The Shonga Revolution

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Bukola-Saraki, fingered as the owner of Shonga Farms
Bukola-Saraki, fingered as the owner of Shonga Farms

Within eight years of existence, Shonga Farms in Kwara Started by displaced white Zimbabwean farmers has revolutionised agriculture in the state

|  By Ishaya Ibrahim  |  Jan 28, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

EIGHT years ago, when the displaced farmers from Zimbabwe were invited by the Kwara State government to help it revolutionise agriculture, the impact was not expected to be immediate. For instance, Abdullahi Salifu, a civil servant in the state, was initially cynical about the project. “I thought it was one of those white elephant projects that we only watch on television”, he said. But today, Salifu no longer holds that view. His brother currently works in one of the farms in Shonga and he is happy about it. “The farm has helped many of our youths to get employment and I am glad that it is working. Many of our youths are now earning a living from it”, he said.

There are currently 13 commercial farmers, each cultivating 1000 hectares of land in Shonga, Another team of farmers from Canada is expected to invest N70 billion in rice cultivation in the farm. Also, the farm recently signed a memorandum of understanding with an Australian company, Austrana, for the exportation of 500,000 tonnes of cassava chips annually to Australia in the next five years.

Saka Onimago
Saka Onimago

Saka Onimago, the state’s commissioner for education, who was also the agriculture and natural resources commissioner at the time the Shonga Farms project commenced, said the farm has solved the huge problem of unemployment in the state. “In terms of job opportunity, you need to ask the people of Shonga. Everybody is envious of them. That’s why the people of Lafiagi/Pategi axis are already spreading their arms that the N70 billion rice farm project should come to them.  Shonga Farms has been able to reduce unemployment”, Onimago said.

The commissioner said the farm has also been attracting a lot of revenue to the state. “When you say commercial agriculture…currently, Nigeria Milk company, Lagos, gets its source of milk supply from Shonga Farms. You can go and confirm that. So many eateries in Lagos and even within Kwara State get their supply of turkey and chicken from Shonga Farms. There are farmers in Shonga Farms that have invested in special flowers and vegetables. They send the products to the Middle East.  So, if we are earning foreign exchange through that, are we saying Shonga is not moving? Remember that our local farmers are not at standstill. They are all working providing basic foods to the state”, Onimago said.

The Shonga Farms initiative has no doubt created both direct and indirect employment for many inhabitants of Kwara State. It has boosted the state’s food requirement, produced raw materials for its agro-allied industries and also for export. Labaran Maku, the minister of information during a recent visit to the state, said the foresight of the previous state government in establishing such a gargantuan project was commendable. He also hailed the current administration in the state for sustaining it.

Solomon Ndokuuro, a consultant on mechanised agriculture, also said the Shonga Farms should be emulated not only by other states, but by the federal government because it is the surest way of reducing the army of unemployed youths in the country. “When you talk of reducing unemployment, the first place to start is in the agricultural sector. The Kwara State government under Bukola Saraki, understood this common sense and so when the white farmers in Zimbabwe were displaced by Robert Mugabe’s policy on land ownership, Bukola took advantage of it and invited the displaced farmers to Nigeria to start large-scale farming because of its enormous job creation potentials. I understand that there are thousands of people now earning a living from that farm. This is good for the state and the country”, he said.

Shonga Farms comprises 13 white commercial farmers who were displaced by the Robert Mugabe’s land policy. Saraki’s government invited them to come to Kwara to revolutionize agriculture in the state.  The farmers were each given 1,000 hectares of land under a twenty-five year renewable lease for commercial farming in Shonga, a community in Edu local government area. The state government provided the initial equipment for land clearing and guaranteed initial credit facilities for the farmers.

The farm’s chicken processing plant currently produces 2,500 processed frozen chickens per day. The dairy farm has the capacity to also process up to 50,000 liters of milk per day. It is estimated that between 3,000 and 4,000 people are employed during the farm’s harvest.

Even among die-hard political opposition members, the consensus is that the project is a success. “Nobody is quarrelling about the project. Our problem is that the former governor used the state’s money to fund it for himself. Period”, said a chieftain of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, who didn’t want his name in print.

The aggrieved politician said the initial impression that the people of the state had, at the time the Shonga Farms project was conceived, been told that it was a state-owned venture. But as it turned out, the former governor simply used the state’s funds to establish the farms for himself.

The Ilorin Emirate Forum, a pressure group in Kwara State, has also asked the Kwara State government to disclose the true identity of the owner of Shonga Farms Holding Limited.  In a pamphlet it recently circulated in the state, the group claimed that Shonga Farms Holding limited and several other companies were set up with the state funds for the Sarakis. The other companies it listed as belonging to Saraki which state’s funds were used to establish include Shoprite Ilorin, Kwara Cargo Terminal, Ilorin, Kwara Hotels, Kwara Amusement Park, Orient Restaurant/Hotels Ilorin, Kwara Football Academy, Kwara Medical Diagnostic Centre and Kwara Aviation.

But Wahab Oba, chief press secretary, CPS, to the Kwara State government, said the allegation is not only spurious but criminal. He said there is no iota of truth in the allegation. According to him, the Kwara State government only facilitated the establishment of Shoprite, Shonga Farms and other companies to boost the economy of the state. According to Oba, the government even invested in some of the companies to support them.  He said it is unthinkable for government funds to be used to establish businesses for a private individual. He said Saraki is a private person who has the right to invest where he wants, adding that those making claims of impropriety should go to the corporate affairs commission to verify their facts and not sit in the comfort of their houses to bring down others.

Onimago also dismissed the allegations with a wave of hand, saying it was mischievous.

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