Agriculture in Nigeria

Agriculture in Nigeria is a branch of the economy in Nigeria, providing employment for about 35% of the population as of 2020. As reported by the FAO, agriculture remains the foundation of the Nigerian economy, despite the presence of oil in the country. It is the main source of livelihood for most Nigerians. The Agricultural sector is made up of four sub-sectors: Crop Production, Livestock, Forestry and Fishing. In the third quarter of 2019, the sector grew by 14.88% year-on-year in nominal terms with a decline of 3.44% points from the third quarter of 2018. The largest driver of the sector remains Crop Production as it accounts for 91.6% of the sector in the third quarter of 2019 with a quarterly growth which stood at 44.12%. The Agriculture sector contributed 29.25% to overall real GDP during the third quarter of 2019.

The sector is being transformed by commercialization at the small, medium and large-scale enterprise levels. On the other hand, the Nigerian Agricultural sector has encountered several challenges ranging from an obsolete land tenure system that limits access to land (1.8 ha/farming household), a very low level of irrigation development (less than 1 percent of cropped land under irrigation), limited adoption of research findings and technologies, high cost of farm inputs, poor access to credit, inefficient fertilizer procurement and distribution, insufficient storage facilities and poor access to markets and more recently, changes in average temperatures, rainfall, climate extremes and infestation of pests and diseases causing organisms precipitated by climate change pose great challenge to agriculture. This is coupled with a high dependence on rainfed agriculture which has made the Agricultural Production System highly vulnerable to adverse seasonal variations. These have all contributed to low agricultural productivity (average of 1.2 metric tons of cereals/ha) with high postharvest losses and waste in Nigeria.

Dynamics of Agriculture

Food export accounted for more than 70 percent of the GNP of Nigeria at independence. Twenty-five years later, it was almost a complete reversal with food items accounting for over 50 percent of imports. Food output however declined after independence, although, many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa were fertile and potentially productive, per capita food out declined, grain imports then increased more than seven times. The usage of inorganic fertilizers was therefore promoted by the Nigerian government in the 1970s. 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 potentials.

Agricultural holdings are small and scattered, and farming is carried out with simple tools. Large-scale agriculture is not common. Agriculture contributed 32% to GDP in 2001

Agriculture Products in Nigeria

Major crops include beans, rice, sesame, cashew nuts, cassava, cocoa beans, groundnuts, gum arabic, kolanut, maize (corn), melon, millet, palm kernels, palm oil, plantains, rice, rubber, sorghum, soybeans, bananas and yams.

In the past, Nigeria was famous for the export of groundnut and palm kernel oil. But over the years, the rate of exportation of this produce has reduced. A few years back local Nigerian companies have commenced exporting groundnuts, cashew nuts, sesame seeds, moringa seeds, Ginger, cocoa etc.

The country’s agricultural products fall into two main groups: food crops produced for home consumption, and cash crops sold for profits and also exported abroad. Prior to the Nigerian civil war, the country was self-sufficient in food, but increased steeply after 1973. Bread made from American wheat replaced domestic crops as the cheapest staple food. Between 1980 and 2016, yam production increased from more than 5 million tonnes to 44 million tonnes.

History of Agriculture in Nigeria

Nigeria is very blessed with agricultural resources, a large expanse of land estimated at 91 million hectares (1990) of which 81 million hectares are arable.  Most parts of the country experience-rich soil, well-distributed rainfall, not to mention the warm year-round temperatures. And 18 million hectares of land classified as permanent pasture, for livestock production.

Agriculture has its place in the history of the nation, this is the reason for the ‘green’ in the flag, and the progressive roles it has played; serving as the major source of livelihood to over 75% of the population[2]. The agricultural history of Nigeria is intertwined with its political history. This can be assessed from the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial periods.



Long before the advent of Nigeria’s colonization, our ancestors were sustained primarily on farming as the major occupation with the use of crude implements compared to what is obtained today. Yet, they produced enough food crops to feed themselves like most other Africans and also produced cash crops which used for trade by barter system, across the Trans Saharan trade to the end of the Atlantic trade. They responded accordingly to the demands of their time, the limitations notwithstanding.

The period of the colonial administration in Nigeria, 1861-1960, was punctuated by rather an ad hoc attention to agricultural development. During the era, considerable emphasis was placed on research and extension services. The first notable activity of the era was the establishment of the Department of Botanical Research in 1893 in former Western Nigeria; saddled with the responsibility of conducting research in Agriculture[3]. In 1905, the British Cotton Growers Association acquired 10.35 square kilometres of land at the site now called Moor Plantation, Ibadan for growing cotton to feed the British Textile Mills. In 1910, Moor Plantation, Ibadan became the headquarters of the Department of Agriculture in Southern Nigeria, and a Department of Agriculture was established in the North in 1912.

