Three ways to improve Nigeria’s agriculture sector

Nov 14, 2022|Toyib Aremu
This article was first published on the 4th of February 2020. It was last updated on the 14th of November, 2022.

After toiling to prepare the land and planting their crops, every farmer’s dream is a bountiful harvest that can feed their family and support other needs.  

Yet this is rarely the case for many Sub-Saharan African (SSA) farmers who cultivate on small lands, apply little fertiliser and depend mostly on rain to grow their crops. As a result, farmers here usually harvest much lower yields than their counterparts in other parts of the world who apply more fertilisers and have access to non-rainwater irrigation sources.  


Why is agricultural productivity low in Nigeria?

According to the World Bank, cereal yield in sub-Saharan Africa is less than half the global average, mostly due to low fertiliser usage. In 2020, Nigeria’s average fertiliser use was around 20kg per hectare, compared with a global average of 146kg, despite the Abuja Declaration of 2006, which sought to increase fertiliser use to an average of 50kg per hectare in African countries. 

Nigeria has only increased fertiliser usage from 11kg per hectare in 2016 to 20kg per hectare in 2020—an 82% increase. While this may seem impressive, Ghana, which started at a higher level of 37kg per hectare in 2016, grew nearly 200% to 107kg per hectare in 2020.

However, fertiliser adoption is growing below potential, largely due to racketeering. Most mediators buy fertilisers at the official price of ₦5,000 per bag and then resell them at ridiculous amounts. Let’s examine what the government has been doing to solve this low productivity and improve Nigeria’s agriculture sector. 


Government interventions in the Agriculture sector

Fertilisers help increase productivity and food security, which is important since Nigeria is expected to have the third-largest population by 2050. Additionally, improving productivity can increase farmers’ incomes and reduce rural poverty. This will greatly boost the agriculture sector, which is responsible for 60% of Nigeria's workforce. 

Nigerian governments have realised this potential and have tried to boost the sector in many ways, including through fertiliser subsidies, to reduce the financial burden on farmers. The high costs of fertilisers have been a major blockade for farmers. 

Enacted in 1976, the National Fertiliser Policy was the Federal Government's first foray into providing fertiliser subsidies. Before that, state governments provided subsidies ranging from 25 to 50% of the total cost. These programmes were phased out across Africa during the Structural Adjustment era of the late 80s but resurfaced in the 2000s following the Abuja Declaration on fertiliser use. 

Since then, Nigeria has transitioned from one subsidy regime to another, spending billions annually: ₦873 billion was spent between 1980 and 2010. Unfortunately, this has not translated to significant improvements in the sector. According to a former Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria lost 90% of the money spent on fertiliser subsidies during the 30 years to corruption and fertiliser racketeering. Moreover, despite throwing billions of naira at the problem, our fertiliser usage is growing at a rate far slower than our Ghanaian peers. As of 2020, our fertiliser usage was 13% of the global level and 18% of Ghanaian usage.  

On the back of this, the Buhari government abolished fertiliser subsidy programs and replaced them with the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative (PFI). Under the initiative, the government supplies discounted fertiliser inputs from Morocco and Europe through the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority fertiliser fund vehicle. The inputs are blended with locally sourced urea and distributed to farmers at ₦5,000 per bag, a significant cost saving compared to imported fertilisers which can cost as high as ₦9,000. After recovering their costs and deducting their margins, the blending companies remit the revenues to the government for re-investment into the next production phase. 


Ways of improving agriculture productivity in Nigeria

While improving fertiliser use will go a long way to improving agricultural productivity, it is not the only missing piece. Three other factors are considered here.

Soil fertility

The first is soil fertility testing. Think of the soil as a patient requiring medical attention. Without first visiting a doctor to get a diagnosis, any other steps taken may not help or make them worse; that is how important soil testing is to soil health. Before farmers are recommended a kind of fertiliser, it is important for them to first know what exactly is limiting in their soil. 

It is not advisable to apply fertiliser using blanket recommendations. Particular elements that are missing from the soil may not be accounted for in the added fertiliser, limiting any expected increase in yield. To solve this issue, several innovative approaches are currently being used across Africa. 

One of such is the Africa Soil Information Systems which collects soil nutrient information as maps and uses this to tailor fertiliser recommendations to farmers, increasing productivity. As Nigeria gets into the business of increasing fertiliser use, we should ensure that these fertilisers are the types our soils need.

Synergetic inputs

The second important factor is using synergetic inputs. The Green Revolution of the 1960s fed about a billion people and did not depend only on agrochemicals like fertilisers and pesticides. It was a combination of these plus others like improved seeds, irrigation and mechanisation, which are all important in improving crop yield. In a system that is highly susceptible to climate change and droughts, only 1% of croplands are currently irrigated in Nigeria. In this condition, no amount of fertiliser applied would translate to high-grade yield if water remains missing in the farming equation.

Working with agricultural extension agents

Finally, agricultural extension agents. These are the individuals who work with farmers to overcome their challenges by adopting new technology. They are vital in teaching farmers how and when to use fertilisers suitable for their crop/land. Nigeria has only 7,000 extension agents for its sixteen million farms – an obvious gap. Contrast this with Ethiopia, which has agents that reach 70% of its farm households.

Efforts must be made, however, to connect extension workers with research institutions to ease technology transfer to farmers. 

As with all government policies and programmes, monitoring and implementation are important. The PFI is a good starting point to boost fertiliser use and transform Nigeria’s agriculture. However, this is not the only leg in the race. Tailored fertilisers use, irrigation, extension and technology adoption are equally important for the sector to reach its full potential.


Frequently Asked Questions

What are the factors that affect agricultural production in Nigeria?

Factors affecting agricultural productivity in Nigeria include low fertiliser use and inadequate extension agents.


What are the problems facing agricultural productivity in Nigeria?

Fertilisers improve farmers’ productivity. Unfortunately, the stunted growth in fertiliser use and racketeering by middlepersons makes that improvement impossible. Hence, the poor agricultural productivity in Nigeria. 


How can agricultural productivity in Nigeria improve?

The government, farmers, and other relevant stakeholders can solve low agricultural productivity in Nigeria if they improve fertiliser use, conduct regular soil fertility tests, use synergetic inputs, and connect extension agents with research institutions.


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