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Niger Bobi Grazing Reserve Comes Alive, Decades After

After many decades in limbo, the Bobi grazing reserve in Niger State is setting the pace in the Federal Government’s National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), Newsextra24 reports.

The Bobi grazing reserve in Mariga Local Government Area of Niger State, which has been dormant for about six decades is now a beehive of activities. Every section of the reserve is undergoing transformation as key investors struggle to outclass each other to grab the opportunities thrown up by the Federal Government’s NLTP.

A water channel for the cattle

The transformation plan was part of the Federal Government’s effort towards ending the incessant bloodbath over the struggle for land by herders and farmers across the country over the years.

Although the move to halt migration by herders and the consequent conflict through the measure and others were resisted by some state governments, Bobi and others provide ready structures for the policy implementation.

The reserve, which was established by the Northern Region administration, sits on 31, 000 hectares of lush vegetation, with forest stretching several kilometers on end. It is divided into seven blocks with about 700 households and six earth dams. It also boasts of solar-powered boreholes and seven pasture blocks, while activities within it were monitored by rangers employed to safeguard to keep unwanted guests and troublemakers at bay.

Fulani youths at the reserve

The reserve later became the property of the Federal Government and was to be taken over by the Niger State Government in 2006.  However, due to lack of maintenance, most of the facilities put in place were in ruin until the current effort to revive it.

The situation had triggered an exodus of herders from the reserve southward, while attempts by others to find comfortable abode in some parts of the state resulted in conflict between them and farmers, with consequent bloodbath and loss of properties.

However, the new interest is said to have attracted migration of herders and their livestock to the reserve.  Alhaji Kiri Baushe, an elder and herder, said there were over 300,000 livestock domiciles in the reserve currently, even as he said more were due to arrive as work on the project progressed.

The initiative, according to stakeholders, was anchored across a 10-year development plan, which would see the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) injecting N13billion and providing the window for private sector collaboration.

When Daily Trust on Sunday visited the reserve, five investors were already on ground, even as state official confirmed that collaborations were ongoing with developed countries that are advanced in livestock and dairy production, such as Hungary, Brazil, Netherlands, India, Pakistan.

It was learnt that two investors were working 10,000 hectares each, two others were on 4,000 ha, bringing the total to 28,000 hectares, while the remaining 3,000 hectares belong to the state government.

Some of the residents of the Bobi Grazing Reserve

It was learnt that before the outbreak of COVID-19, two investors had cleared a total land area of 695 hectares with 190 hectares already planted with pasture.

The companies has also completed a hydroponic centre and solar-powered borehole while its milk collection centre is awaiting the installation of equipment, even as another investor had also signed contracts for the clearing and planting of pasture on its allocated 4,000 hectares.

It was discovered that some measures of works had been put in place, with the foliage growing to an advanced stage at the reserve, while different kinds of imported animal pasture were being cultivated and new proteinous feed with high yield were planted on over 300 hectares of land.

The consultant handling the development of the reserve and Emir of Muri, Taraba State, Alhaji Abbas Tafida, said an advanced system of feed harvest mechanism would be adopted to avoid wastages, adding that 2,000 breeds of Bokoio cattle are to be imported.

He said 200 hectares of super napier and 100 hectares for super grains had been planted while assuring the governor that in a few weeks the reserve will be wearing a new look.

Some of the residents of the Bobi Grazing Reserve

Tafida added that any cattle coming into the reserve will undergo a rigorous medical checkup, subjecting them to quarantine and vaccination to avoid any outbreak of diseases amongst the cattle.

The consultant also disclosed that as part of security measures and practice adopted to safeguard such types of farm, they have reached an agreement to provide a perimeter fence for the entire reserve, but they need the government to serve as a guarantor in assisting them secure loans for the fencing project.

He explained that the fence would have four gates, observation towers while surveillance cameras with the capacity to capture any object from a distance of two kilometres are to be mounted.

Also, to ensure that the reserve becomes a national and international investment hub, as well as intensifying surveillance to curb banditry, the state government is collaborating with Songhai Aviation Limited to upgrade the Kontagora Airstrip in Kontagora Local Government of Niger State.

When completed, it is expected to serve as a gateway to Bobi reserve by easing the movement of investors and goods, while also serving as a base for military operations against bandits.

It was also learnt that the state-owned university, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University (IBBU), Lapai, Hanyang Agricultural Industry  Limited (HAIL), Abuja, and Board of Regents of the university system, University of Georgia, Athens, United States of America, have reached an international cooperative agreement for  educational research programmes in respect of each institution for an initial period of five years with the reserve.

Already, the state government has provided access roads across the reserve, while facilities such as administrative block, police station, veterinary clinic and staff quarters were on ground.

The state government is also working to rehabilitate solar-powered boreholes, which had stopped working a long time ago, alongside some of the earth dams, which had hitherto provided water for the animals and the grasses, but collapsed.

It is also expanding existing schools and building new ones. Our correspondent encountered school pupils returning home during close of time wearing a light-blue uniform with black strips.

Sarkin Fulani, Alhaji Bello Taloye, said the school was built and run by an “American woman”. The school runs primary one to six. According to the Sarkin Fulani, the school has enough teachers, while also boasting of a staff quarters powered by solar.

The government schools, it was learnt, combined the western and Islamic knowledge in the curriculum. The Sarkin Fulani wants the government to establish a secondary school in the reserve to allow transition from basic school. He was enthusiastic with the transformation embarked upon by the state government.

He said the state government was systematically addressing their earlier concerns over the encroachment on the reserve by farmers, which he said negated the original concept. He noted that the integration process in the development plan had taken care of the problem.

The commissioner in the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, Haruna Nuhu Dukku, explained that only the farmers that were part of the reserve from the beginning and have lived there for most parts of their lives would be allowed to stay, while the big-time farmers who were encroaching from outside would be edged out through gradual disengagement.

Secretary to the government of Niger state, Alhaji Ahmed Matane during a visit to the bobi Grazing reserve

The commissioner also said that any herder seeking abode in the reserve would be profiled before being admitted, while all settlers must have a national identity card for security purpose. He added that there were about 300 security personnel, both within and outside the reserve, comprising of mobile police and men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).

Daily Trust on Sunday observed the existence of a farmers’ settlement deep into the reserve around phase three. Close to the settlement is a market which serves the need of both herders and farmers.  Alhaji Baushe said the herders had lived with the farmers for many years in the area. He said in every phase or block, there were small villages and settlements, where both herders and farmers cohabited for years.

The commissioner said the settlers would be key to driving the transformation plan. “They will be key drivers in the value chain initiative, where we expect that within the next two to three years, there would be an abattoir, factory for milk and yogurt, feed mills and other revenue generation activities

However, experts believe there is a need to build the capacity of researchers to do breed selection to improve on the genetics of the nation’s current breeds of cow if the programme must achieve its key economic goals.

“We must look into improving the productivity of the current breeds. Any plan that does not take into account the genetic improvement of the current local breeds will yield any significant result,” an animal production expert, Jude Jonathan said.

Dairy experts like Dr Celestine Ayok believe that dairy is a money-spinner if the government has a deliberate policy as it did to rice. He said there were more than 20 derivatives from milk, adding that farmers can only reap the benefit if sustainable government policy is put in place.

Observers said Nigeria must learn from Kenya and India that have dairy boards for the long-time development of the sector.

They believe the nation has a huge potential, which could put more money in the hands of their farmers if the government implements a long-time development strategy that will expand opportunities for farmers, which include the creation of the dairy board, strengthen livestock research and breed development and attracting more investment into the sector.

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