Kwara State’s cassava gets a Sub-Saharan stimulus

Zimbabwe’s loss is Nigeria’s Gain

Bringing White Zimbabwean farmers to Nigeria was the brainchild of State Governor Bukola Saraki. His far-sighted and ambitious initiative was clearly controversial at the time, but has subsequently proved highly successful and ground-breaking as a template for the rest of Nigeria. The initiative has its roots in a 2004 pilot scheme called ‘Back to the Land’ and part of a federal government initiative to kick-start agriculture. Land was cleared and key inputs including fertilizers and pesticides were provided to local Nigerian farmers, all at state expense, to haul them out of subsistence and small-scale production and into commercial farming.

Despite the subsidised resources and inputs the scheme failed from a dearth of technical expertise and a lack of real stakeholder incentive. Governor Saraki realised that without dramatic increases in technical capability and capacity, and moves to ensure the farmers had as much at stake as the financiers, impact and change were nigh on impossible.  

So what about the project and the farmers who travelled thousands of miles from one end of Africa to the other to make it successful? Five years on Shonga Farms now operates a range of arable crop, poultry and dairy enterprises but cassava is the crop that has captured the imagination locally, nationally and internationally by sheer acceleration in yield and production. Mechanisation both on and off the land in production and processing is delivering one of Africa’s classic subsistence crops into a high volume energy crop set to satisfy demands of food, feed and industrial products including bioethanol.

Five years on Graham Hatty one of the 13 White Zimbabwean farmers who set up in Shonga in 2005 is already selling more than 60 tonnes of fresh cassava root tubers per day to Nigerian Starch Mills which is building a processing factory in Kwara

Judy Hatty arrived with her husband Graham, traumatised by the loss of their home and a reluctant pioneer since both were in their 60s. "Nigeria is a high risk - I said I'm too old for this, but my husband said high risk, high gain. I say it is worth it now, but if you had asked me earlier I would have said no," she told the BBC.

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