Interview with Zim farmers in Nigeria

In 2004 a group of Zimbabwean farmers, who lost their farms as part of Zimbabwe’s land reforms, were invited by the Kwara State Government to relocate to Nigeria and start with commercial agriculture in the state. Based near the town of Shonga, the group focuses on crop cultivation, dairy and poultry. Jaco Maritz caught up with Graham and Judy Hatty to find out how things are going.

Graham Hatty

Graham Hatty

Give us an overview of the current situation at your farm?

At present we have 400 hectares of cassava in the land, growing well due to recent rains. We now also have six boreholes in place, plus a holding dam.

Irrigation is key to our project but there have been many delays in this area.

The promise of a constant electricity supply has not yet materialised, although there are many electrical poles and wires on our farm.

Finance is also still a problem. We battle to get the financial institutions to understand the concept of short-, medium- and long-term loans and the real need to have finance before the rainy season starts. We are geared up to plant another 300 hectares in 2010 and just need the finance to do it.

Any new developments at the farms of the other Zimbabwean farmers?

The poultry syndicate has made good progress. The first chickens have grown out and are ready for slaughter. There were, however, some losses due to a number of sub-standard day old chicks that were stressed during transportation to our farms. The abattoir is also ready to be fired up and the feed shed is complete. So the poultry enterprise is now ready to roll.

There have been huge delays with finances and constant problems with the importation of machinery, which is why it has taken five years of continuous effort to get to this point.

Some of the dairy farmers have experienced deaths of livestock, mainly due to the lack of superior feed. However, some excellent yoghurt is now being produced, plus fresh and long-life milk products.

Cassava tubers loaded onto a truck

Cassava tubers loaded onto a truck

The dairy syndicate also had problems with their processing plant. They have now employed a full time manager to address this.

How would you describe the current state of Nigeria’s agriculture sector? Is progress being made towards commercialisation?

Nigeria has the will to embrace commercial agriculture but the banking sector does not understand the concepts of short-, medium- and long-term loans. This is a big hurdle, which needs to be addressed if commercial agriculture is to become a reality.

Another big problem is the erratic electricity supply in Nigeria.

Are your cassava tubers consumed in the local market, or exported?

Around 90% of our cassava is sent to Nigerian Starch Mills, who collect the fresh tubers on the farm. The rest of the tubers go to local consumers. There is a huge market for fresh cassava tuber, plus cassava flour, starch, etc. Cassava grows very well in our area and is a relatively trouble free crop to grow.

There is currently a lot interest in Nigeria’s agriculture sector from all over the world. How would you advise prospective investors to first enter the Nigerian market?

As many agricultural projects fail in Nigeria, great care should be taken to make sure that whatever is needed to set up a project is actually available and not just talked about. Nigerian institutions are good at talk, without action. There is still much ignorance as commercial agriculture is largely an unknown concept.

Much money is wasted on unnecessary red tape and agricultural institutions have little knowledge of successful projects, as they are very few and far between. Great patience is necessary and an attitude of tenacity required.

Workers at the Hatty farm

Workers at the Hatty farm

There is still a culture of corruption in Nigeria and often monies allocated to various projects never reach those designated projects. Investors need to be wise and cautious.

Having said the above, there are tremendous opportunities to set up agricultural enterprises within Nigeria. I’m sure that where there is a genuine will, there will be a way.

With relatively little effort, Nigeria could be the California of Africa. It is a ‘garden of Eden’ with regard to climate and soil quality but irrigation is necessary in most areas of the country, other than in the southern parts where there is very high rainfall.

What challenges are the Shonga farmers still facing?

The Shonga commercial farmers need skilled labourers. The current labourers are being trained, but it is taking time. We also need skilled tradesmen to service and repair our equipment, plus well trained electricians,

The arrival of the new forage harvester

The arrival of the new forage harvester

builders and plumbers.

We also need a constant electrical supply because generators are very expensive to run.

In addition the farmers need reliable financial assistance, as much time is wasted waiting for finance.

Most of all we need irrigation to maximise our yields and in order to grow two crops on the same piece of ground every year. Cassava is an exception, as it is an annual crop, but effective irrigation could quadruple the yields.

Last time we spoke you said you wanted to invent a cassava forage harvester to cope with the huge vegetative mass that stems from the tubers. Any progress on that?

We have bought a forage harvester that does cope with cassava. However, we are awaiting some additional ‘cones’, which will assist with the free feeding of the green mass into the machine. These are coming from Germany and should be ready soon.