbitrator and literati presently serving as Supervisor for Tourism, Ethical Reorientation and Dakkada Initiative in Okobo LGA, Akwa Ibom State.
*2. Ismail Iro The Fulani Milk Maid and Problems of Dairying in Nigeria (http://www.gamji.com/fulani11.htm)
*3.Michael, W., J. Grindle, A. Nell, and M. Bachman. Dairy Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Study of Issues and Options. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Technical Paper, 1991. Africa Technical Department Series No. 135.
*4. Pakiam, Ranjeetha (16 September 2013) Mc Clanahan, Paige (September 11, 2013).