Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Norma's Letter from Jos: 16 October 2011

Vegetable orders
October 18, 2011
From: Norma, Zamani Farms, Jos

Hello customers,
Many of you have asked about our relocation [from Jos to Zaria – because of the troubles in Plateau State – Ed.]. We still intend to do this if at all possible, but there are many factors to be considered. Moving a farm such as ours is a very big project. We have to find a suitable site, with enough water (about 30,000 litres per day for at least 6 months a year), and good soil. We will have to replicate the facilities we now have, including a cold room (we will probably need a cool container), a big generator (if there is no electricity supply), some office and storage facilities, etc. Since Zaria is much warmer than Jos, we will need to put up some shade netting. These are minimum requirements. We estimate that we will need at least N15-20 million or about 100,000 USD.  This is a very substantial sum, and we are trying to see if we will be able to fund such a move. Our present farm is valued at much more than this amount, but we are unlikely to be able to sell it given the present situation in Plateau State. We are investigating various sources of funding for this project, but obviously this will take some time.

Pending when it seems feasible to move, we are trying to operate from our present site. Unfortunately, we have experienced a series of frustrations lately that has me really exasperated. The biggest problem we are facing is our labour force. We have tried to train new workers since the crisis of 2010, but this is proving an uphill task. Our previous workers were skilled and dedicated, and I could easily leave the farm in their capable hands. Our present workers certainly do not measure up, although we have spent a large amount of time training them. As I mentioned before, our young seedlings need very delicate handling, careful weeding and watering to nurse them to maturity. Our present workers, who are used to farming maize, really don’t have the patience to do this, and as a result we have been suffering a lot of losses. By this time in the season, we should have plenty of things to send you, but as you are aware, our lettuce, although nice, is not producing the quantity that we require. The same is true for other veggies. Sometimes we lose up to 50% of the seedlings we plant out in the fields, which is really unacceptable and causes us huge losses since the seeds are very costly.

Last Saturday I was not feeling well and was unable to go to the farm. I had given the staff instructions about weeding a part of the farm. On Monday when I got to the farm I discovered that the workers had managed to destroy all of our asparagus seedlings which we had been carefully nursing in the hope that we will soon be able to supply you with some asparagus. Needless to say, this is extremely frustrating.

Things have settled down somewhat in the state, and many of our former workers, some of whom are Fulani, have been phoning me begging to come back to the farm. If they could come back, this would really solve a lot of our problems. I have been talking to the local authorities to seek their views on this. Finally they told me that they do not want to see any Fulanis in Kuru and they should not come back now.

I feel quite angry about all of this, as there are many Fulani pastoralists in the Kuru area, who have been grazing their herds without any problems with their neighbours, at least for the past couple of months now. However, I can guess the reasons for the reluctance of the authorities.

As many of you know, in January 2010, over 300 people were slaughtered in Kuru Jenta,  the village immediately next to our farm. Some of our workers or members of their families were killed by thugs who came in HiLux vehicles with sophisticated weapons. Many of those killed were women and children, who were slaughtered in horrible ways and their bodies dumped in wells and mining tunnels. All of this was documented by reporters from the BBC and Al Jazeera who came to Kuru with TV cameras a few days after the killings. The matter is currently pending before the International Criminal Court, which has been investigating the charge of genocide. An announcement is expected from the ICC as to whether they have enough evidence to issue indictments in the case. Some local officials were obviously complicit in the killings, and of course they are afraid what might happen if any of the victims or their relatives return to the area. So the situation is very complicated, but unfortunately it is hampering our efforts to get our farm back to normal, as we just cannot operate without a skilled labour force.

One possible alternative is for us to approach the military authorities to ask them to provide protection for our farm and workers. But I find it unbelievable that in order to grow nice vegetables for our customers we have to do so under armed guard. (I also find it ironic that the Governor of the state is currently in the US seeking for American investment in agriculture when we, who have been farming here for 12 years, are facing this sort of situation.)

So this is where we are right now. We are trying to figure out the best way to solve our problems, but I must say that we are not getting much help from our immediate environment.

We do have nice vegetables for you for next week including lettuce, spinach, Chinese cabbage, leeks, carrots herbs and all the rest. Please consult the attached order form for a list of all items available. We do appreciate all of your patronage and support. You have really been wonderful in supporting us financially and in every other way. We really hope that we can resolve the situation to be able to keep on producing quality vegetables for you.

We will send you another newsletter next week, hopefully with more positive news.

Best wishes,


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