Zwara State the vanguard
Nigeria's preoccupation with petroleum has left huge expanses of under-developed agricultural land with rich soils and a generally good climate and 150mn mouths to feed. But ‘black gold’ (petroleum oil) is a finite resource unlike ‘white gold’ (cassava) a starch rich root crop requiring relatively low labour and material inputs. Nigeria is already the world’s single biggest producer of cassava and still is the most important food security crop for millions of Nigerians. On the other side of the ‘unbalanced sheet’ is foreign-sourced flour, starch, glucose and animal feed, all potential products of cassava processing, imported into Nigeria every year to the tune of $700mn.
But a significant shift in thinking has pushed agriculture into the spotlight as future driver of economic growth in Nigeria with Kwara State at the vanguard of new thoughts and action. Kwara State has two million hectares of uncultivated arable land with good soil and a favourable climate and there for the taking by rain-fed crops and livestock production. Kwara’s ambitions go way beyond securing enough food for its own population. The state sees itself as trendsetter and model for food exports to the rest of Nigeria and into the international marketplace. Agriculture says its leaders must be seen as a business with more commercial farmers and it was this far-sighted thinking that enabled Zimbabwean farmers to come on board.
Kwara’s flagship agricultural project is the ‘Commercial Agriculture Initiative’ in Shonga District where more than a dozen African farmers displaced from Zimbabwe, all highly-skilled and experienced in mechanised agriculture, were invited to embark on commercial farming. They are engaged in wide range of crop and livestock systems but it is cassava that has made one of the surest starts with rapid early gains to capture the imagination of observers inside Nigeria and outside in the world at large.