Contributors – Drs Samuel Akpan and Kikiope Oluwarore
A few weeks ago, we discussed the thriving Livestock Farming in Nigeria and how the industry has been a source of livelihood and food security. We also explained the various types of macro-livestock animals including Poultry, Cattle, Sheep, Goats, and Pigs, giving details on the species commonly raised in Nigeria and their characteristics. In this article, we would delve into the less common yet equally important Micro-livestock industry.
Micro-livestock refers to small-sized animals that are raised for the purpose of food production. In Nigeria, they include animal species such as rabbits, snails, rodents (e.g, grasscutters), guinea pigs, as well as some edible insects (eg palm weevil larva, winged termites, and crickets). They are mostly reared in rural areas and used to be considered as a venture for lower-income and marginalized populations. However, over the last few years, there has been an increased uptake of micro-livestock farming by people in semi-urban and urban areas including learned professionals. This can be partly attributed to increased demand by people due to their meat being largely recommended as the healthier alternatives to red meat consumption.
Micro-livestock production is highly advantageous in several ways. They can be sourced locally and reared at very minimal costs. Farm inputs are inexpensive to purchase, and their feeds are readily available and affordable. Also, due to their smaller sizes, they have high productivity rates, yielding faster returns to the farmer. With prevailing health conditions associated with beef and other red meat consumption due to cholesterol levels, meat obtained from micro-livestock animals has been proven to be the safer alternative. Nature seems to endow them with white/lean meats, rich in essential nutrients and minerals.
The table below shows the protein and cholesterol levels of meat obtained from some micro-livestock animals compared with beef (Nigeria’s most popular meat source):
Source: Nistor et al.,(2013); Adu et al.,(2017).
We will now discuss 3 of the most common micro-livestock animals in Nigeria which are Snails, Rabbits, and Guinea Pigs
These molluscs love dark and moist places and lay very many eggs in the soil. Popular species in Nigeria are the African Giant Snails (Archachatina marginata, Achatina achatina and Achatina fulica). They can be raised in a wide variety of places (infact, anywhere), including tyres, wooden hutches/boxes, concrete slabs, and barricaded gardens. They feed on mostly vegetables and fruits, including farm wastes like overripe fruits and cabbage peels. Snails can also be fed occasionally with milled feed concentrates having requisite nutrient compositions. Table-sized snails are from 4-6 months and above, and breeder stock is better at 12-24 months of age. They are widely consumed in the southern part of Nigeria, especially the south-south, where seafoods are predominant due to proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. They are regarded as excellent food sources rich in protein, vitamins, and nutrients needed to live a healthy life and fight lifestyle diseases. For example, Science Daily reports that Ukpong Udofia, a researcher and nutritionist at the University of Uyo, posited that using snails to make meat pies instead of beef can help fight against nutritional iron and protein imbalances in school-age children.
Commonly referred to as “bush meat” in Nigeria, it is a popular delicacy and gaining wide acceptability as an alternative to red meat sources. The wild rodents can only be domesticated in concrete or metallic housing only to prevent them from escaping (their dentition is suited for cutting wood). They are best fed with grasses and sweet liquids such as palm wine and sugar cane (from which they are nicknamed as “Cane Rats”). Species in high demand are the Greater Cane Rat and the Lesser Cane Rat. They thrive in colonies of 5 (1 male: 4 females), and mature females can give birth to 4-10 offspring, twice a year.
These tender animals are highly nutritious, and best suited for domestication in clean environments. They can be fed on grasses and concentrates, as well as feed concentrates. One significant habit of rabbits is that they indulge in “coprophagy” (recycling and re-consumption of their fecal matter). This serves to ensure that nutrients and water which were not broken down the first time are recovered and utilized by the body. Like grasscutters, they also give birth to 4-10 offsprings at a time, but however, need good attention as they can be susceptible to diseases associated with their environment.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, over 40.1% of Nigerians are living below the poverty line. These particularly include women, children, and young people resident in rural and peri-urban communities who are often the most vulnerable to poor livelihoods, food insecurities, and malnutrition. Hence, they would highly benefit from strategic interventions that establish profitable micro-livestock farming in their communities. It is also important to note that it is easier to find the best environment for livestock production and natural low-costs locally-sourced inputs in these rural and often marginalized communities, which makes it even more convenient.
Therefore, key interventions would be to provide these populations with hands-on skills and training in any chosen micro-livestock venture of their choice, train them on the basics of animal welfare in livestock production and then provide them with the needed start-up resources which may include breeder stock and seed funding. Also, livestock extension officers and other experts with practical experience in micro-livestock systems should be engaged, to guide them from start to finish. On completion of each cycle, off-taking agreements should be signed with market leaders and other relevant agribusiness bodies, so that sales/marketing does not become an impediment. International food safety and environmental guidelines should also be followed to ensure that the products, as well as value chain, meet international export standards; to shore up Nigeria’s foreign exchange.
With these steps, nutritional deficiencies, poverty, and food insecurity can be reduced to the barest minimum in line with the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal 2 which is Zero Hunger for all by the year 2030.
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