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Monday, December 13, 2010

Discourse 313 The Triumph of Tradition

Discourse 313
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
The Triumph of Tradition
It was in 1994. My 84 years old father (May God grant him mercy) was lying on his bed one afternoon when I intimated him about my interest in keeping cattle. Nothing could be more delighting to the old man than the interest of his son to continue with their ancestral tradition. But before he could answer, my mother, who has suffered all her youth in tending cattle, objected, saying in our native Fulfulde, “Aan! Torra sai,” meaning it is mere suffering. My father mildly answered her by asking, “Do you know whether he could be successful with the cattle?”

My father died two years later. The cattle he left were sold when I was away living in Kaduna and the proceeds distributed among his children. When I returned home in 1997 I set out to fulfil my promise. I bought some cows from various markets in Nasarawa, Plateau and Bauchi States and placed them in the custody of one Laamu who maintained them along with his own in the traditional free ranch grazing. After some four years, the number of cattle dwindled from thirty to eleven. I decided to retrieve the remainder. They were fattened and sold out.

I thus lost hope in the traditional way of cattle rearing through free ranch grazing as Fulani herdsmen do. With a third degree in Agriculture and visiting Sebore Farm of Murtala Nyako, I thought I can attempt the modern method of intensive husbandry using foreign breeds. In 2002, I got some eight 3 – 6 months old Frisian x Bunaji (the “white Fulani”) crossbred bulls from National Animal Production Research Institute (NAPRI) in Zaria. Curious villagers flocked my house to see the humpless calves.

I fattened them on cotton seed cake (CSC) and some traditional supplements.The CSC in 2002 was selling just at N13,000/tonne. Within a year they all became fully matured bulls, weighing about 350 kg, ready to mount cows or be slaughtered at the abattoir. It was very encouraging. I did my calculations and arrived at the conclusion that it will be profitable to raise the crossbreeds myself.

Apart from the meat, I also leant that the Frisian crosses could yield high amounts of milk. So I incorporated yoghurt making into the dream. I built a small yoghurt factory in the house and got the product registered with NAFDAC under the trade name La Vache after due inspection of the factory and the relevant laboratory analysis. It has been selling in some supermarkets in Bauchi since then. I was told that the crossbreeds would each give something between 10 to 20 litres of milk daily. If converted into naira, that will be N2,500 to 5,000 worth of yoghurt daily. My dream went wild.

So in 2003 I started to gather a full herd of Bunaji and some few Sokoto Gudale (Bokolo) cows largely from Bukuru, Mararrabar Liman Katagum and Falgore weekly markets. I got a full Frisian bull from Maizube Farm of Abdulsalami Abubakar in Minna at the cost of N137,000. It was called "Bull" in the house. Within a year, the cows started to produce crossbreeds like those I bought in NAPRI. I was very happy. By then, my spacious house at Tilde has turned into a full farm house with the necessary infrastructure for cattle husbandry. I built pens, stores, water and feeding troughs, a crush for their treatment and hectares of pastures of Cloris and Bracharia grasses, the seeds of which I also obtained from NAPRI.

The cows continued to multiply and my yoghurt continued to sell in the market. The crossbreeds produced on the farm were promising. Fed from CSC and local supplements, they grew fast. The newly born bulls were ready for slaughter and the cows were mounted in just 12 months. In 2005, the first set of bulls had accumulated meat worth N60,000 to N80,000 within a year. One of them produced a meat of N145,000 in just 18 months. CSC also doubled the quantity of milk that the parent stock gave daily. The farm became self-sustaining. From the proceeds of milk alone, it could pay for the herdsmen, veterinary drugs and other little things and still keep some change for me. I invested my hope in that within a short time we will be able to send our yoghurt to distant cities like Kano and Abuja.

