Golden Cows: How Oyo Women Currently Make a Living Milking Cattle in Spite of Recession
Golden Cows: How Oyo Women Currently Make a Living Milking Cattle in Spite of Recession
While many people groan and drown in the river of self-pity because of the economic recession, other woman have found a way of making ends meet beautifully.
Five years ago, in the bowels of Akele, a small, rural agrarian community in Oyo State, South West Nigeria, 35-year-old Ajara Lawal struck ‘gold.’
In this case, the gold was not the shiny, reddish yellow metal, but the white natural liquid produced from the teats of her cattle.
It was just a few minutes past 5am that early morning when our correspondent found Lawal, with others, beside their thatched mud huts, busy milking their cows.
Cow milk, which accounts for about 90 per cent of their daily income, is the new gold for uneducated women like Lawal.
Before then, life for the quiet, but hardworking mother of five literally consisted of trekking at least four hours on the bumpy road every day to hawk her wares in neighbouring communities and Ibadan, the capital city of Oyo State. She sold farm produce like cassava and local cheese – wara.
She noted that preparing cheese from local fermentation process using firewood usually took about three hours. But processing fresh milk took less than an hour.
Aside from wara, other products made from local fermentation process include nono (sour milk), sour yoghurt and local butter (maishanu).
Wara is also a popular milk delicacy among locals in many states in South-West Nigeria. However, these local milk derivatives have short shelf lives, as a result, they are only available within specific distances and locations.
The women usually trek long distances for hours to hawk these products in other communities and in the capital city, Ibadan.
“We were barely trying to survive. You should have seen the stress on my face when I used to sell wara everywhere. Now, I make more money and it is less stressful. I make between N2,500 to N3,000 daily. I have been doing this business for five years now and it has helped me and my family a lot,”she said, smiling. Her husband has three wives and over 50 cows.
Lawal is among the many women in Akele, and other neighbouring communities like Iseyin, Alaga, Fashola and Maya in Oyo State, whose source of livelihood comes from selling fresh cow milk to a dairy company with milk collection/processing centres in the local government area.
Like Lawal, women in these communities like Akele make about N100,000 or more monthly from the sales.“This business pays for my children’s school fees, three of them go to school in Ibadan,”she told Sunday Punch.
Mining ‘gold’ in cows
In these rural communities, where a large percentage of the residents are of Fulani origin, but settled in Yorubaland several decades ago, the wealth of families are determined by the number of cows they own.
Daily, while the women and men express milk from their cows, they chat happily, while the children watch, carefree about rural life. Such early mornings in Akele and other neighbouring communities are meeting points for different families kilometres apart to bond together and make their lives better.
“I am happy about this business, because we can make more money from this to help our families. We can send our children to schools in big cities like Ibadan. As long as God keeps us, we hope to continue to make money from milk,”said one dairy farmer, popularly known as Alhaja Agba, because she is the eldest wife of the late Galadima (Akele town chief).
Going by their standards, Agba is one of the richest women in the area; her late husband, with about four wives, left an inheritance of about 500 cows, which by right goes to her eldest son.
“Although we did not go to school, some of my mates that are well educated and live in big cities like Ibadan and work in big companies do not make up to the amount I make from selling cow milk,”another woman, Mrs. Rabi Aliu said.
She put her daily sales between N3,500 and N4,000.
“Before I started selling this milk, I was hawking and travelling long distances to sell my wara, like many other women here. But this business has helped reduce that stress. I did not go to school, so I would like my children to get an education and become important people in society. I don’t want them to be stuck in the village like me,”Aliu said.
A son to one of the women, 11-year-old primary four pupil, Saliu, said he was happy his mother had found something better to do.
“Sometimes my mum makes up to N5,000 a day selling about 40 litres or more. My dad owns over 100 cows. I am happy my mum is able to send me to school from the money they make from selling milk. Sometimes, they give me N500, N200, or N100 to school as pocket money. When I am older, I will contribute money to my mum’s milk business. I will buy a car for my parents too.”
One of the experts involved in the training of local dairy farmers on good dairy practices and hygiene, Dr. Samson Akinade, explained the source of livelihood for the women.
He said, “In Fulani settings, the men own the cows while the women own the milk. It is like a joint ownership. In most cases they have herdsmen who take the cows about and they help the women to express the milk, but in some other cases, the women do it by themselves or they do it together. They then take the milk and sell it to the Milk Collection Centre, to take care of the family.”
Making milk count
The days of selling only wara have long gone, said Lawal. Now, with some incentives such as aluminium containers, filter tools, and training by milk production experts from FrieslandCampina WAMCO Nigeria PLC, she said she and other women have a new lease of life as they now earn more income.
“The women are paid N105 per litre of milk. N90 is the actual milk price, but transportation cost is N15 per litre, which the milk man transporting it to our centre collects to fuel his motorbike,”explained the milk collection manager, Mr. Adekunle Olayiwola.
