To curtail the incessant problem of farmlands destruction and conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farm owners, a solid arrangement should be put in place, to ensure an all-year-round feed availability for ruminant animals, particularly, the nomads during the dry season. A Professor of Pasture Agronomy, Production, Conservation and Utilisation in the Department of Pasture and Range Management, College of Animal Science and Livestock Production (COLANIM) of the University, Professor Alaba Jolaosho, has stated this while disclosing her research findings bordering on the problems of production, conservation and feed availability to the pastoralists.
According to Professor Jolaosho, seasonal changes and environmental differences affect the availability and quality of feeds, saying that during the raining season, there are always excess forages to the extent that they become a nuisance but in the dry season, there are limited quantities, leading to scarcity of feeds, thereby causing damage to people’s farmlands, noting that the longer is the dry season, the more limited the quantity. She observed that the location of the pastures varied with the type of trees, grasses and legumes, adding that the northern part of Nigeria is drier with longer dry season, does not have much trees and tall bunch - forming grasses like Pennisetum purpureum (elephant grass), Panicum maximum (guinea grass), making the pastoralists to move about during the dry season towards the southern part of the country.
However, during the raining season they move back north or some stay over and those that are not Nigerians move back to their countries, saying that in the tropics, we have two broad seasons; basically separated by the availability of water through rainfall with two peaks of rainy season in the South and one peak in the North, which is the major cause of the problem of shortage of water and this affects the production of feeds. For example, maize can be produced four times a year because of the short growing period, but because of lack of enough water, it is not possible except with the use of irrigation or grown in areas with low water table in the South.
She noted that there should be a way of preserving the excess feeds all through the dry season. The Don stressed the need to have regular high quality feeds at low cost had led to research on forage conservation. The Professor of Pasture Production, Conservation and Utilisation defined conservation as the process of keeping excess forage when the nutritive value is high from when it is low. It also involves having a year-round-feed for animals without moving about, adding that the aim was to produce at low cost, a stable product that is suitable for animal feeding with minimum loss of nutritive value, saying that when forage are conserved, deterioration due to internal chemical changes and external microbial actions of the cut herbage are prevented. The conserved forage can be taken to wherever the pastoralists are to avoid the stress of moving about and the environmental hazards including communal clashes, she said.
The Don added that the methods of conservation can be grouped into two forms which are the dry form and the wet form. The dry form can be Bush Foggage, Standing Hay, Cut and Preserved Hay, noting that in the case of Bush Foggage and Standing Hay, they are conserved in situ by leaving the excess herbage and browse plants as standing vegetation in the grazing area. But the difference between the two is that for Standing Hay, herbaceous legume is rich in crude protein, especially the use of Stylosanthes humilis (Townsville stylo) are allowed to “hay off”. According to her, the plants are left to produce seeds and dry up in situ, while retaining crude protein of about 12 per cent until the first rain of the wet season. Professor Jolaosho noted that high quality hay can be produced from grasses by cutting, drying and storing in hay barns. “Preserved grass and /or legume in form of hay can be defined as forage that is dried to retain most of the nutrients without the deterioration of the dry matter by its natural green colour, palatability and be capable of being stored over a long period of time, adding that some of the ways to produce this quality hay is to dry the plants naturally using the sunlight or air dry mechanically, but in this University, there has been experiments on use of hay balers and polythene bags. In the case of hay balers, the top loading (vertical) and side loading (horizontal) were designed and used. For the polythene bags, white and black polythene covering on tripod stands were developed with black polythene and is more useful in preventing rain water from entering during unexpected rainfall and black materials trap more sunlight than whitish materials. The University Don disclosed that the time of harvesting matters a lot in the production of hay, adding that they should be harvested at the early flowering stage, because at late flowering and seed production stage, plants transport all the food they produce to the reproductive area, which has implication on the nutrients in the other areas of the plant, noting that the weather conditions should also be considered while making hay hence the statement “make hay while sunshine”, she stated.