In 1921, a unified Department of Agriculture was formed in Nigeria, after the amalgamation of the North and the South. The major policy of the Central Department of Agriculture was to increase the production of export crops for the British market which was ready to absorb it for its industrial growth. Extension activities were therefore directed towards increasing efficiency in crop production and marketing. Regulations were made to set and enforce standards in export crop production.

Under the colonial government, livestock which was predominantly nomadic got a fair share of development with interest directed at the health and hygiene of the domesticated cattle. Thus, the Nigerian Veterinary Department was established in 1914 with its headquarters at Zaria. In 1924, a small veterinary laboratory was established in Vom for the production of rinderpest serum.

Deliberate efforts at developing the country’s fisheries can be said to date back to the Second World War when, because of the naval blockade of the high seas, the then Colonial Administration decided to develop the country’s local resources, including fisheries. A fisheries organization was established in 1941 as a Fisheries Development Branch of the Agricultural Department of the Colonial Office and a Senior Agricultural Officer was appointed to conduct a survey of the industry and its possibilities. The headquarters was sited at Apese village and later at Onikan in Lagos, from where, assisted by a part-time voluntary officer, preliminary experiments in fish culture in brackish water ponds at Onikan were carried out and surveys were conducted on the canoe fisheries of Apese village and Kuramo waters around Victoria Island, Lagos.

The colonial period also witnessed the establishment of the Niger Agricultural Project in 1949 with the aims of producing groundnut for export and guinea-corn for local consumption. It was also meant to relieve world food shortage, demonstrate better farming techniques and increase the productivity of Nigeria’s agriculture. The project was sited near Mokwa (Niger state) at an area which was suitable for mechanized food crop production.


New policies were formulated in the post-independence era to actualize more equitable growth in agriculture. The earlier surplus extraction policies were quickly translated into the pursuit of export-led growth[6]. This led to the demarcation of the country into the Western Region (cocoa), Northern Region (groundnut) and Eastern Region (oil palm).

The 1962-1968 development plans were Nigeria’s first national plan. Among several objectives, it emphasized the introduction of more modern agricultural methods through farm settlements, co-operative (nucleus) plantations, the supply of improved farm implements (e.g. hydraulic hand presses for oil palm processing) and a greatly expanded agricultural extension service.

Some of the specialized development schemes initiated or implemented during this period included:

·         Farm Settlement Schemes

·         National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), launched in 1972.

There were also a number of agricultural development intervention experiments, notably

·         Operation Feed the Nation, launched in 1976;

·         River Basin and Rural Development Authorities established in 1976;

·         Green Revolution Programme, inaugurated in 1980

·         The World Bank-funded Agricultural Development Projects (ADP).

While each of the above programmes sought to improve food production, the ADPs represented the major practical demonstration of the integrated approach to agricultural development in Nigeria.

Owing to the oil boom in the 1970s, Agriculture assumed a downward trend.  Available data show that at independence in 1960 the contribution of agriculture to the GDP was about 60%, which is typical for developing agrarian nations. However, this share declined over time to only about 25% between 1975 and 1979[7]. Between 1970 and 1982, agricultural production stagnated at less than one per cent annual growth rate, at a time when the population growth was between 2.5 to 3.0 per cent per annum. There was a sharp decline in export crop production, while food production increased only marginally. Thus, domestic food supply had to be augmented through large imports. The food import bill rose from a mere N112.88m annually during 1970 – 1974 to N1, 964.8m in 1991.

The years since the early 1960s have also witnessed the establishment of several agricultural research institutes and their extension research liaison services. Some of the major institutions are:

1. Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Service (AERLS) at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria established in 1963

2. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) established in 1967

3. International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA).

In an attempt to address the dwindling resources accrued from Agriculture, the successive government implemented programs aimed at increasing food production and reviving Agriculture. These are:

 National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP): was an agricultural extension programme initiated in 1972 by the Federal Department of Agriculture during General Yakubu Gowon’s regime. The programme focused on bringing about a significant increase in the production of maize, cassava, rice and wheat in the Northern states through subsistent production within a short period of time. The programme was designed to spread to other states in the country after the pilot stage that was established in Anambra, Imo, Ondo, Oyo, Ogun, Benue, Plateau and Kano states.

 Operation Feed the Nation (OFN):  This programme evolved on 21st May 1976 under the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. The programme was launched in order to bring about increased food production in the entire nation through the active involvement and participation of everybody in every discipline thereby making every person capable of partly or wholly feeding him or herself. Under this programme, every available piece of land in urban, suburban and rural areas was meant to be planted while government-provided inputs and subsidies (like agrochemicals, fertilizers, improved variety of seed/seedlings, day-old chicks, machetes, sickles, hoes etc) freely to government establishments. Individuals received these inputs at a subsidized rate.