I maintained the cows diligently with appropriate drugs that are administered quarterly to take care of major cattle diseases known in the savannah and contacted veterinary doctors whenever a problem arise. The cattle were equally grateful. Each of them ‘delivered’ a calf every year. The words of my old man became true. The cows have 'welcomed' me. The herd grew fast and I thought of what to do with the number. If I were to allow them go at that pace, the farm house would not be enough. I would have to relocate away from the village into the bush which I did not like, recalling my experience as a child. I chose to keep a moderate figure by curling any cow that did not produce up to 2 litres of milk daily, or which produce poor calves, or delays mounting by more than six months after its last delivery.

However, here ends the good news.

“Bull” lasted just a year and a half, having been weakened by liver flukes or hard water disease as vets call it. Frisians, I was later told at National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), Vom, are easily killed by the notorious disease. We replaced it with a 75% Frisian cross that was reserved from the stock of the we obtained from NAPRI in 2002. It performed well for two years by delivering about seventy calves. However, I noticed that the calves it produced were not fast growing as I desired and it was beginning to get wild, as many matured bulls do. So it was slaughtered and part of the proceeds was used to purchase another 100% Frisian bull from NVRI, Vom, in 2007.

That bull also lasted just 6 months before giving up to hard water disease. No more Frisians, I concluded. Then in 2008 I went for a Sokoto Gudale bull which I acquired from the Tuesday market of Anchau in Kaduna State. By then the philosophy of the farm had shifted to beef due to reasons I will explain shortly. Beef requires both frame and ability to accumulate meat and the Gudale is perfect on both accounts. In addition, it averagely yields more milk than any local breed. It performed very well for two years though it was very slow in mounting cows. When it became sick early this year, most likely as a result of the cold weather and heavy rains, I thought I can go for a large frame pure ‘white Fulani’, my ancestral breed and the one acknowledged to be the most resilient in this part of Guinea Savannah.

However, nothing affected the husbandry of the herd like the high cost of CSC, the main ingredient of fattening and milk production. From the cost of N13,000 per tonne when we first bought it in 2002, it rose to N50,000 in 2008.  A kilo of meat that sold at N400 in 2004 increased only by N300 since. We did not raise our price of yoghurt to date. So by 2007, it was not economically wise to CSC anymore. What was responsible for its high cost is interesting: lack of electricity in the country.

Without ‘NEPA’, textile factories closed en masse, the need for cottonplummeted and, consequently, its production dropped drastically. Without cotton production, cotton seed oil and cotton seed cake cannot be produced sufficiently. The little that is available in the market therefore became too costly for ordinary Nigerian farmers. Most of it goes to farmers from Niger Republic who can change their currency at a high rate in Nigeria and are more desperate than us as a result of perennial draught. Those Nigerians that are keeping cattle just as a hobby or as cover to the loot they acquired from public office mop the rest. For people like me, we raised our hands in surrender before the mighty CSC.

Shortage of electricity also smashed the hope of producing yoghurt in high quantities. Being 100% natural, it requires cooling at selling points. Supermarkets in Jos, Kano and Bauchi, we came to realise, have long stopped keeping such fresh products. After a month of trial in Kano in 2006, we abandoned the idea of selling any yoghurt there. Kano could spend weeks without 4 hours of continuous electricity. The market therefore became restricted to few supermarkets in Bauchi, mostly filling stations that can afford diesel.
Poverty was another culprit. We are so poor that extremely few of us can afford to buy a 35cl of natural yoghurt at N100. We did not raise the price of our yoghurt since 2005.

The pastures which we laboriously raised were never harvested due to human reasons. I bought a new MF 375 tractor and the implements for bailing the hay but on two occasions the pastures were burnt to ashes before they could be harvested. Miscreants smoking Indian hemp were the principal suspects.  In succeeding years, I allowed the cattle to graze on the fresh grass.

Other problems related to urban grazing came in full force: shortage of grazing land and the menaces of human faeces, hay ropes, 'pure water' bags and other polythene materials that carry salty residues of packaged food. The crosses graze on these non-biodegradable wastes which clog their digestive tract and accumulate there, giving the cows a false sense of satisfaction from food. They animals grow lean and die eventually. I lost many crosses to these non-biodegradable materials. Local breeds, surprisingly, hardly feed on such bags, as I also noticed on the waste mounds along Airport Road in Kano.

