STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This next story is about white farmers in a majority black country. Zimbabwe's white farmers were forced off their farms. It was part of an infamous land reform program instituted by President Robert Mugabe. Some of those farmers are now getting a second chance in another African country. These pioneers have gone west, or to be precise, northwest. They moved from southern Africa to Nigeria and they're in high spirits about their prospects there. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.
Unidentified Speaker #1: (Unintelligible)
Unidentified Speaker #2: (Unintelligible) morning.
OFEIBEA QUIST- ARCTON reporting:
Unidentified Speaker #1: What do you want to know? What can I tell you? (Unintelligible) like a place Nigeria.
Unidentified Speaker #3: Right.
Unidentified Speaker #1: We are very happy. We are working ourselves to death.
(Soundbite of laughter)
QUIST-ARCTON: Nigeria is sweet says an optimistic Dan Swart, one of the first batch of 13 white farmers from Zimbabwe to settle here outside Shonga village in Kwara State, west central Nigeria. They hoped to be joined soon by another 40 Zimbabwean farmers.
Dr. ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI (Governor, Kwara State, Nigeria): I feel very, very happy to see what we've been able to achieve.
QUIST-ARCTON: Bukola Saraki, the governor of Kwara State, wooed the white commercial farmers from Zimbabwe. He invited them over to Nigeria to come see for themselves. Initially, local people were against them coming to Nigeria but not so much out of concern that the giant of black Africa would be re-colonized, this time by white settlers. Shonga villagers warmed to the project once they heard that only a handful of local farmers would be displaced and would receive government compensation and there was a promise of training and employment on the new white-owned farms.
Dr. SARAKI: A lot of people criticized that it would not happen but today, now, we're actually seeing this new farmers from Zimbabwe harvesting what they've planted. For once people are beginning to see that commercial farming needs to be supported.
QUIST-ARCTON: For Governor Saraki, the idea is to harness the expertise of the farmers from Zimbabwe and reduce Nigeria's reliance on oil while jumpstarting the neglected commercial agricultural sector to help the nation feed itself. Farmer Dan Swart agrees.
Mr. DAN SWART (Nigerian Farmer): Look, we have a sleeping giant here--a big giant called agriculture. It's been asleep for about 44 years and there's two ways of sorting it out: That's teaching people--they are good farmers, but teaching them the finer points of farming, and finance. Those two things will make Nigeria the breadbasket of West Africa.
(Soundbite of tractor)
QUIST-ARCTON: A tall order. Formerly tobacco farmers, here in Nigeria the Zimbabweans have redefined the landscape of Shonga, planting cornfields as far as the eye can see. They have modern equipment like these tractors and armed with 50-year leases and 2,500 acres apiece plus Nigerian government support, within their first year the white farmers harvested, give or take, 4,000 tons of corn.
Dr. ALAN JACK (Farmer, Nigeria): That's probably the biggest single yield in Nigeria in the last 40 years. Next year we hope to get 12,000 tons, and so on.
QUIST-ARCTON: Alan Jack coordinated their move to Nigeria. They've still got to iron out problems with financing from banks, but the government has made it easy for the Zimbabweans to import the agricultural material they need to establish their new farms here in Nigeria.
(Soundbite of water)
QUIST-ARCTON: On the veranda overlooking his new swimming pool, Jack, who looks around retirement age, was full of energy and hope.
Dr. JACK: Nigeria, of approximately 160-180 million people, is spending billions of dollars annually, importing food when you've got everything you're required to grow this food right here. So, it's cheaper in the long run to get farms up and running and a viable commercial enterprise rather than importing.
QUIST-ARCTON: Alan Jack said they'd already learned a lot in Nigeria and were sharing new techniques with their neighbors, the small-scale farmers around Shonga.
Dr. JACK: It's all new for the population as a whole as well, but already when I look into the peasant's areas, I can see them already copying what we are doing, starting to do things properly. That is the start. It's a transfer of skill.
QUIST-ARCTON: And a change of climate and culture.
(Soundbite of child singing in foreign language)
QUIST-ARCTON: Hausa is the local language among the majority Muslim residents of Shonga but this is a song in the dominant language of Zimbabwe, Shona. Nora(ph), Simpewe(ph) and Nesta(ph) are the three young daughters of Tapaer(ph) Magniqa(ph) and his wife Yokisam(ph), a black Zimbabwean family. The housekeepers moved to Nigeria with Alan Jack and his partner Susan McTavish. The Magniqa's said they'd escaped poverty and political uncertainty back in Zimbabwe.
Mr. TAPAER MAGNIQA (Resident, Nigeria): Is good in Nigeria. Zimbabwe is very hard. You go to store. You take lot of money to go in to buy one thing.
Ms. YOKISAM MAGNIQA (Resident, Nigeria): Nigeria, everything is good. Food, money, everything. But the weather is not good.
Mr. MAGNIQA: Too much mosquito (laughs).
Ms. MAGNIQA: Plus Nigeria is too much malaria. The Nigerians, the people is good. You work together nicely and work together nicely.
(Soundbite of crowd)
QUIST-ARCTON: The Zimbabweans say they've been warmly welcomed but not everyone in Shonga is pleased.
Mr. FATIMA MOHAMED (Shonga Villager): (Foreign language spoken)
QUIST-ARCTON: Fatima Mohamed said she and other women worked for the Zimbabwean farmers clearing the land, but most were laid off once that was finished and now many of the farm laborers jobs go to young men, she complained. Despite the odds, the newcomers are doggedly determined.
Mr. PETER DU TOIT (Ex-Zimbabwe Farmer, Farmer, Nigeria): My name is Peter Du Toit, ex-Zimbabwe farmer. I'm farming in Nigeria in Kwara State. We've got tomatoes. We've got sweet melon. We've got baby marrow squash. It's very rewarding working and seeing what happens and, you know, you put your crops in and you see the results--and also the people are very accommodating, friendly and the workers are good so the horizon is so big.
QUIST-ARCTON: Pete Du Toit proudly shows off his new farm in Nigeria but would he consider going back to Zimbabwe.
Mr. DU TOIT: I'm very glad for where I am. I'm very joyful for being here, but every time I go back to Zimbabwe I've got like a hollow feeling in my stomach. I feel bitter and I feel sorry for what's happening to Zimbabwe, to see what's happening to that country.
(Soundbite of tractor)
Unidentified Speaker: Alright then (unintelligible).
QUIST-ARCTON: And as he prepared to fly back to Zimbabwe to recruit another 40 white farmers for the new season, Alan Jack looked forward to coming back to Nigeria, his new home.
Dr. JACK: Yeah, no, we're very happy here. We're back doing what we do best which is farm. On the food side, already, we are a success story. Africa needs more success stories. You drive around Nigeria, you see all these failed projects. We're not prepared to let this one become a failure, and our reputation is at stake here.
QUIST-ARCTON: Early days yet, but one year on, Nigeria's high profile white farmers are still the talk of the town here. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Shonga, Kwara State.
(Soundbite of music)
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
I'm looking here at a photo gallery of life on the farm in Nigeria. You can see it by going to our website, NPR.org.