Wednesday, February 09, 2005


White farmers - evicted from their farms in Zimbabwe during the country's controversial land redistribution policy - have just been given the all-clear to begin farming in Nigeria's western state of Kwara.
Governor Saraki has promised to help facilitate loans for the farmers. The invitation came from Kwara's state governor, Bukola Saraki, whose goal is to use the farmers to kick-start Nigeria's moribund agricultural sector.
"I had a tobacco farm in Zimbabwe employing around 450 people, but I was chased away two years ago," Dan Swart, a broad man in his late 50s, told me as he and four other white farmers discussed the boundaries of their new farms in a hotel bar. "Then we were given the offer to come to Nigeria." Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, but despite an abundance of fertile land, most of its food is imported - a legacy of years of corruption and misrule.
"Our farming sector is largely driven by peasant farming. And small family groups don't have the capital for mechanised farming or the ability to raise credit from banks.We need to have commercial farmers to do that," Governor Saraki said. "We thought: 'Those are farmers. Zimbabwe doesn't want them. I'm sure they'd rather stay in Africa than go somewhere else'.
"So we sent someone to talk to them."
The plan is to have 15 Zimbabweans moving to Kwara this month. They will initially live in the bush in tents while they build their homes. Then, as the months progress, more farmers and their families should fly out. Within a decade, as many as 100 farmers could be based in Kwara.
"I hope... in about 10 years' time our airport will be busy and young chaps coming out of university will think about going into farming," said Mr Saraki. "Banks will invest in the agricultural sector. And Kwara will be the backbone for Nigeria's agricultural drive."


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