Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

KANO, Nigeria -- The nation blessed with Africa's largest oil reserves and some of its most fertile lands has a problem. It cannot feed its 140 million people, and relatively minor reductions in rainfall could set off a regional food catastrophe, experts say.

Nigeria was a major agricultural exporter before oil was discovered off its coast in the 1970s. But as it developed into the world's eighth-largest oil producing country, its big farms and plantations were neglected. Today, about 90 percent of Nigeria's agricultural output comes from inefficient small farms, according to the World Bank, and most farmers have little or no access to fertilizers, irrigation or other modern inputs. Most do not even grow enough food to feed their own families.

Nigeria has become one of the world's biggest importers of food staples, particularly rice and wheat, both of which the country could potentially grow in large enough quantities to be self-sufficient. Even with the imports, about 38 percent of Nigerians younger than 5 suffer from moderate or severe malnutrition, according to UNICEF, while 65 percent of the population -- roughly 91 million people -- are what humanitarian organizations call "food insecure." They are at risk of waking up one morning to find that they have nothing to eat.

With increased variation in weather patterns, experts envisage far worse to come.

Nigeria is "high-stakes," said William A. Masters, associate head of Purdue University's Department of Agricultural Economics and a specialist in agriculture in Africa. "Malawi's successes or Zimbabwe's failures are small compared to what happens in Nigeria," he said.

The people who have suffered most from Nigeria's unreliable agricultural output are its impoverished neighbors. In 2005, when Nigeria had a bad harvest, traders imported grain from Niger, which borders Nigeria to the north. The increased demand caused food prices to spike beyond what locals in Niger could afford. Aid organizations sent in food aid, but much of it was also bought up by traders and diverted to markets in Nigeria. Nutritional surveys suggest that untold numbers of children died.

Aid organizations say that they are now better prepared for food shortages in Niger and other countries around Nigeria, but that Nigeria itself remains problematic.

"Its economy is so big and complex, we can't really get a handle on it," one senior aid official in the region said on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. "The idea of a major drought or other disaster in Nigeria is almost too frightening for anyone to contemplate."

A Wake-Up Call

In theory, Nigeria could cope with a food emergency. The government is supposed to have the capacity to hold 300,000 metric tons of grain in reserve. But in practice, many of the silos for these grains have not yet been built, and those that have stand empty or are half-full.

"At best, the government's capacity is 300,000 metric tons and that capacity is only being half-utilized," said Guido Firetti, a silo contractor who recently took over the job of completing a 25,000-ton silo that has been under construction for more than 15 years.

For many in Nigeria, including some government officials, the global food crisis last year was a wake-up call. Prices of imported food soared, and the country panicked. Fearing food riots, the government announced it would spend $600 million to buy rice regardless of the price. The plan was quickly shelved when it became clear that getting the imported food to the people who needed it would take almost as long as growing the food locally.

The government then shifted gears. The money for importing food was reassigned to food self-sufficiency projects and, according to Nigeria's 2009 budget, the government's spending on agriculture is set to increase. The spike in world food prices, the worldwide recession and the slump in oil prices have spurred the government on, said Salisu Ingaw, the head of the National Food Reserve Agency. "Now we have to become more food self-sufficient," Ingaw said.

Embracing a Small Scale

Corruption is the usual explanation for why this ostensibly "rich" nation remains so underdeveloped. "But corruption is just the tip of the iceberg," said Masters, the Purdue specialist.

Even the most corrupt Nigerian governments invested in some infrastructure projects because they had so much oil wealth, Masters suggested. The problem is that so little of what they invested in ended up working, he said.

One widely held misconception that Nigerian governments fell for, Masters said, is that big farm ventures were inherently more productive than small ones. "Unless they are to be a link in a larger industrial process, the chances are high they will fail," he said "In most cases, large industrial farms don't have the necessary flexibility one finds in smaller family-style farms."

Nigerian development economist Shuaibu Idris said governments have traditionally seen small-scale farmers as backward, "but there is absolutely nothing wrong with a peasant one-man proprietor farm as long as the farmer can learn to adapt to new realities." Small-scale farmers may need to form cooperatives to share the cost of farm machinery and to buy inputs at bulk prices, he said.

That is also the conclusion recently embraced by the World Bank. In January, it approved a new $150 million Commercial Agriculture Development Project in Nigeria designed to support small- and medium-scale farmers.

The World Bank's new project, which is in the form of a loan to the government, will improve rural roads for farmers to reduce high transport costs and provide them with better storage facilities.

