The Policy Engagement Meeting noted the government’s appreciation of the enormous agricultural potential of Kwara State, Nigeria. It highlighted the requirements of commercial agriculture and the imperative of state support, especially in the areas of access to land with secure tenure and credit.
The meeting recognised the following three programmes by which the state has matched word with action to demonstrate its commitment to modernise agriculture:
- Establishment of Shonga Farms with enormous financial and political support from the state
- The youth empowerment programme to create young farmers to succeed the ageing farming population
- Creative management of resistance to land appropriation for large scale commercial farming: no villages were affected; no-one had to move residence; a ‘buffer zone’ of 500 metre radius preserved the rights of local cultivators; and payment of compensation in cash and kind, beyond what the Land Use Act stipulates.
It was observed at the meeting that Shonga Farms, the flagship of Kwara State agricultural modernisation drive, though not yet fully developed, have started to produce the following major impacts:
- Employment creation (from 300 – 4000 jobs, depending on the season)
- Informal shared-learning and technology transfer
– Shonga commercial farmers are instrumental to widespread adoption of soybean cultivation and some crop and weed management methods among local farmers.
– Shonga dairy farmers are also cooperating with local pastoralists to improve local breed of cattle.
- Provision of new infrastructures and/or upgrading of existing ones in local communities (part of the measures to manage local resistance to the project)
- Market for local milk: Shonga Dairies, a milk processing plant jointly run by the dairy farmers, buys milk from local pastoralists on a daily basis and at a good price.
State officials present at the meeting expressed their appreciation of the mode of our presentation – laying bare the facts about Shonga Farms “without any political colourations as some opposition reporters are apt to do”. Some of the officials also indicated that they were aware that things were not going well with Shonga Farms but the revelation was better coming from independent researchers who also enjoyed the support of the state in carrying out the investigation.
In considering the trade-offs of focusing efforts on one out of the three agricultural development models, it was agreed by state representatives that in making young farmers the development priority of the state, the benefits would far outweigh the sacrifices made on the other two programmes. It was argued that although there would be the lack of the immediate benefits of a demonstration piece as in Shonga Farm, however, over time the cumulative effects of building up the capacity of young farmers who are spread across the state would bring long-term economic stability to the area. In addition, such a development approach would cost the state less on resources that are already stretched. One is hopeful, therefore, that advocacy for small and medium scale commercial farmers will continue grow among state officials.