The worst experience was with artificial insemination (AI). A vet from Bauchi who trained at Sebore inseminated eight cows but none conceived. I instantly abandoned the idea and continued with my natural breeding. Above all, AI is expensive: you need to buy the stimulating hormone, buy or hire the AI kit, buy the semen, pay the vet and maintain the ammonium cold cylinder. It's percentage success is at best 75%. It will amount to nothing less than N8,000 per cow. A natural bull can do the job with near 100% success at the cost of N1,000 or less  because you can recoup its initial cost when you slaughter it.

Without cotton seed cake and other food supplements, the Frisian crosses became worse than our ordinary cows when made to rely solely on natural grazing. They become skinny, stunted in growth. Early this year, many of them, despite the periodic medication, started to develop hard water and died. Surprisingly, not a single local breed was affected. With lack of cake, electricity and market for yoghurt combined with their high susceptibility to death from hard water and polythenes, the crosses were on their way out. So we curled all of them in the herd early this year and reserved only the local breeds.

The natural thing to do about the remainder of the herd which is now 100% local breeds that are resilient to disease is to send them on free grazing. There was therefore no need to keep them at home. So on May 22 this year, i led them on a 15 km trek to where they will camp for the rainy season, reverting to the natural form of cattle husbandry which has been the practice for centuries in this part of the country.
I thus relieved myself, at least for now, of the demands of intensive cattle husbandry – a ‘NEPA’ that is never forthcoming, a cake that is too expensive, pastures that are vulnerable to arson, daily pen cleaning that required labour, hay collection that required a tractor and its driver, etc. But gone with it is the joy of living in the company of the animals which accorded me many interpretations of human behaviour, especially aggression, friendship and acquaintance, territoriality, nutrition, growth, politics and reproductive behaviour. In all these and many more, the cattle told me that they behave just like humans and humans behave just like them. Since then, I had no qualms appreciating the animal in us. One area where the cattle excelled humans, however, is that they are grateful animals.

Now the cows are milked in the bush, kilometres away from home and the milk is brought here for processing. The market continues to sustain the cows while my profit largely comes from the increasing number of the herd, which still gives sufficient bulls to slaughter and an almost equal number of young cows that will in turn join their mothers in producing more heads. The only difference is time. While the Frisian crosses with intensive care would mature for slaughter or mounting in just a year, the local breeds, which graze freely in the bush, will require at least three years to start mounting and four years to mature for the slaughter house. If I am patient, I will still make the same money after the initial waiting period of three years with little effort and minimum risk.

Is this experience a triumph of tradition over modernity? I think yes, it is. Until our power supply improves and the poverty in our midst becomes substantially alleviated, the traditional form of cattle grazing is the most economically viable in the country. It has met the beef requirements of the nation for centuries. Someone may argue that some ex-this and ex-that have done it successfully. Well, I am not privy to the account books of their farms. However, if you are not another ex, you better assume that in those farms there is something more than meets the eye. My experience is almost similar to that of Magaji Danbatta, whose farm I visited in 2003 when he was almost about to give up the business of animal husbandry entirely. I am not giving up mine, though.

The conclusion here is simple: In Nigeria, it will take some time before modernity takes over tradition especially in animal husbandry. If my father were alive, he would have attempted to prevent my experimentation with modern methods because he has had many such failures before. He once told me in a pessimistic tone that they have tried various things before. All the same, I have no regrets. Experience is a good lesson. Take my advice. Play it safe. Practice it natural.
13 December 2010


abualiyah said...

Aliyu Tilde this is the most interesting write- up ive ever read from your staple. I adore farming in general, but doing it traditional in our own part of world is suicidal. If electricity were to remain stable in Nigeria oh! Nigeria will be the best in the world. In south africa here, what do they have? NOTHING, but they are what they are because of POWER- electricity so what ordinarily looks imposicant becomes possible. Oh nigeria giant of rubbish!

Sani Usman said...

