It was Marion Mitchell Morrison, professionally known as John Wayne, who played the role of Will Anderson in the award-winning movie: The Cowboys, a 1972 American western movie which depicts, in part, the role of mentorship in enhancing skills and instilling values in youths. In the movie, Will Anderson, a cattle owner, and herder became disappointed when his old friends and fellow cattle herders suddenly abandoned the cattle business and left the trade to pursue newly found ‘goldrush’ business in their neighborhood, at the height of this disappointment, Will Anderson turned to the youths who later became his Cowboys. While one may not entirely agree with every scene in the movie, there are lessons to be learned from the recruitment techniques of those youths into the cow economy by Will Anderson.

Much has been written and said about the Nigerian version of Cowboys, otherwise known as Herdsmen or Cattle herders, a lot of airtime and resources are being expended on debating, deliberating, agreeing, and disagreeing with the archaic model of herding cattle in Nigeria. It suffices to say that the Ruga initiative of the Federal government was an attempt at curbing the menace of farmers-herders disputes, Ruga was tagged with different names and slogans, and when the pressure became intense, the Federal government had to back down on the immediate implementation of the Ruga policy. Even the suspension of the Ruga policy was also greeted with some modicum of misgivings by some Nigerians who viewed the policy as a positive one for the nation. In any case, the tension was generally doused by the suspension of the policy, and life continued as (ab)normal.
The problem with Ruga could be summarised into three. Firstly, the Ruga policy was communicated poorly, it could have been better communicated, and education and public awareness creation would have assisted the Federal government in passing the message across to the citizenry, and the civil society organizations were not sufficiently engaged. Secondly, the timing of the policy was wrong, it was announced during the heat of the farmers-herders clashes across the country, it was announced at a time when armed herdsmen and kidnappers were on rampage, killing and kidnapping innocent citizens. Lastly, the nomenclature was misplaced. The name given to the policy ‘Ruga’ was more appealing to the Fulani herders and this gave room for suspicions, conjectures and innuendoes of all kinds were adduced and advanced, which further complicated the matter.
However, a closer look at the Ruga policy would remind us of an African-Yoruba proverb, which goes like this: “Weeping does not obstruct seeing’, meaning, ‘that somebody is weeping doesn’t mean that the person cannot see’. This statement underscores the reason why some states in Nigeria are beginning to take the cow economy more seriously, we have seen the case of Ekiti state government and its diary farm project, the Anambra state massive cattle project, Zamfara, Borno, and few other States in Nigeria are now taking a second look at the ‘Ruga’ policy, which I now refer to as the Cow economy.
Hence, beyond the general sentiments about the Ruga policy, there are some good policy ideas embedded within its framework. In a nutshell, ‘Ruga’, if or when well implemented could be one of the game changers that could address the massive youth unemployment in Nigeria. But the Federal government needs to finetune the framework, the policy communication should be both top-down and bottom-up, the policy should not be divisive, but it should be construed as an instrument of social cohesion and general economic inclusion.
There is a nexus between the overall national security and food security. The bread riot of 2008 in Egypt is an example of how food insecurity is closely linked with national security. Between 1998-2000, the border war between Eretria and Ethiopia was exacerbated by food insecurity. Policies relating to food security should take cognizance of the possible impacts on national security.
An agribusiness case towards understanding the Nigerian Cow economy would require a nuanced perspective that will shift the way we approach the policy that aims to develop the Cattle value chain in Nigeria. There are massive job opportunities within the cattle value chain, it makes good economic sense to invest in the cow economy, the return on investment is huge. The good thing about the Cow economy is the fact that everything about the Cow is money, and each component of the value chain could be further subdivided into more value chain, e.g. Beef value chain, the dairy value chain, the leather value chain, the fodder or grass value chain etc. all within a single cow.
Recently, the Governor of Kano state, Abdullahi Ganduje expressed his displeasure regarding the free-range model of cattle rearing in Nigeria, and how his administration is seizing the bull by the horn to address the situation, in his words: “We are building a Ruga settlement in Samsosua forest, our border with Katsina and we have succeeded in curtailing the effect of banditry in that area,”

