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White Zimbabweans bring change to Nigeria

Farmers kicked off their land by President Robert Mugabe have made new lives – and raised the local standard of living – in Nigeria.

By Sarah SimpsonCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / May 2, 2008

Rich Clabaugh

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Shonga, Nigeria

Musa Mogadi says he is better off since "the whites" came. He's got a new job, learned new farming skills, and he can chat on a mobile phone while zipping around the countryside on a motorbike.

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Three years ago, Mr. Mogadi got by as a subsistence farmer. But he now earns a regular wage as a supervisor on one of this town's new commercial farms.

He's applied skills he learned from some of the two dozen white Zimbabwean farmers who moved to Nigeria in 2005, after being kicked off their land by President Robert Mugabe and later attracted by large parcels of land on offer under 25-year leases and commitments of support from the Nigerian government.

Production on his farm is now up.

"We are starting to use fertilizers," says Mogadi, explaining that he was encouraged to buy fertilizer after seeing yield benefits on the commercial farm. He's also started planting his maize in a more compact formation, like the Zimbabweans, increasing production from each field planted.

Before the Zimbabweans arrived, there was no mobile phone network in the area and so no reason to have a mobile phone. Now he and most of the other workers have snazzy cellphones, and many have bought motorbikes imported from China, often with a loan from their employer.

In the future, when the national power network reaches the Shonga farms, Mogadi is looking forward to having electricity in his home and village for the first time.

Kenny Oyewo, who works as a farm manager, thinks the lessons being learned in Shonga should be exported across Nigeria.

"If there were at least 20 white Zimbabwean farmers in each state," says Mr. Oyewo, "Nigeria would become one of the most rich countries in the world and we would not even depend on our oil." Nigeria is the largest crude producer in Africa, but despite the country's oil-wealth the majority of Nigerians exist on just a couple of dollars a day.

Key support from a governor

Bukola Saraki, governor of Kwara State, actively pursued the Zimbabwean farmers, approaching them through Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers Union and paying for them to stay in a hotel in Kwara while they assessed several proposed sites.

To date, the governor remains personally involved in the project, visiting the farmers in their homes, taking their calls on his mobile phone and personally stepping in to help when Nigeria's confounding – and often corrupt – bureaucracy gets in the way.

The Zimbabwean farmers are all too aware how key Mr. Saraki's support is.

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