There was uproar by the local farmers in Shonga, an agrarian community located in Edu Local Government Area of Kwara State, when the then Kwara State Governor and now Nigeria’s Senate President, Bukola Saraki, invited 13 out of the displaced white farmers by the Robert Mugabe government in Zimbabwe for a commercial farming in the area.
Today, however, the story has changed as the initiative has not only secured thousands of employment for the local dwellers but exposing the local farmers to modern farming methods.
The then Saraki government cleared large hectares of land, opened up roads leading to the community and built an independent power station, which apart from Shonga, also supplies about 37 villages around the farmland with electricity. The 13 invited white farmers were each given 1,000 hectares of land under a 25-year renewable lease for commercial farming purpose.
This was initially rejected by the host community but the state government stood its ground, assuring the people that it was all for good. Over a decade after, Shonga was established, its successes have put paid to the protests of those who doubted its potentials.
Today, the farm supplies cassava to the Nigerian Starch Mills Limited, which is the biggest of its kind in West Africa. It supplies fresh milk to WAMCO to produce Peak and Three Crowns milk. It equally supplies fresh milk to Nutricima. Its dairy farm has the capacity to process up to 50, 000 litres of milk per day.
The farm has a cheese exporting plant in the dairy section and is set to supply the entire West African Region with the product. They also export cassava chips and are probably the only company to have done five shipments of chips to countries like Israel, Australia and Hong Kong.
The farm has also led directly to the employment of thousands, and has indirectly attracted investors like WAMCO and Olam to Kwara State, creating multiple opportunities for its residents. The farm presently employs between 4, 500 and 6, 000 workers for both off and peak periods, but with the ongoing expansion, the poultry section alone has 2, 000 workers at off and peak periods, which is expected to increase to about 10, 000 workers when the expansion is completed.
Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) visited the farm and were so impressed with its success and decided to inject a loan facility worth N2 billion into the poultry section. The facility will be provided at interest rates as low as nine per cent.
The farm is based on a private-public model. Although, the Kwara State government initiated the project, a limited liability company, Shonga Farms Holding Limited (SFH), was incorporated to drive its economic and financial success.
Under this arrangement, financial institutions were invited to invest in the company and Guarantee Trust Bank, Trust Bank, Intercontinental Bank, Unity Bank, Fin Bank and Bank PHB were the initial investors. The banks took 75 percent equity, with the state government having 25 percent. The SFH, however, owns 60 percent equity in each of the 13 Shonga Farms, leaving the farmers with 40 percent.
Since the banks were involved, there was no room for sloppy management and the farms were managed in such a way that they were guaranteed to make profit. “Banks always want to see how their money flows,” the General Manager of the farms, Mr. Bayo Sangobiyi, said. “That is what changed our approach to business.”
The leader of the expatriate farmers, Allen Jack, has also attributed the success of the farms to how they had been structured, which has left little room for needless bureaucracy or politics. “We have completely avoided the issue of politics,” he said. “The SFH surpasses politics; we are dealt with purely on professional grounds.”
The farm’s poultry section
The use of backward integration has accelerated the growth of Shonga Farm’s poultry section and opened up new frontiers. The farmers plant maize, soya beans, millet, etc, and process them into feeds for the chickens.
The poultry section of the farm, as earlier reported by the media, is devoid of any offensive odour, the drainage system is such that no bird faeces are retained, and well planned spaces between birds afford the avian animals comfort and free ventilation. The poultry has a total capacity to raise 160,000 birds on weekly basis and is fitted with an automated modern abattoir to dress 5, 000 birds daily.
There is also a research and development section which focuses on the area of breeding and genetics: seeking to uncover best practices and provide innovative solutions to the problem of increasing yield, combating diseases and ensuring seamless efficiency.
Currently, the farm’s chicken processing plant, at full capacity, produces 10, 000 chickens per day. Soon, it is expected to multiply that number to 25, 000 per day, making it the largest in the country. It is the major supplier of chicken to most restaurants in the country, including Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).
“We had meetings with people that were supplying the big eateries and hotels to give us their consumption schedule per month,” Sangobiyi said. “We signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU). Go to Shoprite or any eatery in Ilorin. If you eat chicken in any eatery, you have eaten Shonga chicken.”
Locals learning from the farm
The initial distrust of the farmers from Zimbabwe might have been put to rest by Shonga’s success. But the Kwara State government, from the beginning, had ensured that the exercise was tilted to the advantage of the locals. When the land was allocated, the design was, for every 1,000 hectares of land to the white farmers, a gap of 200 hectares was left in-between for local farmers to understudy what their more experienced counterparts were doing, learn from them and then replicate the methods on their own farms. This was a way of transferring knowledge and should have been the route taken by the Zimbabweans.
“The aim is that when our local farmers are proficient with the use of all the equipment, they can go to other communities and replicate what they have learnt,” Sangobiyi said.
A Shonga Phase 2, called the Alapa Project, is now in the works. This will focus on helping local farmers benefit from the knowledge that has been applied to make Shonga a success. “I think Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed has started it by selecting 10 farmers from each of the 16 local government areas of the state,” Sangobiyi said.
“The concept is to transform them into commercial farmers; and they are doing wonderfully well. Our plan is to bring Kwara State to the world map as the food basket,” he said.