Zimbabwean farmers and Nigerian Agriculture (Part 1)

Agriculture in colonial Nigeria was dominated by smallholder peasants. Though this sector was the motor for the economy, very little was done to improve peasant productivity.

Efforts by Nigerian governments in the 1950s and 1960s to bring ‘development’ to rural areas through the establishment of agricultural settlements, cooperatives, and farming schools did not impact greatly on peasant productivity 

Instead, the marketing board system was used to transfer peasant resources to the state. From 1970, public finance was increasingly based on returns from petroleum. The mid-1970s saw concerted efforts by Nigerian governments to invest in improved agricultural productivity.

Irrigation projects, river basin development projects, agricultural development schemes took centre stage in state intervention in agriculture. These schemes failed to modernize peasant agriculture. The Zimbabwean farmers arrived in Nigeria against the background of the previous failure to modernize agriculture and the turn to the private sector.

From 2000 the Zimbabwean government embarked on fast-track land occupations.  By 2002 the vast majority of the 4500 white commercial farmers were forced off the land. Some of these white Zimbabwean farmers turned up in Shonga, in Kwara State of Nigeria. 

There has been a torrent of journalistic accounts on the success of the Zimbabwean farmers in transplanting commercial agriculture to Nigeria. Under titles like ‘White Zimbabweans Bring Change to Nigeria’, ‘White Zimbabwean farmers highlight Nigeria’s agricultural failures’, and ‘White farmers from Zimbabwe bring prosperity to Nigeria’. The impression is created of a massive transformation based on the ingenuity of the Zimbabwean farmers and without any support from Nigerian governments. But is this really so? 

The terms of the MOU which the Kwara State government signed with the Zimbabwean farmers, and developments surrounding the establishment of the farms, paint a different picture. It committed the State government to the provision of a series of services crucial for the development of the commercial farms.

Crucially, it committed the government to provide land. The government undertook to clear choice land of the indigenous users right next to the River Niger.  1289 local farmers in 28 communities were uprooted from their farms to make way for the Zimbabwean farmers. The state set aside a total of N77m (US$513,333) as compensation for the displaced local farmers.  Each of the initial 13 Zimbabwean farmers received a 25-year lease of 1000 hectares.

The state’s instrumentalist use of compensation and ‘agricultural packages’ (bicycles -720 were distributed – , fertilizers, seed etc.) and the provision of long sought after communal infrastructure like electricity and additional classrooms in local schools helped to defuse local protests.  Still, in 2009, local leaders of Governor Saraki’s Peoples’ Democratic Party complained that ‘people were paid meager sum of money for the seizure of their land. …This is very unfair and we are just keeping quiet because we cannot fight the government.’

The MOU also stipulated that the government must provide sundry facilities and amenities for the Zimbabwean farmers. The government  invested over N400 million (US$2.6m) on roads, housing and electricity. 600 kilometers of farm roads, 16 electricity transformers for the grid, and many bore holes were provided. Each farmer received a bungalow of up to 2,500 square feet, complete with a generator, storage sheds, and fencing for farmland. N870 million [US$5.8m] was spent on irrigation by the Federal government while N1 billion [US$6.6m] was provided for electrification.

The MOU stipulated that the Zimbabwean farms should get 90% of their labour from the local community. According to a Nigerian journalist who visited Shonga in 2006, the local community viewed ‘the payment of N250 (US$1.7) daily to their brethren who work on the white farms, without any other additional benefits, as enslavement’.

In 2009, local employees working on the farms complained to the State government about poor wages and conditions and the paternalistic attitude of some of the Zimbabwean farmers. The State government mobilized the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Labour, and the Emir of Shonga to restore peace. Shonga Farms currently employ 315 permanent Nigerian staff, 35 expatriates, and about 6000 seasonal workers. 

•Culled from the West Africa Insight Newsletter, A publication of the Centre for Democracy and Development

www.westafricainsight.org

•To be concluded tomorrow