It is globally recognized that feed contributes over seventy percent to the success of livestock production as it plays a critical role in the development and productivity of any livestock animal including dairy cows.
Over the past decades, the Nigerian dairy sector has remained underdeveloped due to the inefficient production systems which mainly limit smallholder dairy farmers’ access to all-year-round quality and adequate feed for their dairy cows.
Furthermore, the availability of quality feed and pasture has drastically reduced over the years due to the effects of climate change and limited access to production resources leading to migration of pastoralists to areas with a relative abundance of forage and places considered safe for the herds which in the process has led to incessant clashes and insecurity.
Given the high potential of the dairy sector to contribute to the national economy and food security, it is imperative to develop a commercial animal feed sub-sector and create demand from the smallholder dairy farmers who control 90% of the 2.35 million dairy cows in Nigeria through strategic public-private partnerships and the creation of innovative solutions leveraging on lessons from existing initiatives.
One of such initiatives is the Advancing Local Dairy Development in Nigeria (ALDDN 2020 – 2024) Program currently being implemented by Sahel Consulting Agriculture and Nutrition Ltd. ALDDN is a five-year program that aims to catalyse a vibrant local dairy sector in an inclusive way that improves the livelihoods, productivity, nutrition, and empowerment of smallholder women dairy farmers and the communities in which they live.
The ALDDN Program also includes nutrition and gender components that are geared towards improving nutrition outcomes and promoting women’s empowerment in dairy production to reach a total of 15,000 dairy households and 210,000 direct beneficiaries.
ALDDN which is currently being implemented in Adamawa, Kaduna, Kano, and the Plateau States includes a feed and fodder intervention that aims to increase integrated smallholder dairy farmers’ access to quality feed for their cattle all year round to improve milk productivity.
As part of the feed and fodder intervention, ALDDN is exploring various models and strategies built around commercializing fodder production and increasing smallholder dairy farmers’ demand for feed, and reduce free-range or open grazing through training advocacy and behaviour change among participating farmers.
In 2020, ALDDN explored a private sector-led model where a service provider was engaged to identify and train interested farmers, either crop or dairy farmers in the focus program states who have access to land and are willing to become Commercial Fodder Producers (CFPs).
In some cases, the dairy processor partners provided interested farmers with access to free land given their limitations. The idea of having crop farmers were to improve their relationship with pastoralists as the intervention will mutually benefit both parties such that the crop farmers can produce and sell feed to pastoralists within their communities, and this will reduce the occurrence of encroachment and clashes among them. The model included a 75% capital investment by the ALDDN program and a 25% capital investment by the selected CFPs to drive ownership. At the end of the intervention, the CFPs’ 25% was reimbursed to them to re-invest in fodder production in the next planting season. 142 farmers were selected based on set criteria and a total of 400 hectares of land was cultivated with an average of 2.8 hectares allocated per farmer.
ALDDN provided production inputs and services including pasture seeds (maize, sorghum, lablab, brachiaria), fertilizers, herbicides, mechanization for land preparation, planting, herbicides, and fertilizer application, harvesting, processing equipment including hay and silage making materials, and storage facilities for the farmers. In addition to the investment support, ALDDN provided technical support by training and building the capacities of the CFPs on the principles of pasture production and processing through field practical sessions.
The intervention was faced with several challenges including low commitment of the CFPs to their roles and responsibilities, ineffective communications among stakeholders, climate change including reduced rainfall intensity, inefficient production practices and insecurity leading to a massive loss of yield and feed products, limited access to farm mechanization and the high expectations of the smallholder dairy farmers and the fodder producers.
Given the low purchasing power of the smallholder dairy farmers, the ALDDN program subsidized the cost of the feed products as was sold to the farmers for as low as 20 naira (0.04 USD) per kg and at some point, gave out the processed feed (silage and hay) to its beneficiaries at no cost.
These challenges significantly limited the impact of the intervention, and it was instrumental to the redesign of the feed and fodder strategy in 2021 which primarily focuses on providing technical training to selected farmers groups using demonstration plots while sensitizing them on their roles and responsibilities to manage their expectations towards the success of the intervention and its sustainability beyond the lifespan of the program.
Drawing from the lessons learned in the ALDDN feed and fodder intervention, the success of commercial fodder production in Nigeria relies on strategic collaborations among various stakeholders to develop feasible and sustainable models for commercializing fodder production.
The government should promote more public-private partnerships to ensure effective implementation and sustainability of the Nigerian dairy policy. Pastoralists should be identified, formed into structured groups and cooperatives, trained on technical and social behavioural change, and incentivized with production resources such as land, subsidized inputs, and services, credit facilities to develop grazing reserves, and rangeland to improve their production systems, income, and livelihoods.
Nigeria can also learn from the success stories and innovative revolutions in countries such as Kenya, India, and the Netherlands. An example of an innovation employed by these developed countries is the creation of one-stop shops within cooperative societies and dairy processors’ milk collection centres where farmers have access to quality feed in exchange for milk supply. Government initiatives such as the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) and the Livestock Productivity and Resilience Support Project (L-PRES) should also be leveraged at the state level to empower smallholder farmers and increase their access to production resources and services. These will contribute to the restoration of national security.
Research institutes such as the National Animal Production Research Institute (NAPRI), International Livestock Research Institutes (ILRI), Center for Dryland Agriculture (CDA), and the Institute of Agriculture and Research (IAR) should prioritize research on improved varieties of forage crops and animal feed composition, adoption of good agronomic practices and the economics of fodder production and making available relevant information and data as well as expertise that will guide investors, consultants, entrepreneurs, farmers association and development organizations working towards the development of the animal feed sub-sector.
The research institutes can also be leveraged by the government to train extension officers and build the capacities of community livestock workers to become feed production and formulation experts as this will increase farmers’ access to quality extension support and increased technical knowledge.
Investors and development organizations can seize the numerous opportunities in the dairy animal feed sub-sectors to catalyse a vibrant and sustainable system by investing in commercial feed production businesses and supporting targeted groups including farmers, dairy and feed processors, research institutes in achieving the national mandate of developing a commercial ruminant feed value chain.