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Shonga farms: Politics, infighting threaten Kwara agribusiness

Established in 2005, the dream was to make Shonga farms not only a great employer of labour in the state but to contribute to the…

Established in 2005, the dream was to make Shonga farms not only a great employer of labour in the state but to contribute to the country’s GDP with its market target of the West African sub-region.

The project had such a great prospect that Kwara State was seen as the next destination of the farming revolution in the country which will lead other states into the next phase of agribusiness.

However, several years after, although there has been some appreciable progress, Shonga farms is yet to fully achieve the vision but has found itself at the centre of a sharp disagreement and alleged politicisation between the government of AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq and its past two predecessors including its handlers and managers.

The concept of Shonga Farms began when the former two-term governor of Kwara State, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, domesticated evicted Zimbabwe white farmers in the quest to revolutionise farming and guarantee food security in Kwara State and Nigeria by extension.

The project was planned to function in the fullest of time with the now comatose Ilorin Cargo Port as a rallying point for cargo operators in the northern part of the country.

Although the Shonga multi-billion-naira project started on a “shaky note” according to industry watchers, largely because of acceptability and funding, it later became one of the star attractions for the state; bringing in international recognition and attracting partnership from financial power houses and multinational companies with global connections in the country.

At inception, operations in Shonga farms involved poultry, dairy and mixed cropping of maize, soya beans, millet and even banana, with the poultry now said to be its most successful franchise.

It was gathered that while the poultry started with 10,000 slaughtering capacity slaughtering about 7,500 chickens daily, there were plans to make it 35,000 per day after the completion of the second phase as the biggest in Nigeria.

Target employment was between 4,500 and 6,000 workers for both off and peak periods with the poultry section alone being targeted for 10,000 workers after expansion. It also supplied bananas to Shoprite in Ilorin then.

However, years down the line, the Shonga Farm enterprise has been plagued more with accusations and counter accusations among the three affected governments which have shrouded the modest achievements it has recorded over the years.

Tone of disagreement

The tone for this recent account about the farm was set shortly after the election of Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq as the governor of Kwara State when he set up a 21-man committee to probe the state’s public assets.

According to the then chairman of the committee, who has since fallen out with the governor, Senator Suleiman Ajadi, during one of his presentation, “There are so many thorny issues surrounding the control and management of some state assets like …the amorphous case of the Shonga Farms and the entire Harmony Holdings structure,” Ajadi noted, according to a statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Rafiu Ajakaye, on July 3, 2019.

The Ajadi report after submission thereafter alleged that the project was masked in so much secrecy with some of the files carted away. He recommended prosecution for governors and officials of the past two administrations in the state.

Speaking with Daily Trust on Sunday, a former farm worker who preferred not to be named said although Shonga Farms has made some appreciable progress, there is the urgent need to get it back on track to operate to full potential especially because of its potential as a future money spinner and potential employer of a large number of the youth in the state.

The source, who alleged that some of the farms have already been sold, stressed the need for the engagement of expertise to manage the project. He however added that the community has benefited greatly from the venture.

She said “The Shonga project definitely has its good side because “it has created a lot of opportunities and employment for Kwarans with a number of value chain beneficiaries and transporters who have invested in truck business.

“There are about 32 communities connected to the farm and most of the villagers have adopted the new system of farming and technology introduced by the white farmers. Now, many of the locals are into poultry and fish farming. Shonga has become a hub for marketing and other agricultural inputs. The poultry farm is doing fantastically well and their hatchery is one of the highest in West Africa, producing about 40,000 tons of chicken monthly.”

“Now, the project belongs to different investors and over five farms have been sold thus far (1, 4, 6, 8 and 17) to investors who have employed some of the white farmers due to the challenge of funding.”

Daily Trust on Sunday however learnt that Allen Jack has finally left the farm.

A local farmer, Alfa Yahaya, said although the community and indigenes have benefitted, the farm has the potential to do more for the local government, state and Nigeria if “the politics revolving around it are “weeded out”.

But a former Executive Director of Harmony Holdings Limited (HHL), Mr Sanni Adebayo, accused the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of holdings, Mr Tope Daramola, of running the project managed by Harmony in secrecy.

While speaking recently with our correspondent, Mr Adebayo said although the transaction about the Shonga Farms is not perfect, the tango between the past and present governments is needless, adding that most of commentaries about it have been done on the altar of politics.

“Shonga Farms was a pioneer in such huge investment channelled into commercial agriculture with international collaboration in Nigeria. The first big lie about the project was that it was owned by one or two individuals. You see, once people don’t have a full understanding of what is transpiring, they tend to sway on the side of imagination, even though, like every major transaction all over the world, the transaction is not perfect. But the project is one that should be attracting kudos to the originators.

Vandalisation concern

Mrs Afolayan said “The report we got recently was that some of the farm implements and equipment have been vandalised, for which they were queried. And even as of yesterday (Tuesday), we received a report of another attempt of vandalisation on the farm.”

She said the state of the farm now was just as they left it and things have gone wrong right from then. “It is wrong for them to be saying that this administration is playing politics with Shonga Farms. Rather, the government is trying to resolve the inherited problems,” she said.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Mrs Afolayan said there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel as the government ramps up efforts to reposition the project underscored by its recent actions.

“At the moment, the representative of the state government has been nominated and a new farm chairman has been appointed through HHL. We believe activities should return to the place in the next couple of weeks after a long inactivity to review, strategize and pilot the affairs of the farm towards its revitalisation.

“We have to understand that the state government doesn’t have control of the project. That is why the issue of politicisation by the present government cannot fly as decisions are taken by the board comprising representatives of the government and other shareholders.

According to the interview quoted in the research work of the Landmark University, Alan Jack – the then CEO of Healton Estates and Bertus Kirstein, the MD of Valentine Chickens, collectively said “Inaccessibility to adequate and cheap funding, importation of crop and poultry products, lack of basic infrastructure such as roads, telecommunications and power, absence of government controlled marketing board where agricultural products can be sold to potential buyers, among others” are some of the challenges facing the farmers. Hence, the new board should consider the solution to these observations and the issue of vandalisation.

However, while the officials and government (past and present) continue to engage in accusation and counter accusations, there is the need for a reinvigorated efforts from all parties outside “politics” to pool human resources and expertise for the gigantic project to achieve its goal as the future hub of Kwara agribusiness and Nigeria’s model in agriculture revolution.

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