Seeing Agriculture in Nigeria as a Business | by Victoria Fajemilehin

“In 2016, Nigeria imported over 4 million metric tons of wheat. By 2030, this figure is predicted to rise to over 10 million metric tons costing the country $10 billion.”

Agric Nigeria_yam2
Yam Market in Lagos, Nigeria.

Rotimi Williams is a former journalist turned entrepreneur, who now owns the second largest commercial rice farm in Nigeria. He is only thirty-five. Mr Williams’ story shows just how much of Nigeria’s developmental potential exists in the agricultural sector for those with a business mindset.

Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp and Instagram can be used to enhance the business of agricultural trade and production.

In 2014, Nigeria’s agriculture sector added a mere 20.2% to the national GDP. Despite a significant number of the working population being employed in agriculture, their annual income is nearly half that of those employed in non-agricultural sectors.

It is no wonder, since Nigeria is the world’s second largest importer of rice after China. In 2016, Nigeria imported over 4 million metric tons of wheat. By 2030, this figure is predicted to rise to over 10 million metric tons costing the country $10 billion. Currently, Nigeria spends $6.5 billion annually on food imports. To say that Nigeria does not sustain itself, would be a gross understatement.

Agriculture, as part of the cornerstone of Nigeria’s national development, has the ability to transform millions of lives. By establishing an internally self-sustaining mode of production and consumption, agriculture has the potential to create better livelihoods not only for farmers but for Nigeria as a whole. Why, then, does agriculture lag behind as a major contributor to Nigeria’s wealth and the wellbeing of its people?

Nigeria only cultivates about 40% of its arable land and is at risk of threatening its own survival.

Firstly, there is a dearth of data on Nigeria’s agriculture sector. This prevents agriculture from flourishing as a business because a lack of information kills the incentive for investment. The existing business of agriculture in Nigeria is largely in the informal market. This means that only those already operating in the sector have any idea what is going on in it. The whole-scale development of Nigerian agriculture will depend on shifting from informality to readily available formal platforms that provide accountable and up-to-date data and information on the agricultural sectors in each of Nigeria’s 36 states.

State-Level Policy and the Potentials for Farming

Nigeria’s states are one of the biggest stakeholders in the country’s agriculture because a vast amount of arable lands are owned by the states. If there is to be progress in developing Nigeria’s agriculture, much will depend on reforming state-level policy and the implementation of national policy at the state-level. This will mean closely aligning the initiatives of the federal government to the priorities of the states.

Within states, collaboration in areas of comparative advantage will harness the country’s agricultural potential. For instance, the recent partnership between the Lagos and Kebbi State governments in rice production is an exemplary venture that promotes inter-state cooperation and increases the chances of self-sufficiency. In this case, greater results will be achieved from aggregate farming, where small-scale farmers are brought together to achieve the economies of scale that they are rarely ever able to attain individually.

Nigeria is the world’s second largest importer of rice after China

Local governments can also serve a crucial function by enabling communication between smallhold farmers and the state and federal governments; and by providing the necessary tools needed to encourage new entrants into the job of farming.

Apart from state actors, it is important that other stakeholders such as farmers, processors, manufacturers, buyers, science researchers, financial institutions, and development partners are able to work together in unencumbered partnerships.

With a population of over 170 million, and arable land spanning over eighty-four million hectares, there is no reason why Nigeria should not be able to successfully feed itself. But for that to happen, the business of agriculture must be taken very seriously.

Taking the Business of Agriculture Seriously

For agricultural initiatives to be successful in Nigeria, there must be increased and consistent application of best farming practices, and a shift from subsistence farming to demand-driven production. It is also crucial that fresh talent be introduced and welcomed across the length and breadth of the country’s agriculture system.

The average age of the Nigerian farmer is between fifty-five to sixty years; and is projected to rise to between seventy-five and eighty years old by 2030. These farmers not only have lessons to teach, but also a desire to learn. Many Nigerian farmers are itching to find out about new equipment that will add value to their farming businesses.

there is a dearth of data on Nigeria’s agriculture sector

Nigeria’s agriculture policy must also find ways to engage young people not currently working in agriculture, but who can be enticed if they are exposed to the business opportunities presented by the sector.

With youth comes technology. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp and Instagram can be used to enhance the business of agricultural trade and production. The internet offers infinite possibilities to adapt traditional practices. It enables farmers, producers, and distributors to connect with one another and establish visible platforms of engagement. This will also mean higher levels of transparency, trust, and reputation between different parts of the agricultural chain.

By increasing packaging and branding alternatives and opening up the space for engagement in international markets, modern social media can move Nigerian agriculture from past to present with the click of a computer button. The role of new technologies and innovation to transforming Nigerian agriculture cannot be overstated.

In a 2013 speech delivered at Columbia University, then Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina (now President of the African Development Bank) stated: “a nation that does not feed itself becomes a threat to its own sovereign existence.” Nigeria only cultivates about 40% of its arable land and is at risk of threatening its own survival.

Victoria Fajemilehin is a Nigerian with many years experience in international development. She currently works with Synergos; an international NGO working to improve agriculture in Nigeria.

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