He further stated: “So, we are building many houses, we are constructing a dam; we are establishing a cattle artificial insemination centre, we are establishing a veterinary clinic and already we have started building houses for herdsmen. “My advocacy is that we should abolish the transportation or trekking of herdsmen from the northern part of Nigeria to the middle belt and to the southern part of Nigeria. There should be a law that will ban, otherwise we cannot control the conflicts between herdsmen and farmers and cannot control the cattle rustling which is affecting us greatly.”
Governor Ganduje and a few other state governors have shown us what is possible in their states, and we can take advantage of this seemingly negative situation of perennial farmers-herders crisis to build a thriving business model for cattle herders across the states in Nigeria, with a focus on job creation for the teeming population of our youth.
The Federal government through the National Economic Council proposed a budget of a 100 billion naira for the implementation of the National Livestock Transformation Plan, during the last quarter of 2019. The Ruga policy made a provision for voluntary participation in Ruga settlements, Ruga was not an imposition as some people would make us believe. In 2019, during the heat of the farmers-herders clashes, the Executive Governor of Ebonyi state, Dave Umahi as the Chairman of the subcommittee on farmer herders crisis informed journalists that it was agreed that the Federal Government would bear 80 percent of the amount while participating states would support with 20 percent and provision of lands for the programme.
The policy framework is in place, what is needed now is the political will. Let there be a ban on free range of cattle, let it become a crime to roam around with cattle, let each state organise the sector. Let each household see the massive opportunities in cattle business and let us be intentional in making the cow economy work for the good of our nation, we should all be herdsmen if we are serious about food security and food sovereignty.
By way of practical illustration, the senior members of the Institute for Agribusiness Management, Nigeria (IAMN) visited a dairy farm in Kenya, and in reporting back to their colleagues via a social media post, here is what they have to say:
“During the Trade Mission to Kenya & Rwanda, IAMN members visited Molito Dairy Farms located in Limuru, Kiambu county of Kenya to understudy a medium scale dairy farm that produces over 800 litres of milk a day alongside other value-added products like Greek yoghurts of different flavors. The farm has just 40 cows which each cow producing an average of 20 litres of milk per day. The dairy farm is about 5 acres with another 40 acres for the cultivation of maize and different grasses for fodder production to feed the cows. The farm makes over 1.2million Ksh. (which is around N4.3million) every day. The small and medium scale Dairy Farming system in Kenya is a model that can be adopted in every part of Nigeria for sustainable milk and beef production. Dairy Farming is indeed a money-spinning enterprise when it is done right.
The cow economy is cash! And this is what informs the popular phrase ‘Cash cow’. Whenever a business is referred to as ‘cash cow’ it simply means it generates ‘cash flow’, it is a lucrative, money-spinning business. Everything about cow is money!! Hence, beyond the Ruga policy brouhaha, and the cacophony of voices that accompanied its announcement, the nation needs to focus on making the Cow economy work for our people, we must bridle our collective sentiments and galvanize the polity against any ethnic or religious prejudices that could jeopardize the inherent benefits of the Cow economy to the Nigerian people. Each states of the federation may have to look closely at which aspect of the Cow economy is good for the people of the state, with a view to increasing the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of their states.  The state governments may have to look inward and forward, towards a business model in which they have a comparative advantage and capitalize on such to boost their IGR.
The Ruga policy of the Federal government may not have been well-served to Nigerians, at least with the manner with which it was communicated and the reaction that greeted its ‘premature’ announcement, but it has opened our minds to what is possible within the Nigerian Cow economy and the livestock sector in general.
And while the Federal government continues to work on reframing the ‘Ruga’ policy, the enormous potentials of what is embedded within the Cow economy should drive the process. The massive youth unemployment should drive the process, and we should all be intentional about driving the process with the Federal government, private companies and individual small business owners operating within the cow economy should strive to maximize the opportunities embedded within its value chain.
The Cowboy movie of John Wayne is a good reminder of why we should harness the energies and the talents of our well-schooled but jobless youths, for us to build a thriving and successful nation. The jobs are hidden within the value chain and developing the cow economy may as well be one of those vital segments of our economy that would deliver the jobs and help fulfill the policy vision of bringing 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in ten years.
In the movie, Will Anderson want the youth to have more than school degrees and certificates, he wanted them to have education, and the right one at that, he went after them, he recruited them, he retrained them, won their hearts, and disabuse their minds from crimes and violence. He may not have succeeded 100% but he made an impression on those youth and a positive one at that.
Steve Arowolo is a Consultant on Corporate and Public Policy Strategy.
He writes from Western Cape, South Africa

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