Agricultural Production In Nigeria. A Review of Recent Developments in Policy and Practice

Scientific Essay, 2016

28 Pages


Table of Contents


1. Introduction

2. Rural poverty, food poverty and farming practices

3. Social organisation of agricultural production

4. The challenge of agricultural credit and appropriate technology

5. Agricultural development interventions


Appendix A: Figures

Agricultural Production In Nigeria: A Review of Recent Developments in Policy and Practice By Seun Kolade, PhD International Development, Emergencies and Refugees Studies Research Group, Department of Social Sciences, London South Bank University.


This article draws on critical review of research articles, official statistics and policy documents on agricultural production in Nigeria, especially since the beginning of the current democratic dispensation in 1999. This paper highlights the findings of researchers and policy makers on the significant gains made in the agricultural sector, especially in terms of increased productivity of staple crops like cassava and rice. However, thi s revi ew also identifies significant gaps in knowledge and deficiencies in practice, in the areas of innovation diffusion among rural farmers, market reforms, engagement in high value chains, and the politics of policy implementation and evaluation.

Keywords: Agricultural production; rural development; innovations; food security, Nigeria

1. Introduction

Following the end of a 16-year military rule and the commencement of the fourth republic in 1999, there has been renewed interest and progress in the agricultural sector in Nigeria. The country has now experienced, for the first time, 15 years of uninterrupted civilian rule. This paper brings together a wide range of literature on agricultural production in Nigeria, with focus on academic research, official statistics and policy documents. The aim of this is to highlight key findings in research and gaps in knowledge, and provide critical reflection on the main issues and challenges associated with the design and implementation of official intervention efforts on food security and rural development. Thus, there is a discussion of farming practices in Nigeria, with particular emphasis on the impacts of seasonal farming, environmental degradation and continued reliance on traditional implements and methods. This is followed by a critique of the social organisation of agricultural production, with focus on issues relating to mobilisation of labour, gender, and land tenure. Finally, there is a discussion of challenges associated with agricultural credit and appropriate technology, and how policy interventions of successive governments have sought, or failed, to address those key challenges.

The body of secondary data referenced in this paper has been carefully selected from established sources, including the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Bank, among others. Where possible, the secondary data from these organizational sources have been triangulated with empirical data from scholars whose works have been cited in this review, to enhance reliability and validity.

1.1 Land use distribution

Nigeria, with an estimated population of 170 million people, is the most populous country in Africa, and about 50% of the population live in the rural areas. The total land area is 911,, and about 80% of this is available for various agricultural purposes, including arable land, permanent crops, pastures, and irrigated land, as shown in fig.3.1 (FAO, 2013).

Although Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava, yam and cowpea, it is still a food deficit nation and a net importer, and more than 80% of rural dwellers in particular live below the poverty line. Agricultural land is severely underutilized, with less than 50% of land cultivated as of 2009, and a very small fraction of irrigable land has been irrigated (IFAD, 2009).

As table 1a shows, production of staple food crops like yam and cassava has generally increased in the past ten years, while production of cash crops like oil palm and groundnut has decreased or stagnated (FAO, 2013). Cocoa production, in particular, reduced by 25% from a decade peak of 485,000 tonnes in 2006 to 363,510 tonnes in 2009. Based on constant 2004- 2006 1000 1$ (1000 Int. $), the total value of agricultural production between 2003 and 2011 has moved between Int.$31 billion to Int.$36 billion, the peak coming in 2008 (table 1b). In other words, there has not been significant or steady upward trend in the value of agricultural produce in the past decade.

The contribution of agriculture to GDP has been put at 23%, and about 90% of food and agricultural output is from small-scale farmers who cultivate between 0.5Ha in the densely populated region to about 4 Ha in sparsely populated areas. Among other things, neglect of rural infrastructure, land degradation and drought, and non-availability and /or non-access to equipment and innovations have resulted in low yield and non-profitability of agricultural production (FAO, 2013; IFAD, 2009).

From the foregoing, the role of small-holder farmers in agricultural production is a critical focus of inquiry, and, with respect to this, the impact of technological innovations in mitigating vulnerabilities and enhancing productivity and profitability.

