One of the less-popular towns of Nigeria, Shonga, is gradually fast becoming a food hub in both Nigeria and Africa, thanks to white Zimbabwean farmers expelled by Robert Mugabe in early 2000.
During the heightened land ownership and race row in Zimbabwe that had since crippled the southern African country’s economy, the government of Kwara State in Nigeria banked on the opportunity to lure the displaced farmers to Shonga in what is now deemed a ‘success’ by observers.
“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. It was right from the grassroots and it was fun. We all lived in tents for a while,” said Irvin Reid, one of the Zimbabwean farmers.
Less than five years, the lands are now cultivable and both locals and farmers are now reaping the fruits of their labour.
Reid who was one of the 13 farmers invited to Nigeria after the land reform crisis in Zimbabwe now boasts of 300 Jersey cows producing milk in his diary farm. He also has a total of 800 cows imported from South Africa for cattle farms.
Garden of Eden
Huge tonnes of cassava, soya beans and maize are now harvested for local use and for export trade. “This is the Garden of Eden for us, everything grows here. It has been exciting coming here. I am doing what I love to do, which is to feed people, it is what I have done all my life,” said Graham Hatty, 70, who was famous in Zimbabwe for the winter wheat crop he grew. “It is quite ironic, I am here in Nigeria and I am told I am the biggest individual cassava grower in the country with 600 hectares of cassava in the ground,” he said.
But Zimbabwe, which was famously known as the food basket of the continent, is suffering a huge setback in its farming industry after a controversial land redistribution programme. John Worsley-Worswick of Justice for Agriculture, a Zimbabwean campaign group said “We are looking at the worst farming year ever this coming year … there is less arable land that is being prepared, less inputs available … Regardless of what sort of season we have, right from the onset it is destined to be a disaster.”
Meanwhile the government of Kwara state, which is making gains from the Zimbabwean disaster, says large-scale farming has increased food supply, brought new skills to local farmers and encouraged the awakening of new agricultural industries. Professor Mohammed Yisa, the state commissioner for Agriculture confirmed that an additional 15 commercial farms had been developed with the already existing 13 at Shonga and about 3,000 people had found jobs on the farms.
“We now have electricity, our health is improving because we have a new clinic and water, some of our sons and wives have found work on the farms,” said Zubairu Abubakar, 65, an elder of one of the 33 villages within the Shonga farms.
The government is also said to be investing a multi-million dollar terminal, which it claims will be the continent’s largest. “We are focusing on Shonga, they are producing large, so we are positioning ourselves to be able to move these large quantities of farm produce to anywhere in the world,” said Razak Atunwa, state commissioner for works and transport.
Nigeria’s food import is estimated at 3 billion naira annually, but the Kwara state government initiative will boost its food production and reduce imports. Investors from United States, South Korea and Kuwait are also in the state to put their money where their mouth is. A group from Syria is also said to be clearing about 600 hectares for poultry farm and a South African, David Higgings, recently joined the Shonga farms to manage the only Nigerian milk plant.
Just last week, the state in partnership with MedeQuip Medical Services, from the United States of America, commenced a 2.2 billion naira ultra-modern diagnostic centre in the Kwara state capital-Ilorin. It is aimed at providing cheaper healthcare delivery service for both its people and those from outside.