Farmers and local communities in north-eastern Nigeria are losing their livelihoods, as an American prisons tycoon turns their land into a profit-making venture under the guise of US and UK aid.
Small-scale farmers are being forced to leave the lands their families have farmed for generations so that an American corporation can set up a huge agribusiness plantation in north-eastern Nigeria, supported by the Nigerian, American and British governments.
Dominion Farms is run by evangelical Christian Calvin Burgess from Oklahoma in the United States. In the US his business Dominion Properties develops and leases properties to government bodies from the Drugs Enforcement Agency to US Border Patrol, and has also developed more high-security prison facilities than any other privately owned company in the US.
It’s clear that he personally regards his farm enterprises in Africa as missions – as it says on his own company website: “Mr Burgess is active in the organization and operation of faith-based missions focused on the citizens of poor and developing nations, including his personal investment in Dominion Farms Ltd.”
However Dominion Farms already has a questionable track record in Kenya, where it took over the Yala River area and was said to have displaced local farmers, as well as releasing chemicals and pollutants into local lands and water.
In Nigeria, farmers in the state of Taraba are being ejected from lands they have traditionally used all their lives to make way for Dominion Farms to establish a 30,000 hectare rice plantation. The lands Dominion Farms is using are in fact part of a public irrigation scheme that thousands of families rely on for their food needs and wider livelihoods.
People living locally were not only not informed about the Dominion Farms project but also had no opportunity to feed in to the process. Although the company has already started to occupy the land, local inhabitants have still heard nothing about any plans for compensation or resettlement. The lands are part of an irrigation scheme that families rely on for their food needs.
The Dominion Farms project forms part of the US- and UK-backed New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa and the Nigerian government’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda, both of which pay lip service to food security and farmers’ livelihoods but which in practice seem to have the opposite effect.
‘Food security’ is often used as a way to justify large tracts of land being subjected to agricultural industrialisation, as well as moves to single monolithic crops. In fact, many local farmers’ groups and cooperatives – in Nigeria, Kenya and other countries subject to New Alliance incursions such as Ghana – point out that the idea of food security is an illusion as it is dependent on outside forces, often with hidden agendas. In fact, ‘food sovereignty’ is a much more useful aim, where local farmers can pool knowledge of indigenous crops and crop mixing techniques that allow them to be self sustaining and more.
Local farmer Mallam Danladi K Jallo said: “Our land is very rich and good. We produce a lot of different crops here like rice, beans, guinea corn, cassava, soya beans, millet, yam as well as fish farming and the rearing of animals like goats, sheep and cattle. But since Dominion Farms people arrived with their machine and some of their working equipment we were asked to stop our farm work and even leave our lands as the land is completely given to the Dominion Farms project.”
Rebecca Sule, one of the affected woman farmers from the local community, said: “The only story we hear is that our land is taken away and will be given out. We were not involved at any level. For the sake of the future and our children, we are requesting governmental authorities to ask Dominion Farms to stay away from our land.”
“We are requesting authorities to ask Dominion Farms to stay away from our land.”
Raymond Enoch, who is one of the authors of a new report on Dominion Farms in Nigeria and director of the Center for Environmental Education and Development in Nigeria, said: “The local people are united in their opposition to the Dominion Farms project. They want their lands back so that they can continue to produce food for their families and the people of Nigeria.”
Heidi Chow, food sovereignty campaigner from Global Justice Now, which has been challenging the UK Government on its role in these events, said: “Aid money should be spent supporting communities to develop sustainable agriculture rather than supporting initiatives which are enabling companies to evict those communities. Initiatives like the New Alliance seem to be more about providing opportunities for agribusiness to carve up the resources of African countries rather than trying to address poverty or hunger.”
Today’s report was produced by two Nigerian NGOs, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria and Center for Environmental Education and Development, with the support of Global Justice Now and GRAIN. It is based on field investigations and interviews conducted with local farmers, community leaders and government officials.
Farmers, in the already volatile and insecure northern part of Nigeria, have been really left in limbo when it comes to their future livelihoods. Also affected are the pastoralists who have historically roamed across these lands with cattle. Readers in Nigeria, the US and the UK can contact their respective governments to tell them what they think about what is happening – while this has grave implications for the people affected, it is also a part of a huge US and UK-led agribusiness strategy that affects all countries that have signed up to the New Alliance (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania).
In the meantime, another Taraba farmer, Mallam Ismaila Gebi, is putting himself and his family on the line:
“We had all the intention of writing to the state government. We were ready for peaceful demonstrations, dialogue and even to cry out to the whole world just to hear our voices, the voices of poor innocent farmers. But if none of the above mentioned strategies did not work out then we can mobilise against Dominion Farms for our land, the land of our forefathers, with our families and remain there until they answer us.”
This article was first published on 28 January 2015.