2. Rural poverty, food poverty and farming practices

Statistics on urban/rural poverty in Nigeria indicate that, especially from 1980 onwards, more and more people are now living below the poverty line, and rural dwellers are significantly affected much more than urban dwellers (Omonona, 2010; World Bank, 2013). As shown in fig. 2, in 1980, 28% of rural dwellers, compared with 17% of urban dwellers, lived below the poverty line. By 1985, the poverty figures for urban dwellers had risen sharply to 38%, while rural poverty significantly increased from 28% to 51% within the same period. By 1996, urban poverty had risen to 59%, while rural poverty skyrocketed to 72%.

2.1 Causes of rural poverty

In addition to the challenge of population explosion, a major reason for increasing levels of poverty in Nigeria is the disproportionate allocation of resources by successive governments and consequent wide gap and disparity in pace of development in the rural areas compared with urban centres (Ogunlela & Ogunbile, 2006). This trend has, on another level, played itself out with regard to an increase in urban poverty too, as more and more resources and economic were concentrated and appropriated in the hand of a minority of political elite. For example, following independence in 1960, many urban centres began to enjoy infrastructures like roads, water supply and educational and social amenities, but the vast majority of rural communities, where more than 60% of Nigerians lived, were almost entirely neglected. Rural farmers struggled greatly to transport their produce to large markets in the urban areas because of poor or non-existing roads. In addition, farmers in rural areas lack access or have restricted access to land and credit, and continued to rely on primitive farming implements in the face of more challenging environmental conditions and depletion of soil resources. As a result, agricultural production suffered greatly, along with household incomes (Apata et al, 2010; Omonona, 2010; Ogunlela & Ogunbile, 2006; Kolade, Harpham, & Kibreab, 2014).

Farming practices in Nigeria

One of the factors associated with the prevalence and continued increase in rural poverty is the state and quality of farming practices in Nigeria. Some surveys indicate that about 44% of male farmers and 72% of female farmers cultivate less than 1 hectare per household, despite the fact that about 34million ha out of 83million ha - 40.96%- of agricultural land is currently being cultivated. Reports also indicate that about 90% of Nigeria’s food is produced by small-scale farmers cultivating small pieces of land (IFAD, 2009a; IFAD, 2009b). Moreover, for the less than 50% of agricultural land currently being cultivated, yield per hectare is low compared to other developing countries like Brazil and Thailand, owing to the following main factors:

i) Prevalence of rain-fed agriculture: the vast majority of farmers in Nigeria depend mainly, or only, on seasonal rainfall for their cultivation, such that agricultural production is suspended for about half of the year when it does not rain (Nnamchi & Ozor, 2009; Nzeadibe et al, 2011). A very small fraction of irrigable land, less than 1% according to one estimate, has been irrigated (FAO, 2013), at considerably higher cost compared with other African countries.

ii) Impact of environmental degradation: climate change and land degradation are major contributors to low yield and crop failures (Nzeadibe et al, 2014), and the impact is especially high in Africa, where it is projected that crop yield may fall by between 10 to 20%, or even up to 50% in some cases, by the year 2050 (Anete & Amusa, 2010). Among others, climate change Nigeria has brought about significant seasonal changes in rainfall and temperature, drought, alteration in evapo-transpiration, photosynthesis, and biomass production, and negative impact on land suitability for agricultural cultivation (Medugu, 2009; Obiora, 2014). In the Niger Delta, in particular, the challenge of climate change is aggravated by very high rate of gas flaring (Akinro et al, 2008). Climate change is considered probably the most serious environmental threat to the fight against hunger, malnutrition and disease in Africa (Anete & Amusa, 2010). iii) Continued use of primitive implements and methods: Nigerian traditional agriculture is dominated by the use of cutlass and hoe, implements which are used by the vast majority of rural farmers (Nkanini et al, 2006; Oluyole, et al, 2013). In particular, the traditional farming hoe is a major tool of Nigerian agriculture. It is usually made of wooden handle attached with metal blade forged by local blacksmiths, although basic variations in types and sizes exist across the geographical and ethnic zones. The hand-hoe, like the cutlass and machete, is high in energy demand and low in productivity. The main alternative to this is the ‘animal draught power farming’, which entails the use of work bulls capable of supplying about one-tenth of their body weights working continuously, compared with 0.07KW for direct human labour (Sanni, 2008; Oni, 2011). However, animals can work only for limited duration per day, and the feed requirements for the working animals also make it sometimes too expensive and difficult to be employed by poorer farmers. A recent study indicate that only 1% of farm power is supplied by mechanical power in Nigeria, followed by 10% for animal drawn systems, and 89% for direct human labour (Oni, 2011; FAO, 2005). In addition, practices like bush burning is used as the main method of clearing farm land, thereby increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and effectively aggravating the problem of global warming and climate change (Anete & Amusa, 2010).

