Politics & Business

Changing Nigeria’s dubious dairy narrative with milk as a right

If you were fortunate to have been born or raised in a home that served milk daily on the breakfast table and everyone from your parents or guardians to even the house helps had some milk with their tea, then the chance is high that you’d see your consumption of milk as a right rather than a privilege.

That was then, but this is now. Even modest income earners can no longer afford to serve milk daily at breakfast time. For the rich who still do and indeed stock the complete offerings of evaporated and powdered milk, milk-based creamer, imported ‘fresh’ milk preserved in laminated packs et al, this article is to remind them that millions of Nigerians are still starving, and the milk they waste in their homes can save millions of children from malnutrition.

It is particularly because of top government functionaries and nouveau riche politicians who continue to play politics with Nigeria’s dairy sector that our local milk production is millions of litres behind the milk needs of our 180 million-strong population. Yet their own dependents – spouses, children and wards – don’t lack or beg for milk.

Since 2016, Nigeria’s dairy narrative, especially as reported in the newspapers and replicated by news blogs, has not been fair to the struggling dairy sector. When the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh first screamed that the federal government needs to cut down dairy imports from its huge annual bill of $1.3 billion, little did he know then that he had tipped off a dubious and negative public narrative against milk – because perception is everything.

Alhaji Aliko Dangote, a new entrant into the dairy sector, latched onto FMARD’s back to amplify the ‘huge imports bill’ noise that Ogbeh had started. The Nigerian media lapped it all up and the news went viral. In 2017, Nigeria’s Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki further amplified the same imports bill noise, which a couple of news blogs published.

In February 2018 the Senate condemned the reduction of import duty on powdered milk by government from 10 to five percent, following a motion by Sabo Mohammed (APC, Jigawa State) titled ‘Urgent Need to Halt the Implementation of a New Import Duty Tariff on Powdered Milk Imported into the Country.’

Just last week, the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Hajia Aisha Abubakar also amplified Nigeria’s $1.3 billion annual spend on the importation of milk, yogurt, cheese and other milk derivatives. Enough of this repetition since 2016. Where milk matters are concerned, government is already sounding like a broken record.
What is government doing to boost local production of milk? Nigeria’s population is still growing rapidly and with it, hunger threatens.

The call by some local dairy operators for government to discourage dairy imports may not really be in the interest of millions of Nigerians. But like Abdullahi Adamu – former Governor of Nasarawa State and Senator representing Nasarawa West – told his colleagues on the floor of the house, Nigeria must no longer be a dumping ground for substandard milk being smuggled into the country through bribery of customs officials.

There is a huge difference between properly imported, good quality milk (which often sells at a premium higher than locally produced, but equally good milk) and poor quality milk smuggled into Nigeria (often sold cheaper than our cherished local brands).

To support the dairy supply chain in the country, alarmist headlines, controversy and mudslinging must give way to positive narratives that urge government to act, the private sector to support, and citizens to buy made in Nigeria dairy products the more.

Good milk fortified with nutrients is a complete food, experts say, and unless the Nigerian government sees and treats the dictum food-for-all as a human right rather than a privilege, nothing will change.

So let us start by changing the dairy narrative in our country. Presently only one dairy company is actually sourcing milk locally for commercial production, paying Fulani cattle farmers steady handsome incomes, teaching them global best practices of breeding and milking cows, and effectively changing the cattle breeding landscape in Nigeria.

There is no need to mention the company’s name so that this conscience-striking article isn’t reduced to a PR project. Other companies just import powdered milk and re-bag them. None of them is investing funds, training and equipment into the lives of our local cattle farmers, like the number one dairy company is doing in Iseyinland, Oyo State, and hoping to replicate in across Nigeria.

Government must improve power supply, defeat Boko Haram insurgency, curb the madness of ‘Fulani herdsmen’ that are murdering non-Fulani farmers, build enduring rail and road networks, and grant fiscal reliefs that would encourage multinationals to invest more meaningfully in dairy, and by extension, the agricultural sector.

Getting the federal government to do the above would be a more worthwhile task than discussing the correctness or otherwise of the 5% tariff on dairy imports. Until the local production of milk and other dairy products moves closer to the needs and demands of Nigerians, using import tariffs to further increase the price of alternative milk products that fill the demand gap can actually be a disservice to our massive millions.

Government needs to shift attention to our malnutrition challenges especially among children and our leaders must recognise that milk is a more budget-friendly and more complete ‘food’ to augment everyone’s diet, daily. Milk has everything you need in almost all food types.
Milk and dairy products are providers of calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and protein. Adequate consumption of milk from early childhood and throughout life will help make protect you against diseases like osteoporosis (a debilitating, brittle bone disorder) in later life.
To battle malnutrition, boost immunity and manage blood pressure, studies show that adults and children should drink enough milk daily along with portions of fruit and vegetables as part of a low salt diet.

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