By Kirk Leigh
While researching one of my most read articles sometime last year, I got to learn that Nigeria is the third leading country with the most herds of cattle in Africa after Ethiopia and Zambia. While Ethiopia has 54 million herds of cattle and Tanzania 24 million, Nigeria has 20 million. This should put Nigeria in the league of a power house in beef production in Africa. But sadly, we are not.
International economic power play is on the basis of endowment. Endowments are the basis of the theories of comparative and absolute advantage introduced by David Ricardo and Adam Smith respectively. Comparative advantage is the idea that a country or region should specialise in making and exporting goods and services that it can produce most efficiently. In turn, the country should import goods and services that it has a comparative disadvantage producing; and Absolute advantage is the ability to produce a good or service with fewer factor inputs.
Seeing that the country posses so much of cattle in relation to other African countries, should mean that apart from our large landmass, conditions are right for the breeding of cattle in this country and it probably costs less to raise a herd here than most places in Africa, giving us a comparative advantage. Theoretically, this suggests that this country should be a major supplier of beef and livestock to the rest of Africa and beyond. This is not happening because our method of raising cattle, which is the grazing method, is outdated. Worse still, it is the source of endless strife between herders and farmers across the country.
The strife engendered by the outdated nomadic way of tending cattle has resulted in killings of thousands in clashes spread all over the country including in Kaduna, Adamawa, Plateau, Zamfara, Enugu and Ebonyi sates among others. It was the bloodshed that has had well-meaning people question the efficacy of grazing against modern methods. This is unfortunate, because what should have informed the search for alternatives should have been poor economics not bloodletting.
The poor economics is summed up this way by one source, “Currently, the biggest markets on the continent like Nigeria and South Africa import live cattle and beef products from their neighbours. In supermarkets and retail stores in both countries, imported beef products from Latin America, the US and Europe are a common sight. As more consumers shift from buying beef in open-air markets to organized retail stores, foreign beef will likely continue to dominate the African market unless something changes”.
What can possibly change? The article provides the answer, “unless an aggressive commercial approach to beef production is embraced across the continent, a significant volume of beef consumed in Africa will be imported from abroad”.
So when recently, government floated a policy for organised ranches across the country after years of advocating the catastrophic options of open grazing, and (recently) cattle colonies, it appeared that it was now ready for business. The world’s largest beef producers, the United States, Brazil and the European Union who collectively produce 50 percent of the world’s beef subscribe to the Ranching system. While the United States exported beef worth $6.16 billion last year, the total livestock industry in India is worth about $43 billion. Meanwhile, Nigeria remains a net importer of beef.
It is a given that a whole industry can spring out of a well thought out ranching method, apart from just slaughtering the cows for meat. It could lead to the rise of the biotechnology and genetic engineering industry which is nearly nonexistent in this clime. According to Wikipedia, genetic engineering, also called genetic modification or genetic manipulation, is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genes using biotechnology. It is a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells, including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to produce improved or novel organisms.
The use of the twin tech can produce bigger herds, with richer milk and cheese, all by products from cattle. The packaging of these for sale will certainly have an impact on the GDP. So along with the application of this twin technology to plants and crops, Nigeria would have discovered a multimillion dollar industry; one that will never emerge with the outdated grazing method.
Imagine what 20 million herds of cattle with regular care by vets can do for this endangered species of doctors. They would have more than enough to do and earn very attractive income such that the industry will be attractive to thousands of Nigerian youths seeking lucrative professions. This directly speaks to the thousands of jobs that will be created directly and indirectly nationwide.
The value of land can also take a northward turn as more and more people enter the business with the resultant demand for more land. This should be gladsome news to locals who consider providing land for ranching anywhere in the country. The incomes from this source would compete favourably with real estate and families’ fortunes can change overnight with proper implementation, a welcome development given our low ranking in the poverty index.
Indeed it is only when the Nigerian government looks at the matter from a purely economic perspective that any headway can be made in finding meaningful solution to the frequent clashes and bloodshed that has threatened to set the country alight.