Zilolo Emasealu, Chief Agronomist, Nigeria Farmers’ Group and Cooperative Society believes that there are specific strategies and proactive measures farmers and the Nigerian government must adopt in order to sustainably solve the problem of unproductive farm practices and the existing farmer-herder clashes in the country.
He said they have been implementing these strategies since 2017, thus preventing clashes with herders while cultivating over 500 hectares of land.
In this interview, he speaks about the effectiveness of adopting integrated agricultural practices, hydroponics systems, irrigation, and special grass planting in ranch management and crop production.
PT: Are they specific strategic measures you adopt here in order to have abundant yields in maize production?
Emasealu: Yes! There are measures we adopt, ranging from searching for quality seeds, to soil improvement. When you came in you saw the manure section. Like I told you we run an integrated farming system here. So what it means is that manure from the ranch comes into the crop sections, we take it to the decompose section to decompose, then we use it on the soil. When we use it on the soil, it improves the soil microbial organisms, soil structure, nutrients and stabilization. So now as you can see these maize farms, after harvesting the corn, we take the plant residue back to the ranch. So, as we take manure from the ranch, we are giving them maize stalk which they now consume as food. That helps us to reduce the cost of production in terms of cattle management. So when we do large hectare cultivation of maize, we discover that the cost of feeding the ranch comes down, and also we sell the products we derive from the farm like the corn right here. This is a system that turns like a circle.
PT: As the wet season commences, what strategy would you suggest farmers should adopt to improve on their production?
Emasealu: The first job a farmer has to do is to plan very well. From planning it goes into structuring, they must build a solid structure and see agriculture as a business. This will enable farmers to handle human power, and as well organise training for their staff. This will help the workers in the farm to know what to do, because the farmer cannot be everywhere at the farm at the same time. Most of our staff here can measure their normal hectarage, they know their planting distance, they know fertilizer application , chemical usages and we have supervisors who supervise these various activities.
PT: How do you manage climate change effects such as fluctuations in rainfall here in the farm, which affected maize production in the country during planting season last year?
Emasealu: The main problem with some farmers is that they’re impatient. For example, there should be stabilization of the rainy season before going into some crops like maize which we know is not very tolerant to drought, you’re not supposed to go into it at the onset of the rainy season when you’re not too sure of rain stabilization. Melon and groundnut can withstand drought to a great level, but they’re other crops that cannot withstand it. So for those periods, what we do is that we grow crops that can withstand drought presently, it is a patient process, then when there’s stabilization, in terms of rainfall, you can now grow crops that are not very tolerant to drought.
PT: In your own view as an agronomist, what do you think are the key agricultural challenges bedeviling the Nigerian agric sector?
Emasealu: Currently, what I think is the key challenge in the Nigerian Agricultural sector is insecurity. We have farmer-herder clashes. That’s why here in the Nigerian farmers group we do the hydroponics farming system where we produce nutritious foods for our cattle, take them to the ranch and our cattle don’t need to go out. So in that case, who will our herdsmen clash with? Except they would decide to be clashing with themselves. Based on what we are doing here—the hydroponics system where we grow crops and in five to ten days we use it to feed our cattle—and the integration system (from the field to the ranch), we are able to now reduce the challenges of insecurity. Apart from that, like you see in our farm, you will notice heavy security. The Nigerian farmers may not be able to afford this kind of security on their farms. That’s why a lot of time they keep asking for support. Now if we want to do more, what do we need? We now need more support to be able to do more. By this, I mean support in terms of finance; it’s when you have finance that you can do all these things. Presently the cost of chemicals, fertilizers and most farm inputs have all gone up. For instance, If we had gotten fertilizers like four months ago, the price would have dropped, but getting it at the beginning of the season when everyone wants it, the demand is high and prices are likely to rise. So when a farmer is trying to plan on time without funds, how does he plan? He can only plan on paper but on practicality, it’s going to be zero.
PT: With the delay in rainfall being witnessed recently due to weather fluctuations (Climate change), what’s your take about shifting towards the irrigation system of farming?
