Dr Celestine Ayok, Owner of Spring Dairies Ltd, has been involved in the entire value chain of dairy- production, processing and marketing for over 23 years. The veterinary doctor, who studied milk processing abroad, established and managed most dairy farms in the country. At the just concluded 4th Global Dairy Congress Africa in Abuja, he explains the issues killing the industry.
W hen you take a look at the Nigerian dairy industry, what do you think we need to do as a country to compete globally with some countries like the Netherlands?
For me, if you look at some of these countries we are talking about-let’s not even go to the Netherlands, let’s go to Kenya. There was a deliberate policy of the government. As I said, dairy is capital intensive; and most of the people that own the dairy animals in Nigeria are the pastoralists. They are the ones producing those 560 million litres per year. They produce almost 90 percent of that milk.
So, if these people produce 90 percent of that milk, what policy are you doing to harness both the production aspect and primary processing aspect? The primary processing like the MD L &Z said: collection and then linking them to the formal market-there is nothing there.
And then when people talk about ranching I look at them and laugh. The most expensive component of ranching, they are not even bringing it up. They think is just to plant grasses? With a hundred hectare, you can plant one hectare of grass but how do you secure that grass? The parameter fencing might cost you over N500,000 to N600,000. So you can imagine planting grass in 500 hectares. How are you going to secure it? That is the cost we said the government should come in. the land clearing, we all know the cost of land clearing. If you do a ranch without securing it, people will come in the night and eat that grass if it starts growing.
So if you don’t help that angle to increase the production of these local animals, there will be problems.
Do you think we have exploited the potential of our local breeds enough?
No, we have not. We have not exploited their potentials. These animals have the potentials to give you six or seven litres if you milk them twice. I keep on saying; dairy farming is the cost per litre, it is not the amount of milk an animal produces. You better keep an animal that is giving you 4 or 5 litres and you’re spending less to feed her to give that quantity than to keep an animal that is giving you 10 or 20 litres and you’re spending thousands to feed her.
So these are some of the challenges that government needs to looks into: the key thing that is lacking during the dry season, you don’t have grass. But what people don’t know is that grass per se is not the issue. An animal can stay more than 10 days without grass but that animal cannot last three days without water. So what makes them moves faster during the dry season? Most of the dams are silted, broken and they don’t hold water anymore. So if they don’t hold water, during the dry season if the pastoralists are supposed to stay January, February in that area and keep on feeding on crop wastes of what farmers have harvested, if that water is not there, by October -November, they start moving. Those two months that if they had stayed, it will reduce their conflict hinterland.
Don’t you think we need to also look at the genetic improvement of our local breeds like we’ve seen in Kenya?
Genetic improvement is good but before we do genetic improvement, we have to do breed selection. Our local animals, what potentials do they have for some of them that have potentials. I give you an example: I Keep ten local animals and I’m feeding them with the same feed and they are all milking and four out of them are given me 3 litres from the same feed, the remaining 6 are giving me 1 litre, so if I want to do breed upgrade, which ones will I use? Of course, the ones that gives three litres. So, I have done breed selection now to see their potentials before I now go ahead to do the upgrading that you are talking about.
But before you do that, even in Kenya, they have two approaches. There are peri-urban farmers (educated farmers like us that set up small ones). Let’s focus on genetic improvement on those ones and then the local ones, what do we do to improve the potentials of that local animal? So there is going to be a two-prong approach. You can’t use the same approach to solve the two problems. One should be focused on the local poor. If I give them water and grass, can the milk production increase? Yes, it can increase; okay let me focus on those ones. Then retired civil servants, others who have small ranches, can we focus on breed improvement on their own-yes we can. So it will get to a point where the local farmers (they believe in the show and tell) will see the improvement in those that keep small animals and you will start getting their buy-in. you don’t just come and ramp in their throats what they have known for years. You don’t do that, it has to be gradual but there should be two approaches.
What is your take regarding attracting investment and do you think it’s time to ban or restrict imports?
What did we do to rice? There was a deliberate government policy, so if we do that, then you can gradually have a long term plan to say okay in the next five to ten years we are going to ban the importation of powder milk or start putting a gradual tariff on that. But if you suddenly bring it now, you can’t meet the local demand, so you give an opportunity for smugglers to bring. So the cost of that powder milk will go up. So like what they do to rice, they should do it to the dairy industry. The dairy industry is a money spinner. You have more than twenty-something derivatives from milk how many derivatives do we get from oil? We have seen farmers bring down the government. Have you not heard of white revolution? White revolution is milk. So I think there should be a deliberate policy, not a livestock policy. A dairy policy- you can see there are Dairy Boards in Kenya and Indian. Why can we have a dairy board in Nigeria?
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