The poor health and welfare reputation of Nigeria’s abattoirs and meat processors has undermined the reputation of its meat sector, helping reduce exports to a derisory level.
This is proving a problem, because livestock accounts for one-third of Nigeria’s agricultural GDP, providing income, employment, food, farm energy, manure, fuel and transport. The sector is also a major source of government revenue.
The government has said that the livestock industry accounts for about 5% of national GDP and 20% of agricultural GDP.
But experts say that while the country has some of the best cattle and associated resources in Africa, international demand for its meat has been weakened by weak hygiene and welfare standards.
International trade statistics paint a sorry picture. In 1996 Nigeria exported 54,000kg of edible, salted, dried or smoked bovine meat and meat offal to Ghana, generating US$125,699 in receipts; in 2012, it exported just 3,550kg of other prepared or preserved meat, meat offal or blood to Ghana, earning just US$40,988. In 2009, it could only export 16,260kg of flours, meals and pellets of beef and bovine offal, earning US$32,816.
In 2011, Nigeria exported a small amount (1,271kg) of sausages and similar products of meat, meat offal or blood, and food preparations based on these products to South Africa.
To show how this poor performance could be improved, a model abattoir has been set up in the capital Abuja by livestock-trader Alhaji Isa Tafida Mafindi, Yerimam Muri, to demonstrate how meat quality can be improved by efficient local slaughterhouses. The problem, he told a recent press conference in the Nigerian capital, is that livestock is often driven long distances to slaughter in Nigeria, with animals suffering, and their meat quality being poorer as a result. "I decided to set an example, since I know the way of producing animals and growing them to a very high level," he said.
However, slaughterhouse operators and meat processors argue they lack access to the investment required to boost standards.
A former House of Representatives member Hon Suleiman Yelwa, owner of Subus Farm, a poultry farm in Jos, Plateau State, told GlobalMeatNews that the major challenges facing the livestock sector were lack of capital, storage facilities, lack of reserved land for livestock farmers and frequent theft.
"Like many other farmers in the livestock business, I don’t have access to loans to help me expand and improve my farm. For me to live up to standard, I need between US$666,000 and US$1.3m to be able to run a world-class poultry farm. But that is not coming; the government is not facilitating things for us," Yelwa said.
He explained that a lack of storage facilities was especially problematic, preventing his farm from accumulating stock for export. He called on the Nigerian government to budget for storage facilities, while carving out reserved areas for the livestock sector.
"Fulani herdsmen are not helping matters. They ransack our poultry farms and engage in cattle rustling, especially at night. Yet, we don’t have the means to fight and curtail their activities, and unfortunately, the government is not doing much to help us in that regard," Yelwa lamented.
However, the Nigerian government now says it is committed to boosting the productivity of livestock farmers across the country.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, said in April that the government planned to develop training programmes for producers, and work with industry associations to deal with challenges facing the sector.
In a speech in Oyo State, south-east Nigeria, he said: "With a current human population estimated at over 150 million, the livestock industry over the next few years will face an unprecedented challenge in meeting the huge aggregate meat demand.
"The ministry is addressing some of the identified challenges in the livestock sector, using the value chain approach in collaboration with the co-operative associations.
"Our approach to livestock production is to enhance productivity and integrate production with crop farming, animal health and nutrients," the minister stated.