Sarah Laurenz's essay for Youth World Food Prize discusses farming challenges in Nigeria.
July 19, 2017 - Author: Sarah Laurenz
Nigeria has a largely diverse population, allowing different forms of celebrations, festivals, and other forms of entertainment. There is also a wide range of music and food. Nigeria has the largest population of any African country with about 191 million and rising. The wealthiest people include businessmen, politicians, and well-educated men. However, these people make up only a small portion of the population. 90% of Nigeria's population lives on less than $2 a day, and 70% live on less than $1 a day. 62% of the population in Nigeria live in poverty and are unable to get a steady supply of food. These people living in poverty have poor education, lack of opportunities, and have poor health care.
There are three major climates - savanna, tropical forests, and coastal wetlands. Housing is highly dependent on the environment. In the wet regions, houses are built on stilts over top of swamps and travel is done by boats. The houses are usually made with bamboo and wood with leaves from palm trees. They are airy and allow heat and smoke from cooking to escape easily. Men and women in these areas traditionally live in separate houses as opposed to sharing a living space. Housing in the other regions consists mostly of poorly-constructed shanty houses. Because the wetland only covers the coastal area of the region, there are more people that live in dry areas.
The most common type of foods is corn, yams, rice, and cassavas. These can be fried or dried and pounded into flour. 84% of people living in rural areas cook their food over an open fire, heated by wood or straw.
The labor in Nigeria is strongly divided by gender. Women have very few political and professional careers, and those who do are greatly outnumbered and rarely move to higher levels of management. Both men and women farm, but gender division is seen in what kind of crops they grow. For example, yams are considered a man's crop while beans and cassava are thought to be a woman's crop. The family's wealth and land are passed to the oldest male son, so it is difficult for women to gain access to finances. Women try to provide for their family by farming or selling products to local markets.
Nigeria's average household contains two parents and three kids. The male is typically the head of the household, especially in urban areas. 45% of the country's population is under the age of 15. This makes for crowded schools that are hard to get into. 40% of the children, mainly girls, do not attend school.
Health care in Nigeria is very poor. One in every six children dies before the age of five. Only 5% of Nigerians have health insurance. Poor transportation adds to health problems making it difficult to get to clinics and hospitals.
Nigeria is a republic with a long history of military rule and dictatorship. The government now has two branches: a senate and a house of representatives. Each president is only allowed to serve two four-year terms. All residents in Nigeria are able to vote at the age of eighteen and above. In 2015, 43.65% of the population voted. The military is the largest in West Africa consisting of an army, a navy, an air force, and a police force.
Only 33% of people that live in rural areas have access to electricity. The small amount of power that the country has is decreasing due to fuel costs and the government not investing in maintenance. More people have access to clean water than electricity. Most people that have access to water get it from community wells or streams. However, 70 million people do not have safe drinking water, which is why around 100,000 children die every year from diarrhea and related diseases.
With the favorable climates and a large area of arable land, farming has the potential to become immense. The staple crops include cassava, yams, corn, coco, yams, cowpeas, beans, sweet potatoes, millet, plantains, bananas, rice, and sorghum. 50% of Nigeria’s population works on farms. Most farms are family owned and make only enough food for them or to sell locally. Farms are generally small and scattered and use simple tools and shifting cultivation. These small farms produce about 90% of the total food in Nigeria.
The average temperature in Nigeria is 28 degrees Celsius or 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Along the coast, the average precipitation is about 2,000mm to 3,000mm. In some areas, the rainfall can get up to 4,000mm. These high amounts of rainfall allow there to be many rainforests and swamps. In contrast, the northern areas get around 500mm of precipitation. This allows much of the land to be used for agriculture. In 2013, cultivation took up 40% of the total land use, 20% higher than in 1975.
The soil quality in Nigeria is rated low to medium quality for growing crops. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) concluded that much of the land is medium quality if managed and maintained properly. Nigeria has 84 million hectares (Nigeria’s total is about 91 million hectares) that are able to be farmed. Out of that, only 34 million hectares were being used at the time.
