Hungry Farmers in a Populous Nation

Agriculture in Nigeria is a branch of the economy in Nigeria, providing employment for about 30% of the population as of 2010. Despite the significance of this sector and in spite of the fact that over 70% of Nigerian households engage in agriculture, most Nigerian farmers are wallowing in severe poverty.

Rural poverty is endemic in Nigeria, and this situation has been in existence for long. But rather than abating, the problem is proving intractable.

Agricdemy mentioned that, “In Nigeria, the small scale farmers, who constitute the largest percentage of the farming population, are seriously threatened by the problems of rural poverty and neglect. Poverty contributes to poor agricultural productivity, as many rural farmers in Nigeria cannot afford to purchase the necessary farm inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and improved seeds, which would bring about increased productivity that can lift them out of poverty.

“Many rural farmers sell their farm produce at giveaway prices regardless of the cost of production. They do this in order to meet some pressing needs of their families thus remaining in perpetual poverty. They hardly breakeven not to talk of making profit. Most farmers do not realize that their family labour constitutes a portion of the production cost and they continue to get unfair market prices for their produce year after year.”

The afore-stated fact is greatly worrisome but justifiable at the same time going by the following reality. The country’s agricultural sector is dominated by smallholder farmers who work an average of 4–5 acres each, under rain-fed conditions. Most of them lack knowledge of modern practices, have insufficient capital and own little or no equipment of their own.

As a result, much of the farm inputs (machinery, seeds and chemicals) required are provided largely procured by the government and distributed to them under various subsidy programs.

Rural farmers in Nigeria

In the 60s, Nigeria was the leading palm oil exporter globally—ahead of Indonesia and Malaysia. The country accounted for 47 percent of all groundnut exports—ahead of the US and Argentina, and produced 18 percentage of the World’s cocoa—only second to Cote d’Ivoire. These trends tremendously contrast the current situation.

The country has moved from self-sufficiency in food to being a net importer, spending over US$4.35bn in 2012 importing rice, fish and sugar alone. Nigeria is the world’s largest cassava producer and Africa’s largest rice importer.

Although Nigeria rely immensely on the oil industry for its budgetary revenues, Nigeria is mainly still an agricultural society. Currently, the country is the world’s largest producer of Cassava——producing 38 million tons in 2014—and accounted for 19% of global cassava production.

About 70 percent of the population engages in agricultural production at a subsistence level. Agricultural holdings are predominantly small and scattered, and farming is carried out with simple tools. Large-scale agriculture is not common.

Agriculture provided 41 percent of Nigeria’s total gross domestic product (GDP) in 1999. This percentage represented a normal decrease of 24.7 percent from its contribution of 65.7 percent to the GDP in 1957. Agriculture contributed 32% to GDP in 2001.

In 1990, 82 million hectares out of Nigeria’s total land area of about 91 million hectares were found to be arable. 42 percent of the cultivable area was farmed. Much of this land was farmed under the bush fallow system, whereby land is left idle for a period of time to allow natural regeneration of soil fertility.

18 million hectares were classified as permanent pasture, but had the potential to support crops. Most of the 20 million hectares covered by forests and woodlands are believed to have agricultural potential.

Nations Encyclopedia disclosed that Nigeria’s wide range of climate variations enables it produce a variety of food and cash crops. The staple food crops include cassava, yams, corn, coco-yams, cow-peas, beans, sweet potatoes, millet, plantains, bananas, rice, sorghum, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. The leading cash crops are cocoa, citrus, cotton, groundnuts (peanuts), palm oil, palm kernel, benniseed, and rubber.

They were also Nigeria’s major exports in the 1960s and early 1970s until petroleum surpassed them in the 1970s. Chief among the export destinations for Nigerian agricultural exports are Britain, the United States, Canada, France, and Germany.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization 1987 estimate, there were 12.2 million cattle, 13.2 million sheep, 26.0 million goats, 1.3 million pigs, 700,000 donkeys, 250,000 horses, and 18,000 camels, mostly in northern Nigeria, and owned mostly by rural dwellers rather than by commercial companies.

Fisheries output ranged from 600,000 to 700,000 tons annually in the 1970s. Estimates indicate that the output had fallen to 120,000 tons of fish per year by 1990. This was partly due to environmental degradation and water pollution in Ogoniland and the Delta region in general by the oil companies.

Nigerian farmers working on the farm.

