Most Nigerians are well aware that the agricultural sector has been neglected in favor of oil and gas. A poorly performing agricultural sector limits the domestic supply of food, directly affecting its availability and affordability. This low productivity results in widespread food insecurity and poverty. Some studies have shown that up to 70% of Nigerians are food insecure. Moreover, as a major employer of labor, low agricultural productivity in Nigeria would affect income, increase poverty rates and limit purchasing power. It is important to note that although agricultural productivity has risen in recent years, it still lags population growth, insecurity and climate change.
Reasons for sub-optimal agricultural productivity are fairly well known: limited availability and high cost of quality inputs such as fertilizer, seed, chemicals and medicines for livestock, poor support infrastructure, weak extension services and underdeveloped financial markets. All of these factors result in troublingly low yields of staple crops. Despite efforts to increase rice production and favorable rice ecologies, average rice yields in Nigeria are between 1 and 2.5 tonnes/ha against potential yields of 5–6 tonnes/ha. Although Nigeria is a major maize producing country, maize yields are less than 2 tonnes per hectare on average compared to greater than 9 tonnes per hectare attained in the US.
Climate change would compound Nigeria’s agriculture production challenges
Given the current challenges to agricultural production in Nigeria, climate change is expected to make the situation even worse. Both higher temperatures and shifting rainfall regimes will lower crop yields compared to what they could be under a stable climate. While scientists are not certain exactly how rainfall patterns in West Africa will change over the next century, the region will definitely be hotter, with negative consequences for crop production. Climate change can also exacerbate pest and disease outbreaks. It is fair to state that the armyworm outbreak seen across Africa in 2017 were made worse because of climate change.
There are also indirect ways in which climate change can affect Nigerian agriculture. Rising sea levels, heavier rainfall, and extreme heat can all take a toll on already stressed and inadequate infrastructure which is needed to grow, harvest, store, and transport crops. Heavy rains and storm surges in coastal areas can wash out bridges and roads, while droughts can deplete reservoirs needed to irrigate crops. Under higher temperatures, fruits, vegetables and animal products spoil more rapidly.
In addition, Nigeria is already experiencing conflicts between herdsmen and farmers, especially in the Middle Belt Region. As population and land pressure grow, climate change could make these conflicts even worse, and could support recruitment by terrorist groups. People whose livelihoods have failed because of drought, flooding, or other climate impacts may be desperate enough to resort to violence. Although it has not been directly proven, one can link the rise of Boko Haram with dwindling water resources in the Lake Chad basin which led to crop failure and reduced income from fishing. Farmers subsequently abandoned their fields as they fled from the terrorist group. This is an example of how food insecurity, poverty, and violence can feed on one another in a reinforcing spiral.
Reasons to be optimistic
Despite all of these grave concerns about how climate change will impact food security in Nigeria, there are reasons to be optimistic. Firstly, Nigeria is an incredibly diverse country climatically, agro-ecologically, and culturally, and scientists know that diversity contributes to resilience. ‘Resilience’ is the ability of a system (in this case, the Nigerian food system) to deal with changes and shocks, and continue to develop. For example, if maize output is sub-optimal due to drought in a given year, millet, sorghum, and root crops could provide generic alternatives for the population instead. If heavy rains and flooding destroy the harvest in the Southeast, production in the North could compensate. As Nigeria’s agricultural sector develops, there should be a focus on maintaining and cultivating this rich diversity.
Investment in R&D is necessary
Moreover, Nigeria is still in the process of inventing itself and its future, and the country is fast becoming a hotbed for innovation in farming, which integrates scientific knowledge and will play a key role in climate adaptation in the medium to long term. Investment in R&D is necessary because results would be used to provide information, tools and infrastructure for farmers and food producers to increase efficiency without adversely affecting soil fertility, water and biodiversity.
As the country progresses in its development, technological innovation such as drought resistant crops, more effective fertilizers, and dryers for safely storing grains would be utilized more frequently. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that some small scale farmers are beginning to experiment with diversifying crop production and also finding ways to protect poultry from rising temperatures using ice blocks and improved ventilation.
Technological solutions can lead to improved crop yields. However, they will not solve all of Nigeria’s climate woes on their own. A ‘silver bullet’, singular solution approach, must be avoided in preference of a systems approach to climate resilience. Solutions will have to come from every sector of society.
For instance, we can adopt community-based approaches to climate resilience like community-scale water management, tree planting, community microfinance, and peer-to-peer education, just to name a few. Important lessons can be learned from other countries’ success in building resilience to climate change. For example, Nepal has been lauded for its comprehensive approach to climate resilience at the community scale.
Broadening participation in agriculture, particularly by young people, is also an important part of building resilience to climate change. Younger Nigerians will face more of the effects of climate change over the course of their life times so they should be integrally involved in designing solutions at the individual, community, and national scales.
Nigeria’s situation is serious but not hopeless
Nigeria’s situation with regards to climate change is serious, but not hopeless. If Nigeria is to effectively tackle the enormous challenges to food security presented by climate change, then innovation and awareness of climate change impacts should be cultivated in all parts of the agricultural ecosystem. Food security is a significant step in ensuring a life of dignity for every Nigerian. Given its vast resources, Nigeria has the opportunity to become a global leader in building a productive and resilient agricultural system for the 21st century.