A slightly more balanced article about transplanted Zimbabwean farmers' challenges in Nigeria

Aug 31, 2011

There is yet another article, this time on the BBC, tracking the progress of the white Zimbabwean farmers who were invited to setup shop by a regional government in Nigeria.While most such article have depicted the handful of Zim farmers as almost miracle workers suddenly transforming Nigerian agriculture while the locals look on expectantly and helplessly, this one is a little bit more honest about the great challenges the farmers face in their new environment.

"The offer from the west Nigerian state of Kwara was an attractive one. Fertile land, generous loans and political backing in return for their expertise."

That's fine but sorry, 'The Zimbabweans needed work and the Nigerians wanted to show that Africa's economic giant could move from importing almost all of its food to feeding itself' would have perhaps 'appeared a good match' if it was not a mere 13 farmers that were involved!

In a country of an estimated 160 million people, the Kwara experiment with a dozen Zimbabwean farmers was never going to be anything more than a small boutique operation in terms of the country's agriculture, even if it was a chance at redemption and a welcome second opportunity for the farmers. These few Zimbabwean farmers were never going to transform Nigeria's agriculture, partly because of their number relative to the problem, and significantly because true transformation of the country's agriculture will have to primarily involve Nigerians, not foreigners recruited from thousands of kilometers away.

Articles about the Zimbabwe farmers in Kwara have tended to be all glowing. This one gives the example of
Pete du Toit, who on his 1000 hectares allocation "chose what has so far proved to be one of the more successful ventures - chickens." But it also mentions Alan Jack, a dairy farmer who fears bankruptcy over high running costs and the reluctance of the consortium of banks supporting the farmers to give him more money, amidst rising interest on what he already owns. Thing are tough for him but he still hopes they will pay off in the long run. "Mr Jack has not given up hope of making money, but says to do so he needs to double the amount of milk he produces," the BBC reports.

John Sawyer has experimented with various crops but has now settled on growing rice. Says the BBC, "As with the dairy farmers, finance is a huge problem. Having loaned him the money to buy and install two pivots he says the banks do not want to give the funds for seeds. He said the farms' financing partners just had not understood the way agriculture worked, and that bankruptcy was now a possibility."

In other words, the mixed experiences of the Zim farmers in Nigeria turning out to be much like those of farmers everywhere, with the possible exception that 'farmers everywhere' don't enjoy the huge and varied kinds of support the Kwara state authorities have mobilized for these farmers to try and make this experiment work.

A huge hole that consistently appears in these reports about 'Zimbabwean farmers in Nigeria' is that they almost only mention the promising ones in Kwara, and almost never the ones in the state of Nassarawa, who are said to be not doing so well, apparently at least partly because they have not received the same levels of support as their Kwara counterparts.

Contrasting the relative success of the Zimbabwe farmers in Kwara with the reported hardships of those in Nassawara would be much more honest, holistic reporting. It would also be more helpful to Nigeria to analyze the lessons of the two experiments to identify the key factors for success. But one suspects that this is not the key aim of these articles about the Zimbabwe miracle worker farmers that are busy transforming undeveloped Nigerian agriculture! One sometimes almost gets the impression that apart from the 13 Zimbabwean farmers who have come to Kwara, no one else in Nigeria grows anything.

That is absurd of course. But the point is that the exclusive focus on the Kwara farmers rather than also on the Nassawara farmers may be part of making various points that might be hard and awkward to make if it is pointed out that under different conditions of support, two similar groups of farmers can have very different results. Also, if and when Zimbabwe is able to support its new farmers the way Rhodesia once did to make farmers like those mentioned here successful, and that the Kwara government is doing for them now, then it is possible to imagine a revived commercial agriculture for the country.  

In other words, it is not the whiteness of the Kwara farmers that has made them do relatively well, but a combination of their experience combined with massive support from the state government. Same experience but no similar support in Nassawara, and the results are not as happy.

Who wants to spoil a feel good story by mentioning all these un-necessary details of these contrasting experiences of the two groups of relocated Zimbabwean farmers? Not the BBC.


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