It is late August and Illiyasu Atawame is milking his cows at his hut in Jigawar Tsada, a village on the outskirts of Dutse, the Jigawa State capital. The manual routine has been a key part of his practice in the last 40 years.
The Fulani pastoralist moved to the area from Jahun Local Government Area of the state in search of pasture for his livestock. Mr Atawame says life has become difficult for him and other pastoralists.
“It is no longer what it used to be because of shrinking grazing land.
“If you entered the bush with your animals, apart from the fresh grass, you would find groundnut and bean leaves left behind by farmers after harvest of their crops. But farmers nowadays go home with everything. They fight you over corn stalks in the dry season, how much more over their crops in the rainy season.”
Herders like Mr Atawame move their cattle over long distances to seek grazing areas, which sometimes leads to violent clashes between the herders and local farmers whose farms the cattle destroy. The effects of climate change, such as desertification in the far north of Nigeria, have also limited the available grazing land.
The distance travelled by the cows in search of food, coupled with the increasingly limited grazing areas, eventually leads to reduced milk production.
Low milk production
Mr Atawame prays that the heifers in his herd will conceive, bear offspring and increase his milk yield.
“Presently, I have three cows each with calves and the average milk I get from them every day is about six litres,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
“This is because of the rainy season. Getting more milk from them depends on availability of grass for the lactating cows. There is higher yield during the rainy season when grass is abundant. But during the dry season, you get half of that.”
Mr Atawame’s average of two litres of milk per cow during the rainy season is just slightly higher than the national average by migrant pastoralists.
“The productivity of local cow breeds mostly managed by pastoralists is low at 0.5 to 1.5 litres of milk per day, compared to a global average of 6.6 litres per day by cows managed by pastoralists,” Dianabasi Akpainyang, the national president of the Commercial Dairy Ranchers Association of Nigeria (CODARAN), says.
Apart from the challenge of the breed of cattle many Nigerian herders use, which experts say is not the best for milk production, the pastoralists are also largely uneducated and get little or no support from the government.
Mr Atawame says he has never had any training on how to improve his practice. He has continued to rear and milk his cattle exactly the way he inherited the practice from his father. Told that he can increase his yield tremendously by using technology and embracing modern practice, he replies hopefully: “I am ready to learn if I have the opportunity.”
Another pastoralist in the community, Abubakar Atiku, says he gets about five litres of milk daily from his cows. He too says he used to get more from his cows.
“Things are very difficult now because grass is difficult to access. Everywhere you go there are crop plantations with the farmers keeping an eagle eye on you.
“We now use other domestic feeds as complementary feeding to get the cows to produce more milk for sale and our household consumption,” Mr Atiku says.
Other herders who interacted with PREMIUM TIMES in the area spoke in the same vein, indicating that the traditional practice of animal husbandry in this part of Nigeria is increasingly becoming unsustainable without government support.
Nigeria’s untapped potential in milk production
Young people constitute a significant percentage of Nigeria’s estimated population of over 200 million, making the country one of the biggest markets for dairy products. But per capita consumption of milk in the country is eight litres, below the global average of 44 litres, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Official data states that of the estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of milk consumed annually in Nigeria, 60 per cent are imported at $1.5 billion yearly. Yet, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture estimated that Nigeria has about 20 million cattle, making it the fourth-largest cattle population in Africa. About 2.35 million of the animals are involved in dairy production.
However, the nation has not optimised its potential in milk population partly because of the government’s inadequate attention to the animal husbandry sub-sector, populated mainly by Fulani pastoralists who practice at the subsistence level.
Although there are large industrial dairy farms in some parts of the country, a large amount of the local milk production is done by the largely uneducated Fulani pastoralists.
According to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, “Nigeria’s milk production accounts for only 13 per cent of West African production and 0.01 per cent of global dairy output”.
Despite its size, relative to other African countries, the Nigerian dairy sector is largely fragmented and inefficient. Yet, with a milk deficit of 1.2 million metric tonnes per annum, the sector offers huge potential for returns on investment.
Decline in milk production
Abubakar Garba, a pastoralist in the Gamoji Fulani community in Gaya Local Government Area of Kano, says the perennial crises between the herders and the farmers have also affected milk production.
Mr Garba says because grass is no longer abundant like before, herders travel long distances through forests scavenging for grass.
“Now, 30 cows cannot produce the quantity of milk produced that three cows used to produce due to challenges associated with the poor grassland. Now cattle are struggling to feed on remnants left by the roadsides, leading to constant quarrels between herders and farmers. My children have been arrested and beaten many times for encroaching on farmland.
