Lagos - A group of 15 white Zimbabweans fleeing President Robert Mugabe's controversial programme of land reform have struck a deal with Nigerian officials to lease new farms, the group's leader said Wednesday.
Alan Jack said the farmers had each reached a deal with the government of central Nigeria's Kwara State to take separate 25-year leases on 1 000 hectare packets of fertile land and now hoped to start work in September.
"We are very excited about Nigeria and about being granted a pioneer status. The people are very friendly," he said in a telephone interview from his hotel room in Ilorin, capital of Kwara State.
"Nigeria is very good for farming, compared to Zimbabwe where land is forcefully taken from the whites and given to the blacks. I am a victim of President Mugabe's policy," he said.
The 15, who are currently visiting Nigeria, will farm maize, rice, cassava, dairy cattle, poultry and vegetables.
Nigerian officials said they hoped the Zimbabweans' expertise in commercial farming, and the investment they will bring, will allow them to boost maize yields, for example, from one tonne to between four and ten per hectare.
Kwara government spokesperson Tajudeen Kareem said in a statement that the group had met Governor Bukola Saraki on Tuesday and agreed to join him in making "a bold attempt at attaining food security and fighting rural poverty."
Thousands of white Zimbabweans driven from their homes
Thousands of white Zimbabweans, the descendants of colonial-era European settlers, have been driven from their farms since Mugabe instituted a policy of seizing and redistributing prime agricultural land to poor blacks.
Several other African countries, including Zambia and Mozambique, have seen an opportunity to benefit from the Zimbabweans' expertise, but Jack's group are the first to choose Nigeria, a country notorious for violence and corruption.
Saraki has, however, insisted that not only will his new guests be able to make a good living, but that the development that their large-scale farms will bring to rural Nigeria's peasant economy will help the population as a whole.
At least 90% of the manpower on the farms will be recruited locally and the farmers will be expected to buy as much seed, fertiliser and equipment as they can from Kwara and Nigerian suppliers, the statement said.
A community trust fund, run jointly by local stakeholders, will be established to build social facilities and infrastructure for the welfare of the host communities, according to the text of the deal.
The fund will be financed by a special levy fixed at one percent of the farmers' gross turnover, and a school to help transfer skills and technology to local entrepreneurs will also be established.
"We are convinced that Africa can only achieve sustainable development by first achieving food security," Saraki said.
The governor assured the Zimbabweans that government would protect their safety and their livelihoods.
"We shall protect you and your investment. We also expect you to give your best to this project," added Saraki.
The Zimbabweans, who are on their third visit to Nigeria, plan to return home on Friday before returning to Nigeria next month, Jack said.
- News 24