The Nigeria agriculture enigma

Nigeria has transformed cassava from a subsistence crop to a highly lucrative cash cropDr Terry Mabbett talked to Chris Okeke who revealed the facts and figures which show the need for self sufficiency and how the numbers show potential for production and processing potential, but why at the same it is simply not happening

In the November/December 2011 issue Chris Okeke, large-scale farmer and agricultural entrepreneur told African Farming why Nigeria remains ‘a million miles away’ from feeding itself and thereby slashing a huge food importation bill. This failing is despite Nigeria possessing all the physical and social potential – land resources, fertile soils, favourable climatic zones and innovative and industrious farming communities – to achieve its goal as well as a history of international aid and development money pumped into agriculture since Independence in 1962.

He lays the blame fairly and squarely on inappropriate and poorly targeted development programmes with too much reliance on scientific and technical advice from outside Nigeria. And not enough notice taken of big commercial Nigerian farmers already established in production and processing under Nigerian conditions and constraints.

In this follow up article Chris Okeke reveals the facts and figures which show the need for self sufficiency and how the numbers show potential for production and processing potential, but why at the same it is simply not happening.

Foundations for feeding Nigeria

Nigeria has 155mn and rising mouths to feed. Population has been growing at two to three per cent per annum while agriculture averaged less than one per cent growth over the same period.

A large proportion of Nigeria’s foreign currency from petroleum oil and gas resources covers a big bill for expensive foreign food. The average Nigerian spends between 40-60 per cent of his/her income on food, double the average for other developing countries.

“The foundations on which to build are in place with 42 per cent of national GDP and 60 per cent of employment tied to agriculture and therefore it is hardly surprising that Nigeria is experiencing effective stagnation in per capita income especially in rural communities” says Chris Okeke. Only Nigerian cotton is able to compete on world markets. Agriculture-related GDP in other African countries is just 15 per cent.

An invitation by the Kwara State Government to displaced white Zimbabwean farmers to develop large scale commercial farms attracted criticism on political and ideological grounds. Successes and failures resulted but one of the policy’s biggest successes was perversely a spin off from a string of failures says Chris Okeke.

“What happened to these experienced farmers exposed deep flaws in Nigeria’s agriculture and goes a long way to explain why average crop yields in Nigeria – including cassava, maize, and rice – are just 30 per cent of those achieved in other developing countries in Asia and Latin America,” said Chris. He did not say whether the flaws and failings were previously unrealised or simply unacknowledged by government.

The yawning gap between Nigeria’s food consumption and home-grown production is patently obvious, but a basic framework and requirements for Nigerian farmers to bridge this cost-crippling gap exist. So we asked Chris Okeke for his opinion and detailed assessment as to why this isn’t happening.

He put the Nigeria-wide problem into context using his own experience of large scale farming and industrial processing of cassava at Ihialia in Anambra State. The bulk of cassava feeding his factory is from his own 2800 ha of farmland and several other Nigerian-owned farms, and topped up by four Zimbabwean farmers at Shonga in Kwara State who are contracted to supply Chris’ company NSM Foods Ltd.

However, his factory is still short by 40,000 to 45,000 tonnes of the 70,000 to 80,000 tonnes required to run at full capacity. He identifies four main bottlenecks choking off growth in Nigeria’s agricultural production and processing including his own operation. They are: 1) Finance failings 2) infrastructure underdevelopment 3) non-competitive seeds 4) input and output markets

“Despite the pre-eminence of agriculture in the Nigerian economy, financial investment is lacking or at best improperly tenanted” said Chris Okeke. Agriculture in Nigeria accounts for only 1.4 per cent of bank lending compared to six per cent in Kenya and 18 per cent in Brazil.

To read this article in full, please see pages 18 to 20 of the digital edition of African Farming, January/February 2012

Alain Charles Publishing, University House, 11-13 Lower Grosvenor Place, London, SW1W 0EX, UK
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