To great fanfare, in 2004, 13 white farmers from Zimbabwe arrived in Kwara state, Nigeria at the invitation of the then Governor. Their arrival had been facilitated by the CFU and (apparently) the British embassy in Nigeria. They had been allocated around 200,000 ha of land in the ‘Shonga farms’ area, and had been feted as saviours of the agricultural sector in the state, and hailed as the source of ‘modern agriculture’ which would spread to others.
In addition to the land, they had been offered subsidised deals on inputs and they had unparalleled access to support through close political patronage. Although there was some local resistance, there was not huge displacement, and local people were offered promises of support, including a youth training programme for next-generation farmers. It looked like a good start. So what happened?
Joseph Ariyo and Mike Mortimore have been trying to find out, as part of a research project linked to the land theme of the Future Agricultures Consortium. They recently also reported on the ‘youth’ dimensions at the FAC conference in Accra (see also the African Affairs paper by Raufu Mustapha on the Kwara farmers which sets the story in a wider context).
The results are mixed. Some farmers have done well, while others have struggled. Employment has been created, with some 300-400 jobs being created, but the spread of commercial farming to surrounding areas has been limited. There have been some spill-over effects, with soybeans being taken up widely in neighbouring areas, and local pastoralists have gained from access to milk processing facilities. Gaining access to credit through the arcane Nigerian banking system has not been easy, and financing developments has been stalled. With the governor who originally invited them now replaced, the future looks rather more uncertain.
In a recent policy feedback meeting in the state capital, with senior government officials, the research team concluded that the experiment was worthwhile, and should be continued, but it was not replicable. If the Shonga experiment is to have a future – and indeed large-scale, ‘modern’ commercial agriculture more generally in the state, with or without white Zimbabwean support – then, in particular, the financial support system needs a dramatic improvement. Also, commercialised agriculture cannot operate without effective infrastructure – roads, electricity and so on – and this remains poor in the area. The Shonga farmers are not able to risk expansion of their cultivated areas beyond the current 50%, nor further investment under these circumstances.
The meeting concluded that such showcase projects may be helpful as demonstrations, and clearly they generate important political capital, but the investments made are not really justified by the returns. For the longer term, a focus on creating a new generation of commercial farmers among Nigerian youth was emphasised, perhaps drawing inspiration from their Zimbabwean neighbours, but not focusing so much effort (and public resources) on a small group of high-profile farms.