Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has asked citizens of the country to farm their way out of poverty, but little does he realise that that road, like many of such in Nigeria, is filled with potholes.
Although Nigeria exported food worth ₦803 billion between 2016 and 2019, it has imported food worth even more—₦3.35 trillion—within the same period. Since 1970, Nigeria’s agriculture industry has faced the same set of challenges that have turned the country from an agricultural-export powerhouse to a massive agricultural importer. Some of these challenges include limited access to land, inadequate storage facilities, limited access to credit facilities, slow adoption of modern technologies, difficulty in accessing markets, and heavy reliance on rain-fed watering.
All these, and more, suggest that agriculture is perhaps not the economic saviour the Nigerian government thinks it to be.
The Nigerian president’s incessant clamour for the youth to go into farming is misplaced because 70% of Nigerians already engage in farming at a subsistence level and, despite the sector bringing in 30% of GDP, they are knee-deep in poverty.
To fill the credit access gap, the Nigerian government established the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) in 2015 to provide loans to farm labourers and small-farm owners at interest rates as low as 9%—way lower than the typical bank loan average of 30%—to boost agricultural production.
This is a laudable effort. As of March last year, according to Nigeria’s central bank, ₦554 billion had been disbursed into the programme and 3.8 million farmers have benefited. However, this is less than 5% of the 66 million farmers that need this funding.
Technology has always been a mainstay in the Nigerian government’s plan to make agriculture more efficient. In 2011, during the implementation of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), the country’s government established the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS) to provide farmers with vouchers for fertilisers and seeds directly from their mobile phones through mobile payments provider Cellulant’s mobile wallet.
The government’s effort to use technology to improve the agriculture industry has motivated agritech companies to also throw themselves into solving the problem. These agritech companies offer digital solutions that help provide farmers with access to market, financial service, credit, farm inputs, quality seeds, fertilisers, insecticides, pesticides, and equipment.