Obasanjo welcomes Mugabe’s castaway farmers

Augustine Mukaro

DISPLACED Zimbabwean commercial farmers have found a new base in Nigeria’s Kwara State following an invitation to resuscitate commercial agriculture in that country by President Olusegun Oba

sanjo.



A team of six Zimbabwean farmers returned from Nigeria last week after a week-long visit to investigate the potential for commercial agriculture. The team visited Kwara State in western Nigeria at the invitation of state governor, Dr Bukola Saraki.



Zimbabwean farmers have also been to other countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Mozambique.


In Nigeria the farmers were welcomed at State House in Abuja by President Obasanjo who said he wanted to see Zimbabwe’s agricultural skills remain in Africa rather than be lost elsewhere.


The farmers however made it clear to Obasanjo that they would not accept expropriated land after their experiences in Zimbabwe.


Team leader, Alan Jack of the Commercial Farmers Union, said he would be returning to Nigeria towards the end of this month for further discussions and a look into irrigation potential and availability of finance.


Nigeria’s farms have been largely neglected since oil was discovered 40 years ago, and 98% of all consumables, especially food, are imported.


The Nigerian government is understood to be eager to resuscitate commercial agriculture to reduce the import bill.


“Recognising its lack of skills in commercial agriculture, the Nigerian government has turned to Zimbabwe’s proven expertise,” Jack said.


Kwara State is slightly smaller than Zimbabwe, and there are vast tracts of unutilised land which would be suitable for production of crops such as sugar cane, rice and tropical fruits.


“During the tour we looked at several existing agricultural projects, starting with more than 20 000 hectares of derelict sugar estates on the Niger River, which have the potential for enormous production and an unused sugar mill,” Jack said.


“We were taken to a rice growing area, where rice is currently grown in paddy fields, but ideally should be grown under overhead irrigation. We also visited a tobacco growing area,” he said.


Nigeria produces 300 000kg of tobacco annually. The crop is bought by one of the two processors in the country. Most of the tobacco consumed in the country of 130 million people is imported. It is however understood government has introduced a ban on the importation of tobacco with effect from the end of 2005 to encourage local production.


“Because of the high temperatures and low altitude in the state, we were not confident that high yields could be obtained. However, there was still potential,” Jack said.


“We were also shown a few small cashew plantations. The trees fare well there but the marketing structure for the nuts is not well established and could be developed,” he said.


Jack said that since his team had a representative from the dairy industry the farmers also visited a dairy farm where 108 cows are milked and the milk is processed on the farm and sold in the surrounding towns.

Nigeria generally has only powdered milk which it imports. There is no fresh milk available.


“The government spends US$300m annually on importing milk products in powder form, and was very keen to see the establishment of a dairy industry in the country,” Jack said.


He said there is also very little poultry production in Nigeria, with imports of chicken amounting to US$750 million annually. By 2007 there will be a ban on the importation of poultry products.


“However, because no maize is grown in the country, the availability of stockfeed is a problem, and any development of both a dairy and poultry industry will have to run hand in hand with the growing of stockfeed,” he said.


Jack said Dr Saraki expressed an interest in the development of an export horticultural industry in his state. The state airport is currently being upgraded to handle cargo, and flight times to the markets in Europe are only five hours.


Jack said in addition to the huge potential in crop production, there is also a tremendous need for research and development in areas such as maize and tobacco varieties, which are suitable to the climate.