Norma's Zamani Farms, which serves private and commercial customers in Abuja and environs, has weathered with difficulty the Jos Crisis that swelled in January 2010 and chased away her farm workers. She has struggled since, as this letter explains ...
Thursday, November 17, 2011
From: Norma, Zamani Farms
The weather has turned quite cold here in Jos, which should be helping us produce lovely vegetables. However, I have been increasingly discouraged about the lack of progress in our farm production. Despite all of our best efforts at training and supervision, it is now obvious to me that our present work force is incapable of producing the quantity and quality of vegetables that we need to grow if we are to stay in business. Before the crisis of 2010, when we were working with our former skilled workers, on average, during the dry season, we could pick 200-300 kilos of lettuce each week. Yesterday we managed to pick less than 15kgs. We used to produce 60-80 kg of French beans, about 50kg of courgettes, plus many other items. With this production level we were able to satisfy the needs of our individual customers, and still have enough to supply hotels and supermarkets. Our fixed costs on the farm are high – wages and salaries, cost of running our farm equipment like water pumps, and costs of delivery. If our production is small, we cannot cover these costs, let along make profit. Despite the many orders from you, our customers, the total income from these orders is not enough to keep the farm running. A major problems is the fact that we have not been able to purchase a delivery vehicle, and we are paying over N35,000 for transportation each time we deliver to
For some time now we have been running at a loss of about N200,000 [$1,330] per month. This obviously cannot continue. We had been trying to keep things going in the hopes that things would improve and we would be able to recoup our losses. But after several frustrating months this looks increasingly unlikely. Part of the problem is the location of our farm. When we started the farm 12 years ago, there was a thriving community very close by, from which we could draw a diverse and skilled labour force. In 2010 this community was completely wiped out in the January crisis, with many people killed. Now everyone considers Kuru to be a ghost town, haunted by the spirits of those who died. No one, Christian or Muslim, wants to come and work there. The few local residents who still remain are involved in illegal tin mining, from which they earn occasional large sums of money, and disdain farm work. The few workers we are able to employ have a truly irresponsible attitude to work. They feel that since the governor is from their ethnic group, they are “entitled” and don’t have to work, since they “own” the government. It is truly an impossible situation.
I have decided to try one last strategy. Despite the reluctance of local authorities, we have decided to bring back some of our former workers, most of whom are Fulani. If anything happens to them, if they are attacked or harmed in any way, we will just close down the farm. We will try this for a few months, and if we can’t get our production back to near its former level, we will have to decide finally about closing the farm.
As you are aware, we have been investigating other locations where we might move the farm, both inside and outside
. Our main constraint in this is lack of finance. Despite the wonderful support we have received from our customers by way of small loans and advances, these are not adequate to really refinance the farm, or give us the capital to invest in a new location with all the infrastructure that we require. We have investigated many sources of financing, but nothing has been forthcoming. We are still pursuing it. There are several investors who are interested in partnering with us in horticultural ventures, but these would be commercial farms that produce one or two items for a large market, not the variety of items we currently produce for you. So the nature of our business would completely change. Plateau State