In spite of the oil, agriculture remains the base of the Nigerian economy, providing the main source of livelihood for most Nigerians. The sector faces many challenges, notably an outdated land tenure system that constrains access to land (1.8 ha/farming household), a very low level of irrigation development (less than 1 percent of cropped land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, inadequate storage facilities and poor access to markets have all combined to keep agricultural productivity low (average of 1.2 metric tons of cereals/ha) with high postharvest losses and waste.
Even though agriculture still remains the largest sector of the Nigerian economy and employs two-thirds of the entire labour force, the production hurdles have significantly stifled the performance of the sector. Over the past 20 years, value-added per capita in agriculture has risen by less than 1 percent annually. It is estimated that Nigeria has lost USD 10 billion in annual export opportunity from groundnut, palm oil, cocoa and cotton alone due to continuous decline in the production of those commodities. Food (crop) production increases have not kept pace with population growth, resulting in rising food imports and declining levels of national food self-sufficiency (FMARD, 2008). The main factors undermining production include reliance on rainfed agriculture, smallholder land holding, and low productivity due to poor planting material, low fertilizer application, and a weak agricultural extension system amongst others.
Nigeria is the continent’s leading consumer of rice, one of the largest producers of rice in Africa and simultaneously one of the largest rice importers in the world. As well as an important food security crop, it is an essential cash crop for it is mainly small-scale producers who commonly sell 80 per cent of total production and consume only 20 per cent. Rice generates more income for Nigerian farmers than any other cash crop in the country. In 2008, Nigeria produced approximately 2 million MT of milled rice and imported roughly 3 million metric tons, including the estimated 800,000 metric tons that is suspected to enter the country illegally on an annual basis.
Moreover, the country is the largest producer of cassava in the world, with about 50 million metric tons annually from a cultivated area of about 3.7 million ha. Nigeria accounts for cassava production of up to 20 per cent of the world, about 34 per cent of Africa’s and about 46 per cent of West Africa’s. The national average yield of cassava is estimated at about 13.63 MT per ha, as against potential yield of up to 40 metric tons per ha. Close to two-thirds (66 per cent) of total production is in the southern part of the country, while about 30 per cent is in the north-central, and 4 per cent in other parts of the north. The crop is predominantly grown by smallholders on small plots for family consumption and local sale. Large scale commercial plantations are rare.
Nigeria is the world’s largest cassava producer and Africa’s largest rice importer. The government and private sector therefore need to join efforts to develop ways to enhance cassava’s competitiveness in the international market and improve the efficiency of domestic rice production and processing. Under the ATA, the Government of Nigeria is expressing its determination to end the era of food imports, particularly rice, and develop cassava and rice value chains to produce and add value to these selected products and create domestic and export markets for farmers. A range of policies and initiatives to strengthen cassava and rice value chains, from production to marketing are being put in place. However, because of the country’s massive size and diversity, different regions may face different constraints because of a decentralized approach to designing industrial policies and initiatives that may not be in sync with the agricultural policies (IFPRI- Policy Note No. 32, 2012).
The Nigeria fisheries sub sector contributes about 3-4 percent to the country’s annual GDP and is an important contributor to the population’s nutritional requirements, constituting about 50 percent of animal protein intake. In addition, the sub-sector generates employment and income for a significant number of artisanal fishermen and small traders. Although capture fisheries has now been declining, Nigeria has a big potential in both marine and fresh water fisheries including aquaculture. In spite of this high potential, domestic fish production still falls far below the total demand, which was estimated at 2.2 million metric tons per year in 2008. As a result, the country imports about 60 percent of the fish consumed. To reduce the level of fish imports, aquaculture has been selected as one of the priority value chains targeted for development in the next four years. The National Aquaculture Strategy Plan has just been finalized with the assistance of FAO to guide support for the value chain.
Livestock development is an important component of Nigeria agriculture with abundant social and economic potentials. About 60 percent of the ruminant livestock population is found in the country’s semi-arid zone and mostly managed by pastoralists. Domestic production of livestock products is far below the national demand, resulting in large imports of livestock and livestock products. Except for eggs, the domestic production of animal products is less than half the demand for beef mutton and goat meat, while for milk and pork products it is less than quarter the demand (NV20:2020, 2009). About 30 percent of live animals slaughtered in Nigeria are imported from neighbouring countries. Like other subsectors, livestock industry development is constrained by low productive breeds, inadequate access to feeds and grazing lands, frequent farmer – pastoralist conflicts, lack of processing facilities and low value addition and low technical inputs in the management of the animals, including diseases. The livestock sector can create new opportunities for farmers and provide more affordable and healthier diets for future generations. Managing this growth also requires a complex institutional response that can stimulate income and employment opportunities in the rural areas, protect the livelihoods of small farmers, improve resource use efficiency at all levels of the value chain, minimize negative environmental and health consequences, and ensure adequate access by the poorer sections of society to the food they need to live healthy lives.