Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Must we import Grass?

THE news was first received with disbelief; “Grazing Reserve: FG imports grass from Brazil- Ogbeh”, Nigerian Times March 3, 2016. Even my big brother Franklin Okotie – Vanguard Asaba- commented on my facebook page that we should stop the joke. But, reading through the body of the story, it was sure real.

Audu Ogbeh was quoted as saying: “this is to curtail the frequent clashes between arm bearing Fulani cattle breeders and farmers”.

According to Ogbeh, “Muhammadu Buhari was setting up grazing areas in various states of the federation as a response to the clashes. We are producing massive hectares of grasslots for the consumption of cattle, we have received these grasses from Brazil and we are growing them in massive quantities”.

The report went further: “We will grow grass in the south to feed the cattle in the north, just as Saudi Arabia did….if Saudi Arabia with the largest cattle ranch in the world can grow its grass for the cows in the United States of America, Nigeria should be able to do same”.

The issue was very well discussed again in the Ray Power radio programme ‘Political Platform’, 9.15 am to 9.45am of Wednesday 9th March 2016.

The discussants quoted Ogbeh to the effect that those criticising the government’s decision are ignorant of the agricultural facts herein.

According to them, Ogbeh claimed to be an expert in agriculture who knows what he is doing, that what they are bringing in are seedlings, of a higher breed that is to be planted in Nigeria.

Again, the discussants will not agree with the government’s decision, that if the challenge is in the area of improved seedlings, we have well established agricultural research institutions in the country with whom the government can collaborate to achieve the same result, such as the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

Why go to Brazil and waste scarce foreign exchange  that  has become very difficult for genuine Nigerian businesses to obtain? And, I add my voice to ask  also, must we go abroad to import grass, when we have them of various specie and sizes, spread across the length and breadth of Nigeria?

Grasses that lie fallow, with no one in government thinking of how to put them to profitable uses. How did we find ourselves importing from abroad what we have in abundance locally? It is a well known fact that cows do not discriminate grasses, when they are hungry.

Audu Ogbeh and his team must begin to brain storm on how to put into productive uses the grasses that are produced in our land, the focus should be in the areas of preservation/storage, processing and transportation.

We do not want a situation where the cattle  go  into farmlands to graze and in the process destroying people’s property. These grasses could be properly cultivated, preserved to remain fresh and transported to different grazing lands for cattle, the way it is done with other animal feeds.

The fact that Saudi Arabia is importing grasses from the United States does not mean that we must follow their example, especially when it is a known fact that that Saudi Arabia is at the heart of desert lands.

Grass is so much all over Nigeria that with proper planning and integration, it could be cultivated with the specific purpose of feeding the cows in the north, through the same  circle, the cows will end up at the various abattoirs in the south to feed the populace.

So, it is a reciprocal thing, I mean giving and receiving and I believe that is what Audu Ogbeh and his team should look out for. In those days, before the introduction of the synthetic foam mattress, we were using mattresses made from grasses cultivated in the streets, nooks and crannies.

We can return to that era and help create job opportunities for our farmers. It is doubtful if there is any specie of grass that cannot be found in Nigeria.

One  only needs  to traverse the land by road and realise this wholesome truth. Our officials have become very lazy, only looking for ready made and wasteful solutions. There is no attempt at creativity.

Is this why is it so difficult for us to look inward? Why is it that it is only things foreign that we crave for? Has Audu Ogbeh made enough consultations with relevant experts of agriculture in Nigeria before arriving at his decision?

We must begin to identify challenges facing this nation and task ourselves with home grown solutions. That is the only way we can make progress and set the nation on the right course.

It is unacceptable for us to import grass into this country, our natural habitat favour its cultivation, even the famous Bahama grass has been cultivated here with a lot of success.  Audu Ogbeh should look for young men with fresh ideas to execute his programmes, his ideas as they are presently, appear too far fetched.

Grass is what everyone can feel and touch everywhere in this country. We do not need to go abroad to import it, it is like importing crude oil into the Niger Delta for processing, it is uncalled for.

The potentials in this country are enormous, the challenge is for the leadership to use this enormous manpower resources to achieve the requisite goal of the nation. We have them in Nigeria, we must continue to put them to work.

No talk of importing grass, please. Mr. Sunny Ikhioya, an author, wrote from Lagos.

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