Despite Nigeria's rich agricultural resource capacity, there has been a continuing decline in agriculture's contributions to the nation's economy as evident in the contribution of agriculture to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  

 

Agriculture currently accounts for about one-third of GDP and has consistently suffered from inadequate investment and neglect by both the public and private sectors.  Crop production is more common in the agricultural sector, followed by poultry and livestock, as well as fisheries and forestry.  However, livestock constitutes an important and vital component of Nigeria’s agriculture and is a major source of household wealth and food security. While sheep, goats, pigs, and poultry are raised throughout the country, cattle are largely concentrated in the dry grassland parts of the country. About 95 per cent of the national cattle population is managed by a migrant pastoralist majority who are from the northern part of the country.

In 2006, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN, 2010), estimated that out of the total domestic fluid milk production, only about 600,000 litres (worth about N232.5 million) passed through the formal marketing channels.  While Nigeria has a potential market for 1.3 million tonnes of milk valued at about N450 billion annually, yet about N75 billion is also spent annually on importation of milk and dairy products.  This data shows the loss and huge potential for a sector that has long been neglected yet remains the only source of livelihood for some. 

A trip to Akele in Iseyin, Oyo State, Nigeria during the 2017 Dutch-Nigerian Student Business Challenge (DNSBC), gave an insight into how dairy farming works, and provided significant insight into the challenges encountered and possibilities of empowering women and girls to live out of poverty through this industry.  DNSBC is an exchange programme organized by the Dutch Foreign Ministry of Affairs and Delft University of Technology in partnership with Passion Incubator (Nigeria) to train, harness, and promote entrepreneurship skills between Dutch and Nigerian students, especially in providing innovative solutions to real-life challenges such as those faced by nomadic farmers in Nigeria.

Dairy business involves the production, processing and distribution of milk and milk products.  With the underdevelopment of this sector in Nigeria, there is the dire need to invest in this sector because there is a high demand for both milk and dairy products.  The demand for dairy products such as cheese, ice cream, yoghurt and other milk drinks is growing fast with increasing population, urbanization, and increasing knowledge on nutrition. Also, because it serves as a viable model of revenue generation and a means of livelihood for women and girls to live out of poverty.

The majority of the dairy farmers in Nigeria rear their cattle for meat production, whilst the milk is either wasted or turned to cheese (wara in Yoruba language). However, international companies operating locally, such as FriesLandCampina WAMCO have, for half a decade now, been sourcing raw milk from the dairy farmers in Nigeria. Sadly, the local capacity is still far below meeting demand.  This means more money is lost to export to fill the gap, and less money is made by dairy farmers in Nigeria.

 

The custom is that the men milk early in the morning and transport the milk to the collection centre. They are paid for the quantity of milk supplied after some days, but the money belongs to the women, as it is believed that the milk from the cows belongs to the women.  The women are free to use the money for whatever they like but more often, they spend it on domestic upkeep. These are women who most times are often uneducated and rely on the meagre income from the sale of cheese or the cow business of their husband to survive.

This is an area that works and holds great promise within our local context for women especially in rural communities. It’s not all gloom when we talk about poverty as linked to women and girls. We must be bold enough to identify what works and what doesn’t in respect to context, as well as explore and adapt new approaches/methods of improving livelihoods across communities. Hence, empowering this industry requires prioritising investment and infrastructure in the dairy sector and putting right policies in place to develop and support local sourcing of milk. Both the later and former influences the increased demand for raw milk from the hundreds of small holder dairy farmers. Thus, more milk supply in turn increases profit generated by men for their women. More income for the women creates a sustainable path out of poverty, with a more promising and improved livelihood. But not only for them, their households, community and nation inclusive.

There is a strong economic and social impetus, therefore, for investment in this industry, and for the empowerment of girls and women in the region.  The local demand and exporting gap shows the great potential the dairy sector holds for small scale rural dairy farmers in Nigeria, most especially in improving the earning power of women.

 

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