There has been a lot of talk about RUGA recently. Apparently, there may be a National Livestock Plan driven by the Vice President’s office which is different from the RUGA initiative which was pushed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. I say “may” because there is such little official information that many, myself included, aren’t too sure exactly what is going on.
Be that as it may, I read a bit about grazing land and cattle recently. Turns out we may have a big problem. A problem because the statistics on the amount of grazing land required for livestock is just wow.
An example: Take the United State for instance. According to data from the US Department of agriculture, almost 30 percent of all land in the United States is used as grazing land, mostly for cows. In total, about 655 million acres were used for grazing in 2012. Given the US cattle population of 90 million at the time, that puts it at about 7.28 acres per cow.
The quagmire: So, if we wanted to give our current 20 million Nigerian cows the same space to graze as their US counterparts then we would have to allocate 145 million acres as grazing land. Or 589,500 km squared. Or 63.81 percent of the entire country. Note: this is before you add land used to grow crops for cattle feed. You would need to add 20 percent more land if you included that.
So yeah, open grazing looks dead on arrival. Going by US standards anyway.
To be fair the United States may be special and may just have allocated excess land to cattle. Data on other countries is a bit difficult to find but Brazil, currently the country with the most cattle, may currently be managing about 2.34 acres per cow. But that is Brazil, the country with “almost as much farmland with more than 975 millimetres of rain each year as the whole of Africa and more than a quarter of all such land in the world”.
But even if we managed to get to Brazil’s grazing land per cow rate, we would still need to carve out 20.46 percent of the country as grazing land for our current 20 million cattle. Not barren land but good land. Land with enough rain and stuff on it for the cows to eat. The morale of the story is; when you crunch the numbers we really do have a problem with an as yet unclear solution.
To be clear I think that the question of land use and ownership is more complicated than “this is our ancestral land and you can’t graze here”. I think in the end you need to have very clear land use laws with enforcement. I also think that herdsmen, who by the nature of their lifestyle would have no fixed “ancestral” land have as much right to earn a living as farmers who also mostly don’t pay for the land. Mostly. But yes, it is complicated. Very complicated.