Nigeria Suffers Mounting Difficulties In Agriculture
mounting difficulties in agriculture

mounting difficulties in agriculture…

The new administration promises to promote food security in Nigeria, with technology playing an increasingly significant role.

When Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, a 24-year-old working with the government, decided to join a competition to design the national flag in the run-up to Nigeria’s independence in 1960, he knew exactly which hue to stress. He considered that green should dominate this national emblem in order to highlight the country’s reliance on agriculture.

Agriculture is essential to Nigeria’s national character, yet the government can scarcely be claimed to have prioritized farming in the years after independence. Instead, oil grew to dominate the economy at the cost of all other industries. Over the last six decades, successive administrations have given little attention to agricultural development.

As a result, Nigeria, which has ideal climatic conditions for cultivating a broad range of crops, is now reliant on food imports. According to official trade statistics, the total value of agricultural imports exceeded exports by more than three times between 2018 and 2022. Some essentials, like wheat, are virtually exclusively imported; even crops that are readily cultivated in Nigeria, such as rice, are often purchased from outside.

Nonetheless, some green shoots seem to be developing, with views about agriculture gradually shifting and technology ready to play a larger role in the industry. President Bola Tinubu’s new administration has committed to prioritizing agriculture; if it is successful in increasing output, Nigeria’s economy would take a significant step toward recovery.


A lot of work to do

Reuven Cohen, originally from Israel, came to Nigeria in the early 1980s after being given a position as a farm manager. “Nigeria is a very, very blessed country,” he adds, adding that the country’s diverse climatic circumstances allow for the production of a wide variety of food kinds.

Cohen, who now runs the agricultural services firm Afri Fruits, tells African Business that he was the first to bring several technologies to Nigerian agriculture, such as drip irrigation, greenhouses, and hydroponic lettuce systems. However, his four decades in the agricultural industry have been far from simple.

“You have to be on your own,” he explains. “You don’t have any help from the government.” While many countries significantly subsidize food production, Cohen claims that farmers in Nigeria should anticipate minimal financial help from the government. Even worse, the administration has failed to create an enabling climate. Critical infrastructure for food processing and cold storage is substantially lacking.

Furthermore, Cohen claims that agriculture is frequently not considered seriously as a commercial enterprise in Nigeria, with banks often unwilling to lend to farmers looking to expand their businesses.

A new administration in power raises hopes that the nation will finally be able to realize its agricultural potential, but few would argue with agricultural specialist Chijioke Ndem, who warns that the government still has “a lot of work to do.” He, like Cohen, emphasizes that weak logistical infrastructure is a “big impediment” for farmers, while adding that finding methods to increase mechanization must be a top focus.

Ndem argues that entering governments generally develop “beautiful policies” that frequently prove tough to execute. However, Tinubu promptly added ‘food security’ to the title of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, which is an “encouraging” indication. According to Ndem, the name change reflects how important the sector is to the country’s well-being.

The new ministry has a daunting task of mitigating catastrophic food shortages in the coming months. USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network warns that substantial portions of Northern Nigeria are experiencing ‘crisis’ levels of food shortages. Pockets in the northeast are experiencing an ’emergency’ scenario.

This depicts how food prices skyrocketed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, which hampered Nigeria’s access to grain imports. This price increase has been exacerbated by the naira’s devaluation since mid-2023, which has raised the cost of all imported items.
The dire scenario emphasizes the significance of Nigeria increasing its domestic food supply. Umar Mohammed of the non-profit Africa Enterprise Situation Fund (AECF) believes that collaboration is required to address this situation. “There hasn’t been a dearth of initiatives,” he adds, pointing to different projects to promote mechanization and improve input availability, “but it needs to have a holistic approach in order for it to actually work better.”

He emphasizes the need to increase the involvement of women-owned agricultural companies. Mohammed is the project manager for AECF’s Investing in Women in Nigeria initiative, which allows female farmers to qualify for matching fund subsidies provided they satisfy specific requirements. He claims that empowering women in agriculture has far-reaching societal advantages. “When women expend their income, it’s usually towards supporting family activities,” he said.


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The emergence of technology

While the sector’s issues may look daunting, Ndem sees good indicators in the increased use of technology. “The ICT boom is also a good thing for the agriculture space in Nigeria,” he adds, adding that the enhanced capacity to interact with farmers at the “last mile” may make it much easier to transmit data and expertise, with major productivity gains.

Thrive Agric, an agtech business, is one that is looking to expedite the application of technology. “We’re starting with smallholder farmers,” explains Oshone Anavhe, the firm’s VP of Operations. “We want to essentially empower them with economies of scale,” he says, emphasizing that this might include input finance, extension services, market access, and even financial literacy.

Anavhe estimates that Thrive Agric works with around 600,000 farmers in total. One of the ways it uses technology is to make “data-driven decisions.” Farmers enter data into the company’s app, which functions in offline mode. They then get recommendations on the best time to grow crops, depending on the circumstances on their farms.

Thrive Agric’s use of technology extends well beyond offering assistance. The company’s aspirations include altering whole agricultural value chains. It offers ‘funding in kind’ by giving farmers supplies such as seeds and fertilizers, as well as coaching to help farmers improve output. During harvest season, farmers repay Thrive Agric in kind by selling their crops to the firm, which subsequently distributes the goods to food processors and other bulk customers.

In other words, Thrive Agric works at a scale that allows farmers to skip the intermediaries to whom they would typically sell.
Whether this kind of business strategy is eventually successful remains to be seen. It seems apparent that technology will play an increasingly important role in agriculture. Accelerating the adoption of technology that assists farmers in increasing productivity and making better use of their resources will be critical if Nigeria’s agricultural industry is to eventually reach its full potential and feed the country’s more than 200 million people.


CREDIT: Ben Payton

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