Dr Tilde, I must also add that this piece made an interesting reading. It has elucidated the main problem to our lack of development; electricity. Had it been that there was steady power supply, the story of your venture could have been different. But. Sincerely commend your effort and tenacity. The write up has also given an insight on the relationship between man and animal. I must say it is sometime better to be with the cows than with hordes of hypocrites that roam our part of the universe (Nigeria). Thank you for this lesson.

Hamisu Umar Sanda said...

Dear Dr.Tilde, infact its enoumouse and very interesting experience being shared among us.however your words are hihgly encouraging to those of us whose wants take farming as source of lively hood after days of public service.Thank you very much for sharing such a true life experience,while waiting to read more of human development techniques from you,may Allah be with us in all our endevours, Ameen.

Abdullahi Ahmed Yusuf said...

Dear Sir, you are as intelligent as ever. I enjoyed reading through The Triumph of Tradition, and I support your views on playing safe when experimenting with modern ways (at least in the situation we find ourselves at the moment). You also remind me of my dad (of blessed memory) for he never stopped farming despite the loses he acquires and died with the hope that one day he will make profits. As a young man I also admire farming and will venture into it soon.
May Allah reward you abundantly.
A. A. Yusuf

Zakariya Zakari said...

This is very interesting and I think it applies to most other businesses.

Abu Mahfuz said...

Dear Dr Tilde, thanks for sharing your great experience with us. Your write-up make a very interesting reading.
it is indeed pathetic to know the level of damage the lack of electricity supply has really done to the fabric of our nation. I am not particularly sure if Nigeria as a country is not under 'siege' or 'curse'. I was reading thru some statistics of power generation by OPEC countries and found that Nigeria (with population of 130 millions) produces about 1300% less than Saudi Arabia (with population of about 50million).
I guess everyone of us must contribute our own quota to the elimination of corruption in the country. If all our hands are not on deck, surely several generations to come will face same adversity as we are facing today and we will, surely, be blame for our inaction.

Once again, thank your Dr Tilde.

Muhammad Adamu said...

It is rather unfortunate we live in a country called Nigeria. If I were to choose I would rather choose a different country. What baffles me most is the idea that we being fooled along time but we choose to ignore all causes. It is time we fight all the evil forces in our midst.

John Dada said...

So what in the world has NAPRI and Vom been doing all these years? I thought they would look at the realities of the Nigerian livestock terrain, and come up with breeds comparable to the local breeds in resisstance but at least fractionally better than the local breed? I lost two Freisian to hardwater and have since retracted to only local breeds for my heard of 12 animals. Tilde, what is your experience with goats and sheep? Are they a better bet?

Anonymous said...

Dr thank you for the out-of-experience article.NEPA everybody knows its our problem.Smuggling of textile materials and NEPA killed the farming of cotton and the textiles industries.Please dont forget the middlemen too.
To be specific and from experience in 1994 i farmed cotton in Borgu of Niger State.Before you know the cash crop went from N15,000:00 per ton to N60,000:00.The farmers were happy.By 1995 the price when down back to N15,000:00, a period where many of the farmers refused to grow foodcrops.The resultant effect was hunger in almost every house.
So, Dr, you can see that if that trend of good cotton pricing system had continued and NEPA improved their power supply, your cotton seed cake (CSC) could have been in surplus and at a low price,thus your bussiness could have been flourishing.All the same thank God you are still in the bussiness but the TRADITIONAL WAY.

Anonymous said...

No wonder you have the gut to speak truth to power - because you are a self-dependent, practicing farmer. Dont give up this trade that you inherited from your parents. More grease to your elbow!

Usman Tar

Aliyu U. Tilde said...

@John Dada. I have not tried the small ruminants largely because Fulanis are more concerned with cows. Goats in particular many of us do not eat. But I have been thinking of sheep especially crossing with the Balama of far North. Their frame is large and they are fast growing. I am only impeded by my unsuitable location. Southern Bauchi and Plateau are too rainy and cold for the breed, according to tradition.

It is long since we met, Dr. Dada.I knew you innZaria since the 70s. Hope you are doing fine.

