Zimbabwean farmers grow Nigeria's green revolution

Zimbabwean farmer Alan jack Alan Jack flew his dairy cows from South Africa to Nigeria

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Seven years ago a small group of Zimbabweans were invited to lead Nigeria's green revolution. Forced off their farms by Robert Mugabe's land reforms, this was their chance to start again.

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.

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. On paper at least it appeared a good match.

"People said you're crazy to go up there," Pete du Toit, one of the farmers says with a smile as he remembers the first discussions in 2004. "The impression we had of Nigeria at that stage was very bad. Crime, drugs, corruption."

Mr du Toit is now one of the Shonga Farm's success stories.

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It's been very, very tough”

End Quote Alan Jack Zimbabwean farmer

Each of the 13 men who travelled north were given 1,000 hectares near the Niger River to run as a separate business entity. Mr du Toit chose what has so far proved to be one of the more successful ventures - chickens.

Four hundred hectares of his land has been turned into fields of soya. It is then processed and used to fatten up chicks in two specially cooled henhouses. Nigeria's top supermarkets now buy his birds.

"By applying the right techniques and the right fertilizers I've got a very good farm, a very fertile farm," Mr du Toit says.

Not everyone has been so fortunate. As I catch up with Alan Jack he is deep in conversation with a representative from Shonga Farm.

Bankers blamed

Shonga Farm is the public-private partnership that has channelled investment to the 13 farmers from a group of Nigerian banks.

Zimbabwean farmer John Sawyer Farmer John Sawyer is facing bankruptcy in Nigeria

For the past two weeks a flood in Lagos has stopped the company that buys all of Mr Jack's milk sending a tanker. The discussion is about the mounting interest rates which the banks now insists Mr Jack pay if he wants more funds.

"It's been very, very tough," Mr Jack says. "But if we didn't think we'd be successful, and that the rewards would come later on, then we wouldn't do it."

Importing a dairy farm into Nigeria has been hugely expensive.

Each of the cows which Mr Jack shares with his son-in-law have been flown in from South Africa at a cost $4,000 (£2,400) each. That, coupled with higher running costs, means a pint of milk from this herd costs twice as much as it would in Zimbabwe.

"Nigeria's never really had agriculture in the last 40-odd years, so no-one really understands agriculture," he says. "Once we get up and started everything else will fall into place."

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 third group of farmers have tried to grow crops.

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They are all Africans and we feel that it doesn't matter where they're coming from”

End Quote Abdulfatah Ahmed Kwara State governor

I find the grey-bearded John Sawyer carrying out maintenance on the water pump that will transport water from the Niger River to his new pivot irrigation system. Having a pivot system means that as long as there is water in the river, crops can be grown all year round.

During the past few years Mr Sawyer has experimented with various different crops and has now decided that rice is the way forward.

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.

"We're still in the development stage so there's no profits to speak of," he says with a wry shake of the head. "But rice grows fantastically here. There's good yield potential and the price is very good."

Mr Sawyer said the farms' financing partners just had not understood the way agriculture worked, and that bankruptcy was now a possibility.

'No hairdressers, no shops'

The driving force behind the Shonga Farm project from the Nigerian side was former Kwara State governor Bukola Saraki.

For him the Zimbabwean farmers became a personal project, and he helped to ensure that they received electricity, roads and - crucially in Nigeria - a shortcut through the bureaucracy.

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Having served his two terms as governor, Mr Saraki is now a senator.

His successor Abdulfatah Ahmed brushes aside the farmers' concerns over funding and says he is convinced Shonga Farms is already a success story and a model for the rest of Nigeria.

"They are all Africans and we feel that it doesn't matter where they're coming from," he says.

"We could have brought in Koreans or Chinese. What matters is that they're bringing in expertise to transform our economy."

Mr Ahmed says Nigeria's central bank has recently changed lending terms to favour agriculture, and confidently predicts that over the next five years the country will take large steps to start feeding itself.

Back at Shonga Farms, while the men struggle to make a profit their wives are adjusting slowly to their new lives in rural Nigeria.

"Once a week we play four hours of bridge, have a bit of tea and a chinwag. And that really is the highlight of our social life here," Chrissy Crouch tells me during a break in the cards.

"The men work extremely hard so we haven't got any entertainment. No hairdressers, no shops to go to. Nothing like that."

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