Nothing like chicken feed:Why commercial farming in Nigeria is so hard……Economist

SEVEN years after 18 white Zimbabwean farmers settled on a chunk of land in Nasawara state at the invitation of the then governor, only one family is still there. All the others have given up in despair. Bruce Spain, aged 35, and his father Colin, 66, together with their doughty wives and a pair of toddlers, are hanging on—but only just.

On flat, dry scrubland two hours’ drive east of Abuja, the capital, the Spains and their Zimbabwean compatriots have experimented with a variety of farming enterprises. But crop yields were dismal, mainly due to poor-quality seed and fertiliser. Spares were hard to get when machinery broke down. The Spains’ last hope is a factory that churns out chicken feed. “Until good seed is available and the theft factor is dealt with there will be very little commercial farming in Nigeria,” says the older Mr Spain.

The litany of problems seems endless. “There’s just no organised marketing here,” says the younger Mr Spain. “No marketing boards, nothing—in Nigeria you’re on your own. In Zimbabwe you knew what your pre-planting price was—and the government guaranteed to buy what you grew. There are no support structures…In Zimbabwe you’d send a soil sample to the fertiliser company and they’d tell you what sort would be best. There’s nothing like that here.”

The Spains have no mains electricity, no piped water, no land-line, no trained labour force, no one handy with basic accountancy, no available research facilities, no easy access to agricultural data. Roads are lousy. Theft is endemic.

The biggest initial headache was persuading a bank to make a long-term loan at less than 20% interest. And when a bank did agree, the money might not come through. “It was always next week, then next week,” says the younger Mr Spain. “That’s the general story in Nigeria.” For two of their first five years they did no farming, due to the lack of bank finance. “You always need contacts,” he sighs. “Corruption can be helpful,” he chuckles. “At least it means if you want something done you can get it done—instantly.”

The older Spains, resilient as ever, have built a neat single-storey house surrounded by a tall electric fence on a rocky outcrop. It is reminiscent of Zimbabwe, where their farm was confiscated; during the guerrilla war, before independence in 1980, their homestead had been burned down. Here in Nigeria, in the searing heat, they sleep peacefully on the veranda under a mosquito net. “We get malaria between three and six times a year.” It seems the least of their worries.

2 Comments

  1. The really pathetic bit is the comparism with Zimbabwe, the article makes Zimbabwe seem light years away from Nigeria. God help us.

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