From the beginning of time, man has been endowed with the intellect to control and tame animals to meet his food and other needs. This has made animal husbandry one of the earliest professions known to man. .
In pre-colonial Nigeria and up to the present day, domestication and rearing of animals has been a recurring feature. Such animals as goats, cattle, pigs, ducks, guinea fowls etc. have been used for food, traditional sacrifice as well as merchandize. Therefore, the rearing of these animals is not a recent phenomenon. It is a part of our history. No dispute ever arose from such activity as the owners of such animals were responsible for the housing and feeding of the animals. Where in rare situations they strayed onto the property or farmland of another person, and cause any damage, the owner of the animals hastens to make good the damage caused. In this way, societal harmony was maintained.
In the past years however, especially since the turn of the millennium, certain individuals especially of the Fulani ethnic stock have emerged seeking to change the narrative about cattle breeding and animal husbandry generally. Moving about with their cattle, they trample upon other peoples farms and devour farm produce with reckless abandon. The annual labour of farmers struggling to eke out a living are wiped out in one fell swoop.
It was the Chinua Achebe who stated in his work, Things Fall Apart the following Ibo proverb to wit, “let the kite perch and the eagle also. Anyone that says no to the other, let his wings break”. Cattle rearing is a business venture just like the farmer who has planted cassava and potatoes and yams and vegetables. No one is superior to the other. However, while the farmer seeks out a piece of fertile land and cultivates same for several months, the herdsman sees the whole world as his grazing field. This is inequitable, and unacceptable by any standard.
Nothing stops a person from acquiring land which could be used to grow animal feed for his livestock. This is the practice in Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and the United States etc. where even higher and richer quality and quantity of beef is produced without any disruption of societal harmony. The time has come in Nigeria that cattle rearing and animal husbandry generally should take on a new face namely, the use of ranches that will ensure a more hygienic condition for the breeding of cattle and the production of beef.
As has been earlier stated, rearing of cattle is without doubt, a business venture. The owners of cattle rear same to sell at a profit running into hundreds of thousands of Naira. As a business, the practitioners must be ready to make adequate provisions for the trade. No business should depend on government handouts or free capital as the herdsmen of Nigeria contemplate. They must be ready to acquire land through the appropriate procedure, produce/grow/ buy animal feed as well as employ trained and capable hands in the production process. This is the feature of every enterprise and those who have elected to go into animal husbandry must not be an exception. The roadside mechanic, the seamstress, the woman selling bean cake etc. despite the small scale of their business, rent or acquire a space for their trade. The time to put an end to nomadic cattle rearing is now.
In this respect, the proposal by the several State Governments in the Niger Delta region through their respective Houses of Assembly to acquire land for the purpose of establishing grazing reserves is ill-thought of, unwise, inequitable and unjustifiable. It is an attempt to postpone the evil day. If the government should acquire land pursuant to the Land Use Act and for the purpose of cattle grazing, one may ask if such acquisition is in the overriding pubic interest. Which or whose interest is it meant to serve? The answer is that it is clearly meant to satisfy the narrow economic interest of a small class of entrepreneurs. It is apposite to restate here that anyone who wishes to go into the trade of cattle rearing must count the cost. This cost is not to be borne by the government or the society.
Another poser to consider is that after that an area is acquired and declared to be a grazing reserve, who may access it to graze? Would an Urhobo man having 10 goats be able to use the land for grazing or would the Ijaw man be able to graze his swine thereon? It is obvious that the acquisition of land for grazing reserves is an attempt to create a safe haven and an exclusive territorial base for the Fulani who are known for their expansionist and imperialist tendencies.
Nigerians must awake from this slumber. Creation of grazing reserves is not a solution. It is a bigger problem and akin to sitting on a loaded keg of gunpowder set to explode.