Even though agriculture still remains the largest sector of the Nigerian economy and employs two-thirds of the entire labour force, the production hitches have considerably hampered the performance of the sector. Over the past 20 years, value-added per capita in agriculture has risen by less than 1 percent annually.

It is estimated that Nigeria has lost USD 10 billion in annual export opportunity from groundnut, palm oil, cocoa and cotton alone due to continuous decline in the production of those commodities.

Food (crop) production increases have not kept pace with population growth, resulting in rising food imports and declining levels of national food self-sufficiency (FMARD, 2008). The main factors undermining production include reliance on rainfed agriculture, smallholder land holding, and low productivity due to poor planting material, low fertilizer application, and a weak agricultural extension system amongst others.

Rice farmers in Nigeria

The organization also disclosed that, “Nigeria is the continent’s leading consumer of rice, one of the largest producers of rice in Africa and simultaneously one of the largest rice importers in the world. As well as an important food security crop, it is an essential cash crop for it is mainly small-scale producers who commonly sell 80 per cent of total production and consume only 20 per cent. Rice generates more income for Nigerian farmers than any other cash crop in the country.

“In 2008, Nigeria produced approximately 2 million MT of milled rice and imported roughly 3 million metric tons, including the estimated 800,000 metric tons that is suspected to enter the country illegally on an annual basis.

“Moreover, the country is the largest producer of cassava in the world, with about 50 million metric tons annually from a cultivated area of about 3.7 million ha. Nigeria accounts for cassava production of up to 20 per cent of the world, about 34 per cent of Africa’s and about 46 per cent of West Africa’s. The national average yield of cassava is estimated at about 13.63 MT per ha, as against potential yield of up to 40 metric tons per ha.

“Close to two-thirds (66 per cent) of total production is in the southern part of the country, while about 30 per cent is in the north-central, and 4 per cent in other parts of the north. The crop is predominantly grown by smallholders on small plots for family consumption and local sale. Large scale commercial plantations are rare.”

Decline in agricultural production in Nigeria is partly attributed to the negative impact of the oil boom in the early 1970s. Unstable and often inappropriate economic policies (of trade, pricing and exchange rate) and the relative neglect of the sector especially in the last decade.

In addition, agricultural lending in the country is visibly low. In 2013, only one (1) percentage of all commercial loans were issued to Nigerian agriculture and agri-business related industries, yet the sector still contributes over 20 percent to the GDP.

Nigerian tomatoes in Oshodi Market, Lagos

As domestic food production could not keep pace with its increasing population, Nigeria began to import food. According to U.S. Department of State FY2001 Country Commercial Guide, Nigeria’s total food and agricultural imports are valued at approximately US$1.6 billion per year.

Among the major imports from the United States are wheat, sugar, milk powder, and consumer-ready food products.

Efforts since the late 1970s to revitalize agriculture in order to make Nigeria food self-sufficient again and to increase the export of agricultural products have produced only modest results.

There is no doubt, Nigerian agricultural sector faces challenges such as poor infrastructure, dormant research facilities, education and modernization, unserviceable machinery, food processing issues, and government policies.

Solutions to the Problems of Agriculture in Nigeria

Despite the aforementioned lapses in Nigerian agriculture, there are indications of a brighter future for the sector if the following measures will be adopted and implemented:

Among the measures to change the situation is training and raising the level of education. Skilled and educated workers can sustain the durability of mechanized farm tools.

Efforts must be made to encourage more youth and women to participate in agriculture and agriculture value chain. This can be done via sensitization campaigns to encourage both rural and urban youths to pursue agricultural ventures.

Maize farmers in Nigeria

Also, special grants and financial incentives should be directed to youth agricultural enterprises in order to ensure that Nigeria benefits from the skill and intelligence that youths can contribute to the economy.

Another measure is to provide educated farmers with modern farm machines and farm equipment. There should be a local manufacturers of pesticides, fertilisers etc. There should be developed system of available loans at reasonable interest rates.

Efforts should also be made to ensure that rural dwellers get free or very affordable basic education. This will make it easier for them to learn about advanced farming practices that improve efficiency.

The government should take measures to curb the importation of food products. The irrigation system should be reconstructed to solve the problem of unreliable rainfall. One more solution is to develop the usage of solar or wind power system.

In conclusion, If these measures can be effectively implemented in Nigeria, the prospect for agricultural recovery and poverty reduction in Nigeria will be greatly enhanced.