She noted that when harvesting forage plants, there must be consideration for retention of enough structural carbohydrate for regrowth as well as quality of the herbage hence, harvesting is done for conservation, mostly between six to eight weeks of growth, stating that while processing the hay, care should be taken to avoid deterioration in feed value and quality because the feeds would be respiring, noting further that they should not be left under direct sunlight, to avoid bleaching and direct contact with the ground. According to her, if the hay is well prepared, the crude protein will be as high as four to 10 per cent and the digestible protein will be between one to six per cent for grass hay and the legumes would get crude protein of about 11 per cent and digestible protein between seven and 13 per cent.
Speaking further, she said that forage can also be conserved in the wet form as silage. The Professor defined silage as the moist, succulent feed produced as a result of controlled fermentation of fresh forage under anaerobic condition, adding that there are some plants that are good for silage such as maize, grass/legume mixture, sorghum, millet and tall while bunch-forming or turfed grasses like elephant grass are better than creeping, sward-forming grasses like Brachiaria decumbens (signal grass). She noted that the containers for silage range from sophisticated and expensive vertical silos to the simple, inexpensive ones that are commonly used by farmers all over the world such as bags, trenches, plastic drums, bunkers and pit silos, adding that whichever container was used, the herbage must be chopped, wilted, compacted and made air tight.
Professor Jolaosho observed that excessive amount of air causes spoilage and increases population of Clostridia, which is poisonous to the animals, adding that heavy losses could occur when consolidation is poor, like when the silo is not properly sealed. Losses due to respiration during wilting would be about two per cent/day and if it rained, there may be loss due to leaching. The Professor stated that respiration in the silo continues until the acidity level increased up to pH 4.2, which is the level to inactivate the plant enzymes or when the supply of oxygen is exhausted. She added that to make proper silage, activities like harvesting time, storage equipment, handling, and proper compaction, careful sealing, and mechanical treatment like chopping and laceration of herbage are very important for good silage.
She added that additives were used to improve silage preservation by ensuring that lactic acid bacteria predominate the fermentation phase. The Professor of Pasture Agronomy said that she went into this research in order to contribute her quota towards achieving all-year-round feed availability for pastoralists in the country, adding that the way these animals roam around was not good enough, as they contribute to causing road accidents with the resultant effect of national calamity that are imminent if something was not done urgently. She noted that if one sets fire on grasses even in the peak of the dry season, it would grow back and this fact elicited her interest in the first place in Pasture Agronomy, from the first encounter of the course, as an undergraduate student. Highlighting some of the benefits of this research, Professor Jolaosho said that the outcome of her research would help reduce the Fulani herdsmen and communal clashes. Grasses, known as early colonizers, would be used to curb oil spillage problems in the Niger Delta, adding that with enough forage in place, Nigeria’s problems on most environmental issues would be minimised and with time, we can arrive at peaceful coexistence, as she suggested that an Institute for Grassland Research should be established in the country. This will allow long term holistic, collaborative, economic and socio-cultural research that would focus on solving the problems of the people.
Speaking on the challenges that had come her way and the remedies, she called on the government to work with researchers and institutions, to avoid research findings gathering dusts on shelves, by providing a conducive environment for researchers to work, in order to achieve the desired results, noting that they (researchers) lack the needed equipment to work with, such as combined harvester, forage chopper-blower and seed storage equipment. She called on the University Management to enlarge its scope and employ adequate staff, preferably, among the students, since they have been trained, adding that her Department should be upgraded into an Institute so as to serve them better.
The award-winning Professor, whose research work spanned more than 25 years, advised individual researchers to collaborate with each other while universities should link up with industries, saying there should be link between education at all levels, adding that the necessary things needed in the departments like laboratories should be refurbished. She stated further that funds should be allocated according to the needs of the various universities’ departments, noting that the level at which research was operating in Nigeria does not seem to encourage researchers.
Professor Jolaosho further stressed the need for Farmers’ Forum, which could be held monthly, quarterly or annually in order to create a platform to discuss existing problems and the way forward in agriculture. She further advised upcoming researchers to be upright and hardworking without depending on any godfather. She charged them to collaborate with each other in carrying out problem-solving research, more focus on academic breakthroughs and warned against the negative influence of religion and ethnicity that tend to divide researchers rather than bringing them together.