Nigeria’s main export is oil, however, in 1960, it was crops. The country was completely self-sufficient in food. They exported 47% of all groundnuts. It provided 18% of the world's cocoa, second largest exporter in the world. Now it is down to 8%. The country used to produce 65% of Africa's tomatoes but is now the largest importer of tomato paste.
When an abundance of oil was found, much of the country’s resources that would have gone into agriculture became focused on this rising industry. The country quickly went from being self-reliant on food and being an exporter of crops, to having to import vast amounts of food. Since the 1960’s, Nigeria’s economy has been based off of the oil industry. In 1970, oil made Nigeria the thirteenth richest country. Currently, falling oil prices, corruption, and instability has put the economy at a high risk. Oil reserves were only found on the coast and in the Nigerian Delta region, but the government has taken the oil income and dispersed it through the whole country. These shared profits have caused people to believe they are being cheated out of money and have led to violence. With the money being distributed so many different ways, people are getting almost no profit. A better solution to this would be for the government to take the money and use it to build better roads, schools, hospitals, clean water, and purchase farm equipment.
Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank, stated, "Nigeria is known for nothing else than oil, and it is so sad because we never used to have oil – all we used to have was agriculture." Nigeria's oil has come with the sacrifice of its agriculture sector, he stated, "and that is why we had a rising poverty situation. We were having growth but without robust growth able to impact millions of people because it is not connecting to agriculture."
A possible solution to this would be to push for larger farms that run on machinery. If neighbors within a community work together on a farm using machinery, then they will be able to get a larger crop. Working together and utilizing technology would be beneficial because larger yields feed more people. This also gives the opportunity to grow a variety of crops which will increase the health of the country. The land used for agriculture is increasing in the past few years, but there is still not enough food available for the lower classes.
"Nigeria is said to have 20,000 to 30,000 functional tractor units. But the nation still requires about 1.5 million tractor units to fully boost its food production. This projection is against the backdrop of FAO recommendation of tractorization intensity of 1.5 hp (1.125 kW) per hectare. FAO study further showed that only 1% farm power is supplied by mechanical means in sub-Saharan Africa, 10% of animal draught power while the remaining 89% is from human labor,"AgricultureNigeria.com. Machinery is important in order to make a larger farm. The people that can afford it should look into investing in one or more tractors. Tractors can be used for trailers, transportation, plowing, tilling, harvesting, and much more. The main task to be mechanized is soil tillage. Tilling the soil takes the most time and is difficult to do by hand.
For people that cannot afford machinery, getting an animal such as a donkey, cow, mule, camel, or horse would be a good alternative. This would allow them to expand their farms in a way they can afford. Donkeys are plentiful in northern Nigeria. Currently, they are used mostly for trading and selling the fur, but they can be used for much more. Donkeys can provide power for tilling soil, planting, fertilizing, transportation, a source of meat, and many other functions. People think that using donkeys is old fashioned and backward thinking. However, they are becoming more popular in the north because they are cheap, resistant to many diseases, and can work many hours of labor.
In 2011, Nigeria earned 50.3 billion dollars from exporting oil. A way to allow farmers to get the needed tractors is to have the government give out grants and loans. This would allow farmers to start their industry and get a good business going without finances holding them back. Nigeria’s gross national income (GNI) in 2012 was $68,662,170,556,140. If you take 1% of that income and set it aside for agricultural use, that would give the industry 680 billion dollars a year. International aid can also help by training people to use machinery and animals.
A second problem is the food is not easily transported from the farm to the market. I would recommend the government invests in better roads in these areas. By spending money on new roads, the government would benefit because a well-fed population is more productive and healthier.
Nigeria used to be self-sufficient on food. It has favorable climates for growing year round, and the soil quality is medium allowing many plants to be grown. Through teamwork, farms everywhere can expand and become more efficient. With better machinery, it is possible to use more land. Help from the government will allow machinery to be purchased and roads to be maintained. Agriculture can thrive like it used to. You can spread your knowledge to bring back old traditions. Nigeria will come out of poverty and provide enough food to feed the growing population.