He further said the training given to local dairy farmers has helped to eliminate the crude and unhygienic methods of processing milk.
He said, “We train them more on how to observe the health of their cows and good dairy farm practices. We also teach them how to properly wash their hands and utensils before milking the cows to avoid microorganisms. After milking, the utensils they use are thoroughly washed, while the milk is filtered with a clean filter, and transferred as fast as possible to the nearest milk collection centres in aluminium cans, which we imported from India and distributed to them.
“The process time of milking the cows and getting to the collection centre depend on the number of cows the farmer has. It takes an average of 30 minutes. We encourage them to milk very early in the morning, between 5.30am and 7am. At that point, the milk gotten from healthy cows is very sterile and good milk.”
At the MCC, the collected milk goes through several tests to check the quality of the milk, its hygiene quality and antibiotic.“Microorganisms grow very fast in milk, so we have to do the tests as fast as possible,”he said.
There are four milk collection centres established in the area to ease transport of fresh cow milk by the locals. The first milk collection centre under the WAMPCO-Friesland Dairy Development Programme was established in 2010 to increase the production of local dairy content and empower local farmers.
A former President of the Nigerian Institute of Animal Science, Prof. Placid Njoku, said Nigeria spends over $1bn (N305bn) annually to import of milk and dairy products.
He said the local dairy industry has to be developed for the country to meet up with local demand and export.
Experts say about 70 per cent of Nigeria dairy products is imported.
Njoku said, “The potential for milk investment in Nigeria is very high and it is literally an unexploited area. But we don’t produce enough milk and we don’t import enough. That is why when Nigerians use milk for tea, they just add a drop or a small quantity of it.
“Milk is a major source of protein for human development and Nigeria needs milk. Part of the reason why there is a lot of stunted growth among Nigerian children is that there is less consumption of milk and animal protein. For most developed countries, milk is a major source of protein for children.
“In other developed countries, children take pints of milk in a day. But here, we take a small tin of milk and use it for about 10 people. This shows that we are unable to produce the quantity of milk that the country requires.”
With the DPP, Olayiwola hoped this would change in the next few years.
He said, “Akele community alone gives us 600 litres highest in a day. Averagely, at peak period, we have gotten 21,000 litres in total from all the four Milk Collection Centres this year. For me, it is a win-win situation, as a Nigerian, we are helping the communities. In total, we get an average of 17,000 litres in a day from these communities combined. This has improved agriculture in the area because it helps to empower these women and their families and they have a ready-made market for their milk products.”
Most households own an average of 50 cows. A few have up to 500.
‘We support our women’
About 60 per cent of women are estimated to play a major role in agricultural work in developing countries, including Nigeria.
For the men in these Oyo communities, the DDP has helped improve the lives of their women, and families. They told SUNDAY PUNCH it has helped reduce poverty and provided extra income for their households.
“Our lives have improved, people are beginning to buy new motorbikes, some now use banks and can even keep some money from their profits as savings. Some of us have built better houses instead of mud houses,”said Baale Abdullahi Tijani, the village chief in Alaga, one of the communities. He said the Fulanis migrated from places such as Ilorin in Kwara State and other states in Northern Nigeria like Kaduna and Borno, to Oyo State about a hundred years ago.
Since then, many Fulani nomads have settled in these largely Yoruba communities and have become their fellow kinsmen.
Seventy per cent of an estimated 30 million Fulanis are nomads and are scattered across Nigeria, in search of greener pastures for their grazing cattle, experts say.
Mr. Kpuche Felix, who owns 35 cows, said helping his wives in cow milk processing has given them a better life.“I can now send my six children to school from the profit she makes,”he said.
Another cattle owner, Hussein Mohammed, who has over 100 cows, expressed his happiness that his wife does not have to trek long distances to make meagre amount from the sales of wara.
“Now, she sometimes sells up to 80 litres of milk per day, depending on how fast we are in milking the cows. Before, she wasn’t making half of the money she makes now,”he said.
Akinade added, “The men are involved in grazing their cows, and like most Fulanis, are nomadic in nature. While they help their women early in the morning to milk the cows, they go out for grazing with their animals and come back late in the evening. Sometimes, if they have big occasions like marriage, they sell the cows. In extended family settings, each nuclear family has their cows and herdsmen.”
Due to the revenue generation from milk, the men no more sell or slaughter their cows as they used to in the past, another cattle owner, Abdullahi Saliu, who owns about 50 cows, said.
“The daily income we get from selling the milk from our cows is three times that we get from selling beef (cow meat). Some farmers with many cows can sell up to 30, 40 or 200 litres. The daily income varies, but every one of us, men and women are happy,”he said.
On some days, many traders flock outside the milk collection centres from nearby communities to sell goods such as clothes, household items and drugs to the dairy farmers.
Empowering 2,000 dairy farmers
About 2,000 dairy farmers, including women, have benefitted from the Dairy Development Programme in Oyo State, established by FrieslandCampina WAMCO Nigeria PLC, noted its Corporate Affairs Director, Mrs. Ore Famurewa.