The River Basin Development Authority (RBDA): River Basin Development Decree was promulgated in 1976 to establish eleven River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs) (Decree 25 of 1976)[8]. The initial aim of the authorities was to boost economic potentials of the existing water bodies particularly irrigation and fishery with hydroelectric power generation and domestic water supply as secondary objectives. The objective of the programme was later extended to other areas most important to production and rural infrastructural development.

The Green Revolution: Green Revolution was a programme inaugurated by Shehu Shagari in April 1980. The programme was aimed at increasing the production of food and raw materials in order to ensure food security and self-sufficiency in basic staples. Secondly, it aspired to boost production of livestock and fish in order to meet home and export needs and to expand and diversify the nation’s foreign exchange earnings through production and processing of export crops. The federal government provided agrochemicals, improved seeds/seedlings, irrigation system, machine (mechanization), credit facilities, improved marketing and favourable pricing policy for the agricultural products.

The Nigerian Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA): This was established in 1992. The authority aims at giving strategic public support for land development, assisting and promoting better uses of Nigeria’s rural land and their resources, boosting profitable employment opportunities for rural dwellers, raising the level/standard of living of rural people, targeting and assisting in achieving food security through self-reliance and sufficiency.

National Fadama Development Project (NFDP): The first National Fadama Development Project (NFDP-1) was designed in the early 1990s to promote simple low-cost improved irrigation technology under World Bank financing. The main objective was to sustainably increase the incomes of the Fadama users through the expansion of farm and non-farm activities with high value-added output[9]. The programme covered twelve states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Kebbi, Lagos, Niger, Ogun Oyo, Taraba including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The program adopted a community-driven development approach with extensive participation of the stakeholders at the early stage of the project. This approach is in line with the policies and development strategies for Nigeria which emphasize poverty reduction, private sector leadership and beneficiary participation. Overall appraisal of the first and second phases of the project; show remarkable success, hence the invention of the current third phase.

National, Special Programme on Food Security (NSPFS): This Programme was launched in January 2002 in all the thirty-six states of the federation during the Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime. The broad objective of the programme was to increase food production and eliminate rural poverty. Other specific objectives of the programme were: assisting farmers in increasing their output, productivity and income; strengthening the effectiveness of research and extension service training and educating farmers on-farm management for effective utilization of resources; supporting governments efforts in the promotion of simple technologies for self-sufficiency; consolidating initial efforts of the programme on pilot areas for maximum output and ease of replication; consolidating gain from on-going for continuity of the programme and consequent termination of external assisted programmes and projects.

Root And Tuber Expansion Programme (RTEP): RTEP was launched on 16th April 2003 under Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. It covers 26 states and was designed to address the problem of food production and rural poverty. At the local farmer’s level, the programme hopes to achieve economic growth, improve access of the poor to social services and carry out intervention measures to protect poor and vulnerable groups. At the national level, the programme is designed to achieve food security and stimulate demand for cheaper staple food such as cassava, garri, yam, potato etc as against more expensive carbohydrate such as rice. Smallholder farmers with less than two hectares of land per household were the targets of the programme while special attention is being paid to women who play a significant role in rural food production, processing and marketing. RTEP also targets at multiplying and introducing improved root and tuber varieties to about 350,000 farmers in order to increase productivity and income.


Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA):

In 2011 the government of Nigeria, launched the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, with the aim of changing the perception about agriculture as a development issue instead of pure business.

The vision in the transformation strategy is to achieve a hunger-free Nigeria through an agricultural sector that drives income growth, accelerates the achievement of food and nutritional security, generates employment and transforms Nigeria into a leading player in global food markets to grow wealth for millions of farmers. In order to achieve this vision, the value chain approach has been in use.  Fertilizer procurement and distribution, marketing institutions, financial value chains and agricultural investment framework are poised for a change using this approach.

Ironically, the issues and challenges have not changed much since the dawn of agriculture in Nigeria.  Majority of farmers (more than 65%) still use the crude method of farming; Storage ideas and facilities have not improved much and thus losses incurred from postharvest handling are still very high; Infrastructure development has not progressed to meet the current challenges, resulting in stagnation of processes and logistical nightmare; Access to markets has remained a recurring headache making the idea of Farming very unattractive to most people.

Beyond all of this, the fact remains that, Nigeria’s Agriculture Sector has enormous potential, with an opportunity to grow output by 160% from USD 99 billion at present to USD 256 billion by 2030[10] (depending on who you ask).

This growth potential comes from the ability to;

1.       Increase yield to 80% -100% of benchmark countries.

2.       Shift 20% of production to higher-value crops.[11]

Opportunities highlighted at SENCE Agric’s Agriculture Fair of March 2012 showed that Nigeria faces a large and growing global agricultural market. The rising commodity prices, growing demand for food and opportunities in biofuel as safe sources of alternative fuel all present significant opportunities for Nigeria. In summary, Agriculture has had a long history in Nigeria albeit a not so successful one but the future is great and the right people need to be involved to move it away from rhetoric to a life-giving, money-making venture for the good of man and country.

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