Assessing animals

July 15, 2019
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The announcement by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development that it is to conduct an animal census, traceability and identification programme in Nigeria is welcome news to a nation that has suffered disproportionately from animal husbandry-related problems.

Acknowledging the importance of the exercise, Dr. Mohammed Bello Umar, the ministry’s permanent secretary, said it would be taken very seriously, given its importance to the country’s overall agricultural development.

Speaking through the ministry’s director of animal husbandry services, Dr. Bright Wategire, Bello said, “aside helping us reduce issues of cattle rustling, it will help us to get reliable data of animals that we have in this country.” He also stated that the ministry was seriously looking to increase the production of pasture for animals, and had almost concluded the drafting of Nigeria’s National Dairy and Breeding Policy.

Coming in the aftermath of ever-worsening herdsman-settler conflicts across the nation, and the floating and subsequent suspension of the widely-hated Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA) project, the need for a comprehensive and accurate animal census cannot be underestimated.

It would enable Nigeria to know just how much livestock it has, what kinds there are, their location, and their actual and potential economic value. It would help to better track their movement, enhance disease surveillance, facilitate the provision of extension services to pastoralists and sedentary ranchers, and make the planning of improvement schemes much easier. The owners of domesticated animals would also be easier to identify.

In essence, the statistical accuracy of a comprehensive animal census would eliminate much of the polarising rumour and outright falsehoods that have made the herdsmen-settler crisis even worse than it already is.

Nigeria is said to have an estimated 19.5 million cattle, 72.5 million goats, 41.3 million sheep, 7.1 million pigs, and 78,000 camels. In addition, the country was home to 145 million chickens, 11.6 million ducks, 1.2 million turkeys, and 974,499 donkeys. It is not clear if these figures incorporate projections up to 2016, but even as they stand, they combine to make the country one of Africa’s most well-endowed livestock nations.

Tragically, however, Nigeria has not been able to properly leverage the advantages inherent in such large and diverse livestock. The consumption of milk and animal protein is shockingly low. For a sub-sector which accounts for a significant contribution to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, it is extremely unsophisticated, often relying upon pastoral processes that have no place in the 21st century.

If an animal census is to offer a viable option in boosting livestock production in Nigeria, it must be accurate. This is not going to be easy in a nation where cattle were allegedly used to rig the first human census conducted in the country in 1962.

Accuracy can be achieved by deploying cutting-edge technology in assessing the nation’s livestock. Low-level aerial surveys and ground studies must be complemented by remote-sensing techniques, especially those which utilise high-resolution satellite imagery. Thermal imaging can also be used to map livestock populations, particularly those in the wild.

However, a proper information campaign is vital to the success of any census. The Federal Government’s inept handling of the RUGA project is a clear indication of what happens when sensitive issues are not handled with the right mixture of information, tact and nuance. The nation must be told in clear terms why the livestock census is being conducted, what the results will be used for, and how the exercise could make life better for everyone.

If it is done efficiently and honestly, the forthcoming animal census would help to reduce a lot of the distrust and animosity that currently characterise herdsmen-settler issues, and lay a solid foundation for mutual respect and shared prosperity.

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