Famurewa said this was part of the company’s support of the Federal Government’s initiative to grow the agricultural sector. She added that the company is also seeking to expand the DDP nationwide to boost local dairy production in the country, and so the country’s agriculture sector.
She said, “FrieslandCampina is currently working with local farmers. On a daily basis, they are able to make money by supplying their quality raw milk to us. Other dairy companies can also borrow a leaf from what we have done and try to also create some form of local and inclusive business models across Nigeria. The programme has largely been successful in Oyo State, but we are not resting on our oars. We plan to take it nationwide. In August, we met with the President Muhammadu Buhari and he was very pleased with what we are doing. We have so far empowered almost 2,000 farmers, including women.”
Famurewa also noted that the company wants to increase local content contribution/ dairy production in the next five years, and said it would invest about N3bn in dairy development in the country.
According to data by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, between 1993 and 2013, Africa produces only about 2.7 per cent of the world’s butter and cow milk, the lowest among the regions. Europe is the world’s largest producer with 54.5 per cent. America, Asia, Oceania produce 19.9%, 12.1% and 10.8% respectively.
“Milk development is a gradual process. It is slow and steady but we will surely win the race. We have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to support us in our dairy development programme, which is a success story,”Famurewa said.
The Research and Development/ Dairy Development Manager, Mr. Lawrence Inegbenoise, noted that the DDP is aimed at addressing the challenges of local dairy production and providing employment for the youth.
He said, “Aging farmers across the world have scare natural resources and face the challenge of feeding a growing population. We believe a way to address these challenges is to have dairy development programme in all our regions. Based on our experience in other countries, we have cross-breeds that would increase milk production. We have been working with the Fulanis; the next step is to have a crop of young graduates that would be trained as small holders dairy farmers in clusters where they can share resources and infrastructure needed to boost our operations in dairy production.”
In the same vein, two Dutch experts, Imke de Boer, Professor of Animal Science, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, and Janine Luten, Managing Director Wageningen Academy, in line with the pledge of Royal FrieslandCampina, visited Nigeria in September to inspect the DDP facilities in Oyo State.
Both de Boer and Luten said they were impressed with the programme and the dairy production facilities in the state.
“I am very impressed with the investment FrieslandCampina has made in local communities and working together with them, because at the end these investments are aimed at improving the social status of the local population,”de Boer said.
Also speaking, Luten said they are currently working out areas of academic and technical cooperation between Wageningen University and the University of Ibadan to formalise ways of training Nigeria’s dairy professionals.
Challenges of local dairy production
Despite the efforts to boost local dairy content, it would take some years before Nigerian dairy farmers can produce enough to meet the dairy needs of her 170 million population, Njoku noted.
He noted that the low milk output of Fulani cows, poor grass quality, as well as the lack of storage and processing equipment have been identified as some of the factors hindering local dairy production in Nigeria.
Experts have also pointed out other factors that have impeded the growth of Nigeria’s dairy industry, including poor sanitary practices of handling milk, poor infrastructure and lack of milk collection centres in local communities where cows abound, as well as poor implementation of government agricultural policies and poor access by dairy farmers to economic incentives.
Recent attacks by Fulani herdsmen in some states across the country have also been a major source of concern. According to a report titled, “Terror in the Food Basket” by SMB Intelligence report, a data mining and research firm, in 2015 alone, over 2,000 people have been killed in conflicts between the herdsmen and their host communities in three states in Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau States. In recent times, other states, including Oyo, Ekiti and Enugu states, have been affected by attacks by suspected herdsmen.
Tijani said dairy farming would not only improve the livelihood of Fulani settlers, but also coexistence with their host communities.
“We are happy here (in Oyo). We should all embrace peace between our herdsmen and communities where we graze our cattle,”he said.
In a bid to solve these conflicts, a Senate bill that seeks to create grazing reserves across the country was recently proposed by a lawmaker.
Also, a major worry for Njoku is the nomadic nature of Fulani herdsmen who own about three-quarters of the cattle in Nigeria. Moving cattle from one point to another for long distances, he noted, reduces the quantity and quality of milk produced by these local cows.
He explained, “This reduces the animal’s capacity to produce milk. That is why experts recommend that the animals should not be walked all over the country; they should be domiciled in places and fed properly. Recommendations have been made for ranches, grazing fields and all that, because as they are moved around the country, the cows cannot get enough water and they waste a lot of energy which they need to produce milk. As a result, the quantity of milk they produce on a daily basis is reduced.”
The expert recommended the cross breeding of local and foreign cows to improve the quality of milk produced in the country.
He said, “Our local breeds of cattle have the capacity to produce quality milk if we select them properly. But foreign breed can be brought in to breed with local ones which have gone through the process of screening to pick the best. The offspring of such cross-breeding will give us better cows that would give us more milk than the local ones.”
Culled from: The Punch
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