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March 23, 2011

Livestock farmers hounded out of Lagos State, Nigeria

The hostility against livestock farmers in Lagos State in the recent past which has led to the closure of over 90 percent of pig and poultry farms in the state has not only put many people out of business but has now become a threat to food security and survival of many low income families in the state.

Those who had used their life-savings to establish livestock farming in the state with the hope of sustaining their dependants through such business had such dreams aborted abruptly by government officials who decided to eject the farmers from the state, thereby throwing more Nigerians mainly farm hands into the labour market.

Worst hit by this development are retirees and women, particularly widows who depend on income from the small-scale farm business to take care of their children's school fees, food and other families' needs. Also at the losing end are cross sections of people who have made pork their choice meat in their homes, social occasions like weddings, birthday and other ceremonies who now purchase pork at a very high prices. The price of pork has skyrocketed from N300. 00 to N550. 00 per kilogramme in the metropolis.

Apart from levies and taxes, farmers were at the mercy of council officials who harass and extort money from them at will, in the guise of collecting revenue for the state and local government for keeping animals. Also some intolerant members of communities where the farmers operate were constantly petitioning the government against the farmers, accusing them of environmental pollution among other offences.

Many farms that were formerly bubbling with animals, birds and poultry products in communities like Ijegun, Abaranje, Igando, Ijegamo and Ijeododo in Alimosho and Ojo council areas have been converted to viewing centre for English Premier League footbool, worship centers, sachet water factories and residential houses. The development has also affected many agricultural cooperative societies which activities been brought to a close the moment members were put out of business.

In the same way, all the businesses that are associated with animal rearing such as animal drugs and supplements have folded for lack of patronage.

Oko Oba that used to be the melting pot for agricultural activities, where the piggery had thrived over the years, has lost that reputation as the center for animal husbandry. At present, the farmers have been displaced and the area converted into residential structures.

But while Lagos State has ejected the farmers, Ogun State has opened its hand wide for them and they now found the state safe for their business; they are now relocating en masse to the neighbouring state which they lauded as agriculturally friendly state. Some of the farmers have teamed up in order to acquire land for their business, others lease some plots from the land owners, and in this category are some of the farmers who have settled at the Goshen piggery farm settlement which is located at the remotest part of Ota in the state.

Although the movement to Ogun State may be conducive for the farmers and unreachable to the tax masters in Lagos but it has its own disadvantage to the farmers. It has increased production cost for the farmers who now pay more to procure the animal feed because the sources of the feed production plants are mostly located in Lagos.

For instance, pig feed which include brewery waste especially spent grain and wheat chaff have big firms like the Guinness Plc located at Ikeja and Nigerian Breweries Plc, Iganmu, both in Lagos as the major producers.

Similarly, the major producer of the other vital pig feed; the palm kernel cake, otherwise known as (PKC) is a Lebanese company that is based at Ijesha along Oshodi Apapa Expressway in Lagos. The pellets, another high quality animal feed which is the product of the Golden Penny Flourmill has its production plant located in Lagos.

Also waste products from beverage companies like Cadbury and Nestle which are highly valued by pig farmers because of their high nutritional value are located in Lagos with the exception of Nestle which has its plant at Agbara in Ogun State, the farmers now pay as much as 200 per cent increase in the cost of transporting the feed from Lagos to their new locations.

On the other hand, the relocation has also affected vegetable farmers in Lagos most of whom depend on animal droppings for the growth of their vegetable. The planters now have to pay more to get the animal dropping from Ogun State to Iyana Iba, Abule Ado and other locations in Lagos where vegetables are cultivated in commercial quantities.

The farmers who blamed Lagos State for their plight accused the state government of paying lip service to poverty reduction, stressing that state by its recent attitude decided to make agriculture unattractive to the youths and unemployed school leavers.

Sunday Champion investigation reveals that some of the farmers in the state were faced with challenges of animal waste disposal which in most cases precipitate some face off between the farmers and their neighbours or host community.

A prominent pig farmer, Mr. James Amusan told Sunday Champion that his neighbours ganged up against him and dragged him to the traditional ruler of the Ijegamo community who insisted that he must move his farm to another location, he said as he was searching for an alternative with Lagos, operatives from Alausa came and ordered him to move his farm out of the state.

Amusan said that the community was constantly petitioning the State government through the Ministry of Health Alausa, Ikeja, alleging that he was a nuisance to the community. According to him, irrespective of the fact that he ensured that his environment particularly the pig pens which he cleaned twice a day was cleaned up, the ministry's officials ordered him to relocate, as a result he decided to move to Ota in Ogun State but not without losing half of the herd because of the hasty movement of the animals.

