by Chido Makunike
Every few months there is some story about how white Zimbabweans whose farms were expropriated by the Mugabe government and moved to start over in Nigeria are faring.
The latest such article describes the continuing nostalgia of the Nigeria-based farmers for their homeland, even as they get more settled in their new farms.
The white farmers who settled in Nigeria after losing their livelihoods in Zimbabwe’s controversial land reforms still have their hearts set on going back home one day.
“If we could get a stable government, I don’t mind whether it is a (ruling) ZANU-PF or (opposition) MDC government — what we are interested in is a good, non-corrupt, unselfish government — we will all go back,” said Graham Hatty.
In Nigeria, the farmers are still bitter at the way the country has been run into the ground since the Mugabe launched the scheme in 2000 to take land from whites and turn it over to landless blacks.“It’s a tragedy, it’s the same as genocide. They did not go about randomly shooting people, but millions of people have had their future taken away from them,” said Hatty’s wife Judy, on their 1,000-hectare cassava farm in Shonga, Kwara state, some 400 kilometres northwest of Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos.
On a personal level they are relieved at the chance to pursue their careers, but say they are sad at not being able to produce for their own country. “But we are excited to be here, it’s been a life saver giving us something to do at our age after we had lost everything we ever had,” said Hatty, 69.
“I am just grateful for what I have,” said Hatty’s neighbour Pete du Toit, a poultry farmer who is setting up a 10,000-bird-a-day abattoir. “Zimbabwe is still home, always will be, but I want this project set up and running and (then I) will go back home. I am going to do my best for west Africa,” said du Toit, who farmed in Zimbabwe for 25 years.
“We miss Zimbabwe, that is our home and when we retire we will go back home,” said dairy farmer Dan Swart. “We will get our farms back and put managers there … and produce food again,” he said. “It’s depressing, there is no agriculture at home, it’s a disaster.”
Nigeria invited the farmers to set up shop in April 2005, five years after Zimbabwe’s land reforms. Three years down the line, the Kwara project is shaping up as an economic success story.
Hundreds of hectares are planted with the staple cassava plants while an on-site state-of-the-art dairy processing plant and a poultry abattoir are set to be operational within months.
Nigerian authorities have given them five years to be fully operational. But delays in securing long-term loans in a country previously perceived as high-risk due to decades of political uncertainty and military rule, has slowed down the pace.
“There is a bit of frustration, but we are happy with the progress given the circumstances,” said Olayinka Aje, the Kwara state governor’s special assistant on the project. But “the future looks bright, and bags (of grain) are coming in,” he added.
The one million residents of Shonga, initially apprehensive when some 400 families were relocated to make way for the venture, say the scheme is starting to bear fruits.
“Huge numbers of people have been employed… sooner or later we may need to import workers from other regions,” said Idris Mohammed, a local community leader of this district of about one million residents.
Said a farm worker who identified himself as Ndako: “Shonga has been put on the world map, families have salaries and can send children to school. Food prices have come down because of abundant supplies.”
The farmers say their aim is to help make Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation which imports roughly three billion dollars worth of food annually for its 140 million people, self sufficient in food production.
It was a smart move for Nigeria to invite these farmers to go and set up shop in that country. From this report it appears this is already proving to be a win-win partnership for the farmers and for Nigeria.
Mugabe’s style of land reform has so far been disastrous for Zimbabwe, even taking into consideration that allowances had to be made for production drops even under the best of scenarios for such a sweeping exercise. But so many other things have gone wrong in the economy that the effort has gone completely haywire.
Nigeria has also not done well in agriculture, coming nowhere near realising its immense farming potential. The very idea of a handful of farmers from Zimbabwe rescuing Nigerian agriculture reflects very poorly on Nigeria’s agricultural and economic planning over the decades that they have had to build a significant corps of local commercial farmers.
The years of military rule are as poor a reason for Nigeria having failed to do so as is Mugabe’s blaming drought over the years, or in the case of this year, excessive rains, for Zimbabwe’s agricultural failures.
Among the many lessons of Zimbabwe’s experience is the need to develop a model of agriculture that not only feeds the nation and contributes to wealth creation, but that is and is also seen to be contributing to social and political stability. For both Nigeria and Zimbabwe, the tough job of achieving this combination of requirements cannot happen when farming success is considered to be the preserve of a small racial minority, particularly given Zimbabwe’s racially charged history.
Both countries will have to more seriously work to develop a successful model of indigenous commercial agriculture in a way that they have so far failed to do.
Originally posted by CM on March 24, 2008 at zimreview.wordpress.com
Are displaced Zimbabweans really revolutionizing Nigerian farming?
What the experience of the less successful of Zimbabwean white farmers in Nigeria tells us about developing commercial agriculture
by Chido Makunike