M. S. Ahmad said...

Doctor I will have been surprised if adversities would deter you from raising cattle with the Fulani in you.

*I will advise you to consult further at NAPRI and other Livestock Extension Agencies like the National Livestock Project Unit of the Federal Ministry of Agric that has an office in Bauchi and headquartered in Kaduna on substitute on Ranch feeding regimes where you can grow legumes with high digestible crude protein that can substitutes CSC.

* To sustain your cottage Yoghourt plant, you can mobilse your Fulani folks into producer groups to feed your industry thereby empowering them and saving their women the tedious task of having to go out selling milk and thus concentrate on other domestic rigors even if it is watching over planted grass and legumes. It is worthy to note that they too can not be able to sustain their traditional ways herding with multiple problems of land scarcity, environmental degradation, demand for land for the cultivation of arable crops due to population explosion etc

* In 2004, the Federal Government set up three Multi-Commodity Companies (Livestock & Fisheries Development & Marketing) being one of them to bail out farmers from the problem of marketing their products so as to ensure continuous production with good returns on their output, unfortunately, lack of funding and the Nigerian factor has left the company has left the company as a crippled toddler.

yusuf said...


A.G.Shettima said...

As someone who has written a doctoral thesis on an aspect of pastoralism in Nigeria, specifically, the conflict between farmers and herders, I absolutely agree with you. Pastoralists in Nigeria and elsewhere in dry land ecologies will continue to depend on the opportunistic use of patchy resources. Within the context of our political ecology, modern methods have their limitations...
Abba Gana Shettima

Ibrahim M. Attahir said...

Dear Dr Tilde,
I was an eye witness, ear witness and may be "mouth witness" of your effort. I visited your house in Tilde, I think, around 2006. I escorted a friend who was looking for a land to start an orchard. I remember that I heard from you that you were about to start selling yogurt. I also saw the animals. In fact, I drank the yogurt that you brought to us. Except for today that I read this writeup, I have always thought that the enterprise is going on. It is sad that due to failure of many things in our country people with initiatives find it difficult to succeed. Like the Sultan once said nothing is working in Nigeria.

Mohammed Iliyas said...

For me there is no better time to read this piece than now. I retired from civil service about 15 years ago to joint an engineering consultancy which, thanks to God paid well. As part of my investment in the recent years, I purchased farms and went into farming while still persuading my engineering consultancy profession. My annual expenses in the farm (excluding investment on being lands) grew gradually from few thousand Naira in 1997 to over N3 million Naira last year. Financial Profits? Forget it. My only consolations are that I have contributed in improving the lives of four rural families who now entirely depend on running my farms, and to scores of families that get annual Zakkat and additional support to a large number of my extended family and relatives through the distribution of grains to them during hard times. I enjoy that tremendously and probably explains why I kept farming in spite of the losses
I have for the last few years been nursing to go into cattle breeding and started by purchasing four and kept increasing then until now that I have 25 – two of them calves delivered last year and we are expecting three more in a few months. Two were stolen before I moved them to the present farm. The cattle are now under the charge of a Fulani who has been living with his family in the farmland even before I bought 4 it years ago and who has his own 7 heads of cows.
Now Dr. here are my problems. Firstly, I really feel very guilty that the man in charge of the cattle has two children that assist him – even before I started working with him – to take out the cattle for grazing. These children don’t attend school and the father is just not interested in ‘western education’. Secondly, my animals seems to be growing in number mainly because I do not depend on then for a living (and in fact I even buy one or two annually to increase the stock. When I finally retire from my current engineering profession – which may not be long to come – and start looking for support from the cattle, there may not be enough for me and the caretaker. Thirdly, I have plans to expand and build some infrastructure including planning suitable grass as the herds increases in size and probably start a yoghurt production as you did. Now your experience is like a wake up bell for me. I surely need more consultation from experts and experience people.
However, the joy of seeing my farms and herds growing and those beautiful rural families benefiting from them in spite of the financial loss is irresistible but there is an impending danger of collapse.