The good news is that Nigeria has boundless agricultural potential. Of the 3.14 million irrigable hectares of land in the country, the World Bank says only 7 percent is currently being utilized. And though large tracts of farmland have been lost to desertification, more than half the country's estimated 98 million hectares of arable land currently lie fallow.

"The opportunities for our farmers are enormous if only they were to get the right institutional support," said Sabo Nanono, the head of Kano state's commercial farmers association. "We could feed the entire West African region; we could produce enough rice in just two or three [of Nigeria's 36] states to feed the nation and even to export."

Somehow, the supply chain that feeds 140 million people keeps cranking along. The country has not seen a major famine for nearly four decades, since the Biafran civil war. But Nanono warned that it wouldn't take much to send this vulnerable country -- and region -- over the edge.

"The reality is that if the rains are bad throughout the region or the price of inputs became unaffordable, there could be massive food shortages, and neither the government nor any other institution stands ready to help," he said. "Then only God could save us."

Views: 25

Comment by Mita Williams on March 15, 2010 at 1:38pm
Thanks for this. I'm intrigued by efforts from Oxfam to fight corruption overseas by also holding Western oil companies responsible through financial transparency.

Comment

You need to be a member of Urgent Evoke to add comments!

Join Urgent Evoke

Latest Activity

N updated their profile
Sep 25, 2020
Sophie C. commented on Asger Jon Vistisen's blog post Stinging Nettle
"I love that you've brought this to attention. An extensive database of uncommon but resistant and hardy plants/foods could be developed and organized by climate. Ease of growth and processing should also be taken in to account. I will try to…"
Aug 19, 2020
Meghan Mulvey posted a blog post

Fourth of July on the Lake

This past weekend was the annual celebration at the lake house in Connecticut. It is amazing that the lake is still so clear and beautiful after all these years. The watershed association has done a wonderful job protecting these waters from the damaging effects of development.The wood grill was finally ready to cook on, so we didn't miss the propane tank fueled grill anymore. The food actually tasted fresher than in the past and was easy to keep fueled.Dad was very proud of the solar hybrid…See More
Jul 6, 2020
Asger Jon Vistisen posted a blog post

Stinging Nettle

In this blog post I will focus on a plant that is abundant in our nature, and which is immensely nutritious. It's of course the Stinging Nettle. Let's start with the chemical constituents of this plant:37 % Non-Nitrogen-Extracts19 - 29 % Ash9 - 21 % Fiber4 % Fat22 % ProteinOnce the leaves are drid, their protein content can reach an astounding 40 %, which is much higher than beef, which even under the best of circ**stances can never exceed 31 % protein. In addition the Stinging Nettle consists…See More
Apr 13, 2020
Jonathon McCallum posted a blog post

The meal

It is 7'oclock, I was late home from work due to an assignment that i wanted to get ahead on. By the time I get home I am feeling extremley tired and I cannot be bothered to make a proper meal. I walk to the fridge and open it to see what there is for me to eat. All of the out of date foodstuffs have been automaticaly thrown away by the fridge, they will be recycled tomorrow as animal feed or something. I see i have organic local eggs and some local cheese. Foods are vacc** sealded for easy…See More
Mar 10, 2020
Jean Paul Galea shared a profile on Facebook
Mar 1, 2020
Kevin posted a blog post

Future

FutureToday is 2020/1/1. It is just like yesterday. The war is still continuing. It has started since 2010. In 2010, that year was a horrible year. Almost every energy ran out. Every country’s governments were crushed down at the same time. There were riots everywhere. All of the big company’s bosses were killed xdeadx in the riots. Troops fought each other everywhere. Food was bought up xawayx at once. There were no more food supplies in any shops. The economy was all crushed down. All the…See More
Jan 1, 2020
Namwaka Mooto posted blog posts
Jan 13, 2016
T D updated their profile
Sep 3, 2015
Brook Warner posted blog posts
Aug 25, 2015
Santiago Vega posted blog posts
May 5, 2015
Santiago Vega commented on Santiago Vega's blog post Act 8
May 5, 2015
Santiago Vega posted photos
May 5, 2015
Rico Angel Rodriguez posted blog posts
May 2, 2015
Rico Angel Rodriguez posted a photo

public servants

The exchange works directly for state and public workers and servants. It gives them credit in exchange for the amount of public work they contribute to the community. The more constructive they are based off a base rate the more credit they recieve.
May 2, 2015
Brian Hurley posted blog posts
May 2, 2015

Follow EVOKE on Twitter




Official EVOKE Facebook Page




EVOKE RSS Activity Feed










© 2023   Created by Alchemy.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service