• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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Of 40 million agricultural households and a nation in hunger

Of 40 million agricultural households and a nation in hunger

Two weeks ago, the NBS report on agriculture should have been a cause for celebration. 40 million Nigerian households are supposedly tilling the land! But instead, a disquieting truth emerges: we’re a nation of farmers going hungry. This is a national emergency, and the status quo simply won’t cut it.

For decades, oil masked the neglect of our true potential—the fertile land that could feed a continent. Now, with bellies rumbling, it’s clear lip service to agriculture won’t do. We need a revolution, not a recruitment drive for more subsistence farmers!

It is clear that agriculture remains a cornerstone of Nigerian life, even if the government seems to have turned a blind eye. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reports an astounding 40.2 million agricultural households. With an average of five people per household, that’s over 200 million Nigerians involved in agriculture. This statistic casts a shadow over Nigeria’s official population count and the accuracy of our economic data concerning labour and population. If Nigeria’s population is indeed around 220 million, are we to believe that nearly every Nigerian is working in agriculture? This discrepancy demands closer scrutiny and a more honest discussion about our national statistics and economic realities.

Read also: HortiNigeria empowers 62,000 farmers, entrepreneurs to boost food security

Secondly, the stark gap between supply and demand for agricultural produce in Nigeria suggests that many of these so-called agricultural households are barely scraping by with subsistence farming. This means they have little to no surplus to sell in the market. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has yet to provide a clear definition for “agricultural household,” which could range from urban dwellers in Lagos with a few potted plants to families working small plots of land in Sokoto. This vague categorization hampers policymakers’ ability to design effective interventions. Without a precise benchmark, how can we address the real needs of these diverse groups and boost agricultural productivity in any meaningful way?

Furthermore, this figure should prompt serious reflection on the stark underdevelopment of our economy. In developed nations, agriculture accounts for less than 5 percent of GDP, and yet these countries are often food exporters. Contrast this with Nigeria, where agriculture still dominates, contributing 21.07 percent to GDP in the first quarter of 2024, according to the NBS. The 2022 Nigeria Multidimensional Poverty Survey reveals an even grimmer picture: multidimensional poverty is significantly higher in rural areas, where 72 percent of people are poor, compared to 42 percent in urban areas. With around 90 percent of the rural population relying on agriculture as their primary activity, it’s alarming that these areas house 80 percent of the nation’s poor. This glaring imbalance underscores the urgent need for economic diversification and targeted interventions to uplift our rural communities.

The report reveals a telling picture: Kano State leads with 2.4 million agricultural households, followed by Kaduna State with 2 million. At the other end, Bayelsa State has the lowest with 335,000 households, and Ekiti State follows with 478,000. Given these numbers, especially from less populated states like Bayelsa and Ekiti, one might expect these states to be self-sufficient in food production. Yet, the grim reality of food inflation and food insecurity paints a different picture. It’s particularly troubling that, despite a vast number of people engaged in agriculture, Nigerians still face severe food insecurity. One would assume that a nation with nearly 200 million people involved in farming would be awash with food. This stark reality challenges the prevailing rhetoric that urges the government to get more youth into agriculture. As the saying goes, it’s not just about quantity, but quality.

Since the previous administration, there’s been a strong push for youth involvement in agriculture. However, before we advocate for more youth participation or increased land allocation, we need to understand the root causes of our suboptimal agricultural output and persistent food insecurity. Addressing the drivers of widespread poverty in rural areas, where most agricultural households are located, is crucial. Moreover, the report highlights a concerning prevalence of child labour in our agricultural sector. Denying children the opportunity for education and career advancement is a ticking time bomb that could have devastating long-term consequences for our nation’s development.

Read also: Group trains 59,000 smallholder farmers, 2,000 agro-entrepreneurs on vegetable production

Nigeria’s agriculture desperately needs fewer people and a complete transformation. We must rethink our entire approach and confront the reasons why our productivity trails behind countries with far fewer agricultural households. Our yields are less than half of those in nations like South Africa and Indonesia, even though we use twice as much land. This inefficiency is alarming. Nigeria must stop perpetuating poverty through labour-intensive farming that offers meagre wages and generates minimal wealth for the country. It’s time for a revolution in our agricultural practices—one that prioritises efficiency, innovation, and the creation of real economic value.

While the NBS data offers valuable insights, it is only a starting point. We need to focus on identifying commercial farms, their scales of operation, and their success stories. This approach will allow us to develop evidence-based interventions to transition from a subsistence economy to one that fosters inclusive growth and prosperity. Nigeria can be the breadbasket of Africa, but not with the current approach. It is time to break this cycle of food insecurity and unleash the true potential of our agricultural sector. This is not just about statistics, NBS; this is about feeding a nation.

 

Rildwan Bello is the founder of Vestance Limited, a consulting firm providing high-quality advisory services to players in Africa’s agri-food sector to unlock their full potential.