African business, politics and lifestyle
Zimbabwe farmers turn to Nigeria
When white Zimbabwean farmer Irvin Reid arrived in Nigeria almost five years ago, he was given a set of grid references in the remote bush and told to find water and build a new farm.
His dairy farm now has 300 Jersey cows, some of among 800 imported from South Africa to start cattle farms in the region.
It’s a sharp contrast to things back in Zimbabwe, where campaigners say farmers face their worst year ever.
Reid was one of 13 white farmers invited with their families to Nigeria in 2005 after land seizures in Zimbabwe — which President Robert Mugabe says are necessary to correct the legacy of colonialism — stripped them of their livelihoods.
Farmers from South Korea, Kuwait and the United States have also arrived in Kwara state, which is keen to attract more investors and help Nigeria end its import reliance.
Hoping Zimbabwe’s loss might be its gain, Nigeria gave each farmer 1,000 hectares of land under a 25-year renewable lease in Shonga, the hub of the state’s commercial agriculture project.
Less than five years on, 80 percent of the land is under cultivation and the farmers have asked for more.
“We arrived to virgin bush. We were basically just given GPS points, told to mark them out, clear the bush and find water, build the house, build the sheds, and import cattle,” Reid said.
“It was right from the grassroots and it was fun. We all lived in tents for a while,” he told Reuters Africa Journal.
Hundreds of tonnes of cassava, maize and soya beans are harvested for both local consumption and export markets.
Residents of Shonga were initially apprehensive when the Zimbabwe farmers first arrived. But that has changed.
Local government officials say the large-scale farming has increased local food supply, brought new skills to local farmers and triggered the emergence of new agricultural industries.
Kwara state’s commissioner of agriculture said 15 new commercial farms had been developed in addition to the 13 at Shonga and that 3,000-4,000 people had found work in the Shonga farms alone.
Nigeria’s agricultural sector has taken a back seat since the country started producing oil more than five decades ago.
The Shonga farms are jointly financed by Nigerian banks, but, with the global credit crunch forcing banks to tighten their lending criteria, access to long-term funds has been difficult.
Nigeria has set aside 200 billion naira to aid commercial farming although the funds have not been forthcoming, slowing down work and potentially affecting next year’s crop.
But the problems have not deterred other investors from streaming into Kwara. One group from Syria is clearing 600 hectares for poultry farming alone.