Also narrating the plight of his members, former treasurer of Ijegun Cooperative Agricultural and Multipurpose Society, Gabriel Fadairo, told Sunday Champion that his members are now facing difficulties.

"I know that many of my colleagues who were pig farmers faced a lot of harassment at the hands of local government officials. I think that a few factors are responsible. One, the state government does not encourage farming as it is now. We used to have a cooperative society here, comprising mostly of pig farmers but because of this lack of encouragement this once vibrant society has disintegrated.

"Again, neighbours are just too intolerant, the fact that you are rearing anything like pigs or birds, would make them to raise an issue and say that you are causing a nuisance, no matter the efforts of the farmers, some of the neighbours would not mind their business. I am only lucky that I have good neighbours who just mind their own business, I don't inconvenience them but for some people even if you don't cause inconvenience to them, they will make a big issue of it.

He further said, "The farmers themselves have not taken enough care to ensure that their environment is clean, if the environment is clean and they take good care of the things that cause odour, people may not necessarily react. All the members who were being harassed for one thing or the other decided to relocate outside Lagos State that has been the problem of farmers in the state."

Experts argue that the Lagos State government would have parleyed with the farmers on mode of operation and agreeable levy instead of driving the farmers away from the state.

Fadairo for instance, insisted that relocation of his members is a big gain to Ogun State, but a loss to Lagos, noting that it will lead to agricultural expansion in their new base.

He said, "Such relocation, is a disadvantage to Lagos State, if the state had parleyed with farmers and proffer solutions to their problems and agreed on what levy to charge, the farmers would have been in business and income would be there for the government but now that they had frightened them away, that income no longer exist for this state but for the state they are moving, definitely that state will be gaining because of agricultural expansion even if they are not paying the state anything

"Agricultural expansion is what Nigeria needs now. That is where we should be going now. People are not talking about it. People are only talking about power and education which they can never fulfill because we have heard it before but until we look inward and discover the gigantic agricultural potential that can feed people and give them peace of mind. In the process of providing agricultural output you are eliciting people's interest to go into agric.

"Look at Oko Oba that used to be the agric area for Lagos State, there used to be a large population of pig farmers, the farmers have been displaced and the area converted into residential buildings. That place was popular before; so it is clear that the interest of Lagos State government on agric is nothing to write home about. It is not encouraging at all. When our cooperative was formed, we have solid link with the ministry of agriculture. Then they were sending people to visit and encourage us during our meetings but suddenly they just kept off, we don't see them anymore. The state government has a big role to play in this issue, they should encourage the people and if the farmers have problems, the government should stand by them so that they can come up with a solution to such problems."

Since the greatest challenge of the farmers is the management and disposal of waste, experts say the waste to wealth slogan of the state government should be extended to the farmers. Such waste can be converted into other useful purposes which will not only keep the farmers in business but will also yield income for the government.

Although some of the farmers sell the waste to vegetable farmers and planters but while the waste piled up for onward transfer to the vegetable gardens, odours cannot be ruled out.

Most of the farmers, who could not afford to construct soak away system for the waste disposal, grapple with the crude method of waste disposal, which entails either burying or incinerating the waste but such methods have also attracted condemnation from most neighbours who complained about ground water contamination from the buried waste. They also say the smoke from the burning waste also contaminate the air.

But piggery is a business that can earn huge income for Lagos State if the farmers are encouraged to overcome their challenges. Government can do this by finding inexpensive, environmentally-friendly alternatives for the disposal of animal waste.

According to experts, one of such alternatives is to convert waste into an odourless, inoffensive, material for soil amendment and organic fertilizers. In doing so, the government will not only be providing the enabling environment for the pig and poultry farmers but will be providing jobs and agricultural income for the state and thereby making the business very attractive for the youths.

They say that in some advanced countries like United States and China where pig production is among the nations' income earners, animal waste is treated as a liquid in earthen containment structures known as lagoons, in which bacteria break down the waste aerobically. The treated effluent from the lagoons is then sprayed onto field crops that use the nutrients contained in the waste water.

If well managed, Lagos State and Nigeria will also join the league of African countries that are reaping huge revenue from piggery business. Countries like Senegal, Gambia, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Cote d'Ivoire, Togo, Benin Republic, Cameroon and South Africa are making success in the pig farming business.

In the United State of America for example, the pig industry yields annual revenue of 18 billion dollars. Some areas like the state of the North Carolina were said to be among the world largest pig producers.

Daily Champion

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