Emasealu: We don’t have a choice but to adopt it. We keep talking about weather challenges, but it is here, climate change is here. If you look at it there is continuous deforestation around the country and even across the African continent. Wood is being cut down every day. Because of that, climate change will continue in negative ways that are going to affect farms. Here in the Nigerian farmers group, we have built a dam ,we don’t have choice. Building a dam is not a child’s play. Dams are what the government usually builds. We built the dam here so that whether there’s a shortage in rainfall or not, we can irrigate our farms and grow our crops all year round.
PT: With all you have mentioned, are there specific strategies you think farmers and even the government should adopt to curb farmer–herder clashes across the country?
Emasealu: The number one strategy that the government should adopt is to come to the grassroots. If they truly want to understand the farmer-herder clashes, they should come to the grassroots. For instance the whole of the land you are looking at over there are part of our land, but we allocated it to the Fulanis rearing their cattle. Now if you’re not here to see what’s happening, how will you get to know what farmers are clashing about? You must understand what they are clashing about before you can now say how do we even solve it? For example, in some of these Fulani camps, you find the elders leaving the place for children to manage, and clashes will be happening. In that case what needs to be done is to enlighten the elderly people among them; ensuring that mature people handle the cows. So we have different types of problems around these clashes. The first thing to do is that the government should come on ground. So they will know the cause of the problem in reality. So when they know it from the foundation, it is from there they can now develop solutions; give them enlightenment, develop grasses for them in terms of pastures, in terms of Hydroponic systems for them, building of dams for them and also by supporting the farmers with finance.
This is Ruzi grass, we use it to feed our ranch, once it’s about 5-6cm tall, we harvest it and use it to feed animals in the ranch. We have it planted at strategic places all over the farm. With this pasture and forage grass, coupled with the hydroponic systems, the cattle should be able to have a balanced diet. So we don’t have a choice rather than developing this type of system. It is a system that will sustain the ranch.
See how fresh it is. Tell me, which cow will reject this? You can’t find any. But you have to develop it first, if there’s no water it has to be irrigated. So these are things the government should be able to provide. They can say ok, in these areas we are going to give them a dam, it would be used for drinking, as well as development of pastures and forage grasses which they can use. In this place we have RUGA communities spread across in small colonies, we have integrated them into one, we employed some of them working in this farm, we eat, drink and do everything together. If you don’t develop this kind of relationship with the herders, then we would continue to have clashes. If they see any of us around, we exchange pleasantries. With this kind of integration, there is proper understanding. They also have security men in their territories, if they find any strange movement from their end, they would alert us. We have the cooperation of their elders. So they can call their younger ones to order.
PT: How were you able to nurture the grasses?
Emasealu: It is affordable and can be easily propagated. The beauty of this Ruzi grass is that you can cut any part of it and plant it and it will germinate properly. Then you keep harvesting them every 2-3 weeks.
PT: What are the nutritional values contained in the grass?
Emasealu: Ruzi grass contains all the nutrients required by cattle. It has protein, carbohydrates , minerals, vitamins. It’s a very balanced grass. By the time you combine it with the hydroponic grass and integration to the ranch, at a time you will not buy any food for your cattle.
PT: Can the grass be locally sourced, and how affordable is it to farmers ?
Emasealu: We obtained the grass from the National Animal Production Research Institute(NAPRI). When you say locally, are we not local? Come to the farm we will give it to you.
PT: Do you think the grass has the potential to boost dairy animals’ milk production?
Emasealu: The grass is a balanced diet for these animals. It will help dairy animals for sure. The fear herders have about why they used to move their cattle around is that they feel when they don’t move them around, they will gain a lot of weight which will affect milk production, but that’s not true with this grass. The Ruzi grasses and the hydroponic plants are very fibrous. It is not all fatty. So when you have this grass that is fibrous, which improves digestion ability, it means the cow cannot gain much weight. What makes you gain much weight? When you have too much fat. We also have Moringa, it helps for weight loss. Sometimes you can just move the animals around the ranch for exercise. So they will just move around and come back.
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