The examples of cassava and rice

The impacts of factors listed in the foregoing can be examined with specific examples of cassava and rice, two main stable food crops and potential sources of foreign exchange earnings for Nigeria. Cassava production in Nigeria is the largest in the world, with a 2002 FAO report indicating production was approximately 34million tonnes, a third more than Brazil, the 2nd largest producer of Cassava in the world (FAO, 2005). Cassava production received a significant boost between 1988 and 1992, following the release of improved varieties by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). In 2002, a presidential target was set to achieve $5 billion in value-added foreign exchange earnings from cassava production, requiring an expansion of cultivated area from 3mil to 5mil ha, and an increase in yield per ha from about 10 to average of 30 tonnes per ha, in order to achieve a total production target of 150mil tonnes by the end of 2006, up from 34mil tonnes in 2002. More conservative estimates for a production target of 60mil tonnes, suggested by some research institutes, require an expansion of cultivated area from 3mil to 4mil ha, and a yield increase from 10 to 15tonnes per ha. However, majority of the farmers were not incorporated into the presidential initiative (Awoyinka, 2009), and recent data show that cassava production was at 44.5mil tonnes in 2008 and had only increased by 3 mil tonnes between 2005 and 2008. Yield per ha remained stagnant at about 10 tonnes per ha, and there was little expansion in cultivated area (IFAD 2009; FAO 2013; Philips et al, 2004). In effect, the potentials, even with conservative estimates, have not been achieved, mainly because the use of mechanised farming and improved varieties, among other better farming practices, have not increased proportionately to meet yield requirements. Moreover, value-added activities, like processing and storage, are severely under-developed for cassava and other crops in Nigeria (Philips et al, 2004; Sanni et al, 2005; Adebayo, 2009).

Similarly, with respect to rice production, Nigeria is the largest producer in West Africa, with production estimated at 3.28mil tonnes in 1999, and the 2007 and 2008 showing fluctuating figures of 2.99mil tonnes and 4.17mil respectively. Nevertheless, using the 1999 figures, Nigeria was also the largest importer of rice in West Africa, with importation estimated at 1mil tonnes in 1998, at the cost of about $300mil (FAO, 2013). It is also estimated that about 2.2mil ha of land was cultivated for rice production in 1999, compared with 5mil ha available, and average yield was, and remains, 1.5tonnes per ha. In comparison, potential yield for rice is about 6 tonnes per ha, especially in the lowland which constitute about 65% of land cultivated for rice. This potential is not met mainly on account of poor water control system, bad soil management, shortage of input, and annual flooding, in addition to insignificant increase in the area of land cultivated for rice (EDO, 2003; Fashola, et al, 2005).

This paper now examine the systems and processes by which labour is deployed and land other resources utilized for farming activities in Nigeria. These include the role and impact of government policies, at national and local levels, on management and allocation of resources.

3. Social organisation of agricultural production

Before the advent of colonial administration, traditional societies and ethnic groups in different parts of Nigeria had an elaborate and fairly organized process by which they harnessed different factors of production, especially land and labour, for agricultural production. The underlying principles including communal land ownership and labour sharing, applied in various degrees with slight modifications, are essentially similar across the whole spectrum of ethnic groupings. One of these ethnic groups, the Kofyar people of central Nigeria, was the subject of a classic work by Robert Netting in the 1960s. The general thrust of the findings is representative of what obtained in many rural parts of the country, and some of the practices are still observed today (Netting, 1968; Stone, 1998).


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Agricultural Production In Nigeria. A Review of Recent Developments in Policy and Practice
South Bank University London
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Agricultural production, Nigeria, rural development, Innovations, Food security
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Seun Kolade (Author), 2016, Agricultural Production In Nigeria. A Review of Recent Developments in Policy and Practice, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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