In the following note from Russell, which was originally posted as a comment on a thread about how biotechnology benefits American farmers, he tells us something about farming in Nigeria and how white farmers from Zimbabwe are being invited to settle in Nigeria:
“Several comments refer to the link between agricultural subsidies and the impoverishment of African farmers.
Here in Nigeria (which has 20 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population) the two biggest causes of most farmers impoverishment in my opinion are a lack of access to capital, and a reluctance to embrace new technologies. These are two sides of the same coin as farmers have to be risk averse if they have no capital to risk on new approaches.
The cost of a bad yield here is starvation.
Much of the area farmed lies in the Guinea savannah and Sahel zones and rainfall varies in onset, duration and yield from year to year. Each year many farming communities go through a very lean period at the end of the dry season when last years stored crops run out. Off farm income is critical during this period.
Examination of farming practices demonstrates a risk minimisation strategy based upon a long history of subsistence farming within an unpredictable environment. A nice summary is given in Kathleen Bakers book “Indigenous Land Management in West Africa”.
Here in Nigeria the Banks are typically not interested in farmers as a market for loans as they perceive them (rightly) as high risk, and so it is virtually impossible for a farmer to get credit from a bank, and would farmers want credit, with interest rates ranging from 23-28 percednt?
A recent program instigated by the Kwara Sate governor which has invited Zimbabwean farmers to take up land in Kwara State has seen a small cohort of technologically saavy, capital rich white farmers take up the option of farming here.
Even these guys have not been able to get credit locally, but the most interesting aspect of their arrival has been the comments from local farmers over the high cropping densities and the monoculture plantings.
Local farmers consider the approach to be crazy, and from their capital poor perspective it is. However, it is also clear that many of the local farming practices are so deeply inculculated in the local culture that many potential forms of innovation are frowned upon. This may actually be a worthwhile risk minimisation strategy because if a farmer fails it is the other members of the family/clan/village who will have to help.
While there are wealthy landowners here who have the means to farm intensively on a much larger scale, the opportunity from cessation of EU and other subsidies might not have an immediate, or large impact on the greater mass of subsistence farmers without access to the capital required for them to enter the cotton market for example.
In fact the immediate effect of a rise in the price of cotton in this country where the wealthy have the power and influence and the poor have access to land which is not adequately protected by the land tenure system might be to push many subsistence farmers off the land and to lower the amount of land used for local food production.
Of course the economists would say this will create new opportunities, but a look at where the wealthy and powerful Nigerians invest their mostly stolen wealth (oil) reveals it goes overseas.
Against this background, which I suggest is a common feature of subsistence farmers everywhere in the savannah zones of the developing world, I am not sure I can agree with the sentiment that it is EU and US subsidies which keep the African farmer impoverished. Similarly, while I consider that GM foods can (and should) have a useful role in an African context, I am not sure that global acceptance of GM foods would also necessarily lead to a better world for African farmers.“