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The Times They Are A Changin’ – The Dairy Sector in Nigeria

By Arno Maatman, Project Director 2SCALE

November last year I was sitting on a bench in Alaga, Nigeria, calmly enjoying the life that was going on around me. The school, with the children staring outside at the visitors, the young men walking back and forth trying not to look too curious. Some men, next to the milk collection center, were still cleaning the milking cans, the elders were arriving unhurriedly and greeting each other.

It was the day before the supervisory board meeting of our partnership with FrieslandCampina WAMCO (FC WAMCO) and the Nigerian Government, and we had been driving from Ibadan to Alaga, where one of the five milk collection centers (MCC) of FC WAMCO is located. As usual, we first greeted the elders of the community, and listened to their comments on the partnership. The elders, while appearing to be a little indifferent, indicated to appreciate the initiative of FC WAMCO, and the relations with the staff of the MCC. Of course they asked FC WAMCO if they could not do something about the milk price. Production costs were on the rise and life in general was getting more expensive with the devaluation of the Naira. A short list of challenges followed, including access to water, despite the one borehole that was constructed. When asked what had changed in their animal husbandry systems, they remained silent. “Did you adopt any of the practices to produce fodder, and improve animal nutrition?”, I tried again. They looked a bit confused. ”No, not really”, was the answer. “We have seen the demonstration plots, and are aware of the training, but we didn’t start doing this ourselves”. “Why not?”, I continued. “Well there is no reason for it, we just didn’t do it”. Some young men wanted to join the debate, but they were quickly silenced by the elders. I was a little upset and looked at Mohammed Zailani, our partnership facilitator. Mohammed, who had invested so much time in establishing demo plots with different fodder crops (mainly grasses), who had been training and mentoring community livestock workers to train the men on pasture management, on fodder crop production, feeding regimes and animal health, and the women on milk quality and milking hygiene. Nonetheless, he still seemed to be smiling, confidently and positive.

We left the place near the MCC and went into the settlement, where we would meet the women. On an earlier visit, we had been allowed, albeit reluctantly, to meet with some of the women. Today, this seemed to be entirely normal. Over 50 women were waiting for us, and many of them shared their experiences, successes and challenges with us. One of the most interesting propositions – to me – was to separate some of the milking cows from the rest of the herd for continued milk production. When the men would go away with their cattle, these cows would stay behind. This would help the women to continue to get some income from milk production. It would also be of interest for FC WAMCO, as it would reduce the fluctuations in the volumes of milk being supplied between the seasons. What an idea! We had talked about this some time ago, but back then it sounded like dream land. How would we be able to convince the Fulani to leave some of their most productive cows (in terms of milk production, of course) behind? Slowly, I started to feel that despite the emphasis of the elders that not much had changed, pretty much had been and still was changing. Probably they were only too well aware of it (why would they otherwise try to keep the youth silent, whereas they had always participated in earlier debates?).

What are those changes? Well, most obviously, the Fulani are taking the supply of milk to FC WAMCO as serious business now. It may not be their major source of income, which still comes in when the cattle are being sold, but still. The women in particular are seeing multiple opportunities to profit from supplying the fresh milk – even though some were saying that they could get more from their local cheese (wara) business. While this needs to be looked at, the wara market is just one channel, with its own limitations. The MCC offers them a chance to supply as much milk as they want against a guaranteed price, and they don’t need to spend hours to turn the milk into cheese. The women have gained self-confidence. They are organizing themselves and want to establish a cooperative. Savings for alternative businesses or to re-invest in milk production were initiated. In other places further away from the MCC, the women are dealing directly with some young Fulani to transport the milk to the MCC. Milk transportation has become a job. Simple shops and restaurants have opened next to the MCC, and the place is animated. There still are some serious challenges: tensions with the indigenous people, the land owners, and the Fulani (who do not own the land); hierarchy and power structures within the Fulani communities; access to water; access to financial services for the Fulani in general, and the women in particular. All this constrains the transition to more intensive dairy farming systems. But as the Dylan song goes: “The times they are a changin’”.

While the focus on feed and fodder systems may have been a bit premature and so far ineffective, the work by Mohammed and the other field workers, including Samson and the MCC staff from FC WAMCO, and Sunmade, our gender consultant, has tangible impact. The intensive mobilization, brokering, trust-building, and capacity strengthening efforts have enabled the Fulani, and the women and the youth in particular, to develop alternative pathways. Maybe even more importantly, it enabled them to start imagining even more ambitious, transformational, changes. Such changes will not happen overnight, and they will not be without new challenges. But for the Fulani in south-western Nigeria, who do not have ample space anymore to move around with their cattle, such changes may be urgently needed.

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