“These are some of the problems that hinder the production of milk because cows cannot produce milk without eating enough pasture. In my youthful years, I used to hand-milk the cows in big buckets with a few cattle but now things have changed,” the herder says.
Competition for land
According to Mr Garba, many forest reserves and grazing areas in Kano and neighbouring Jigawa State have been allocated or put into use by farmers.
“With the absence of grazing land and scanty rainfall in this area, (Kano and Jigawa states) my children go far away to Kaduna State with the cattle in search of pasture at the beginning of every rainy season and come back home when farmers have grown their crops. This is how we are struggling to make a living.
“Grass is difficult to access. Most times in the dry seasons, we rely on tree leaves to feed the cattle. We pay for the trees before we are allowed to cut the leaves for our cows to feed on. We were once told that the government would plant grasses on grazing lands across Kano and Jigawa but that has not come to reality.
“The forests and grazing reserves are being allocated to farmers with the Fulanis not considered. Herders who are not patient are having issues with law enforcement agencies for encroaching on farmlands in areas that used to be grazing land and forest reserves,” he narrated.
Maryam Daso says she has been producing and selling milk for over three decades.
“Now that I am old, I have stopped going out to sell my milk. We cook the raw milk before taking it to the market for sale. I have been doing this daily for over 30 years. I used to make between N4,000 and N6,000 daily from selling the “nono” (milk) depending on the market,” Mrs Daso says.
“Changing the dynamics”
In June, CODARAN said challenges in the Nigerian milk industry have stifled the development of the milk value chain.
Speaking ahead of the 2023 World Milk Day, on 1 June, Mr Akpainyang, said Nigeria needs to do a lot if it wants to make agriculture the mainstay of its economy.
“The dairy industry alone can create huge employment for the teeming youth, drastically reduce capital flight on dairy products’ importation, and generate huge revenues for the government if developed and supported,” he said.
“The Nigerian dairy industry holds huge economic potential. It is unarguably a goldmine of investment opportunities that assure optimal returns for investors. These opportunities exist within the broad areas of milk production, aggregation, storage, processing, and marketing.
“The productivity of local cow breeds mostly managed by pastoralists is low at 0.5 to 1.5 litres of milk per day, compared to a global average of 6.6 litres per day by cows managed by pastoralists. The output from Nigeria’s managed pastures – an average of eight litres per day – is also a far cry from the global average of 30 litres per day. These are according to a recent (2019) report on the dairy sector published by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC),” Mr Akpainyang said.
Muhammad Idris, who is the secretary of the Jigawa State Technical Committee on Agriculture, blames the poor yield in milk production on zero investment by the pastoralists.
“Local pastoralists (Fulani herders) don’t invest in milk production but rely only on the cows to provide milk. For investing in milk production, there must always be an input to justify the output. The pastoralist’s input is zero and the output is always very low on milk production,” says Mr Idris, who has spent decades in animal husbandry practice in northern Nigeria.
“There are different breeds of cows in Nigeria which determine milk production. The average yield during the rainy season (in Jigawa) is not exceeding two to three litres of milk per day. In the dry season, it is either half a litre or one litre because of poor nutrition, feeding, and management among other challenges limiting milk production in Nigeria.”
Although the Nigerian government has experimented with several policies to support herders, many of them, like Messrs Atawame and Atiku have not benefitted from such.
The majority of the pastoralists do not benefit from government extension services like livestock producers, Mr Idris adds.
“With good extension service workers, new production technology will be disseminated to the pastoralists which will let them increase milk production.
“The pastoralists need the knowledge to select good cows. Extension workers can address the knowledge gaps limiting milk production. Cows travelling many kilometres to feed on pasture will utilise what they feed to cushion the stress of the journey instead of producing milk.
“You also have to improve the breeding which includes feeding management, semantic feeding, healthcare, and housing (ranching) to prevent high temperatures on the cattle. If these are provided, the body of the cow will be busy producing milk.
“We must adopt the management aspect for effective milk production because the natural levels of the cows determine the milk production after giving birth. The pastoralists can identify better-milking cows through pedigree records of assessment and select cows for breeding stock for milk production by sheltering and general management.”
He explained further that pastoralists must consider how to prevent cows from travelling long distances to preserve their energy for the production of milk.
“Nigeria can save the billions of naira used for importation of both dry and liquid milk. The amount can be used to improve on management, breeds, collection processes and storage of the milk – by creating milk collection centres across the country. This can be achieved through will of commitment,” the animal husbandry expert says.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.Donate
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999