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Developing and implementing policies that transform agriculture in land fragmented regions – A case for Nigeria

3 June 2019
Dr Effiong Essien

Dr Effiong Essien is a Senior Special Assistant to the president of Nigeria on the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) for agriculture and transportation. He was a participant at the CABRI policy dialogue on, “the role of government in developing agriculture value chains for employment creation and poverty reduction”. He presented on the Nigerian rice and cassava value chains. In this blog, he elaborates on some of the actions taken by the government towards overcoming the challenge of land fragmentation.

Dr Effiong Essien

Dr Effiong Essien


Developing agriculture policy, let alone implementing, is deceptively simple, especially for countries layered with challenges such as poor-quality inputs, fragmented land and high cost of credit for agriculture. Nigeria is one of such countries with smallholder farmers constituting 70% of the farming community with each on less than 2 hectares of land on average. These smallholder farmers are responsible for 90% of total agriculture productivity of the Nation. With fragmented land holding, these smallholder farmers on their own can hardly access credit and infrastructure such as integrated irrigation and tractorisation to optimize and gain returns from their investment.

Despite these challenges, Nigeria has a significant opportunity to diversify its economy through agriculture transformation. One opportunity is that with 79 million hectares of arable land, Nigeria has only cultivated 46% of it. Additionally, Nigeria’s increase in agriculture production is by land expansion as the yields of crops have declined, a situation that could easily be reversed through the introduction of best practices and innovative technology to optimise already grown areas. Another opportunity is that Nigeria alone is an immense market for food and food products by share size of its population of 193 million people, making it the 7th largest population, growing to becoming the 3rd most populous nation with 410 million people in 2050. Nigeria is also currently the largest global producer of yam and cassava, two important produce yet to be transformed into high value products for industrial and export markets. As one of the biggest rice consuming nations, Nigeria has made considerable progress in its effort to becoming self-sufficient in rice production. Although crops are contributing about 89% of agriculture sector GDP, livestock with 8% contribution offers immense opportunity for investment to cater for current and future animal protein needs of a blossoming population.

Nigeria like many other countries suffers from the lack of implementation of attractive plans for agriculture. It was in recognition of this failure that the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017-2020 was designed to not just prioritise agriculture in its execution but also give greater emphasis to the plan implementation

  1. By making agriculture an execution priority, key assumptions were made. Firstly, to boost agriculture productivity by facilitating access to inputs (including land), credit and extension services. Secondly, to integrate the agriculture value chain and improve access to markets. Thirdly, to use irrigated land and river basin infrastructure effectively to enable year-round agricultural production.
  2. On implementation, there are about three overarching approaches aimed at fastracking progress and achieving concrete results on the ground. Firstly, emphasis is on “All of Government” - which requires the alignment of budget to policy objectives through budget bilateral. In other words, the budget of the federal government is expected to catalyse private sector investment at the ratio of US$1:5. Economic Recovery and Growth Plan was fundamentally designed to signal the use of private sector funds and innovative capacity to transform agriculture. To that effect for the first time in several years a budget bilateral was held in 2017 to ensure that each line of budget speaks to the objective of ERGP and establish synergy - that all agriculture cross cutting objectives across all ministries, departments and agencies of government are clearly aligned. Secondly, ease of access to land for agriculture would be achieved through progressive engagement with the Sub-nationals since land is controlled by the subnational government. Thirdly, a multi-stakeholder approach is deployed to engage other critical stakeholders, majorly the private sector operators. The policy emphasized on enabling the private sector as an engine of growth to drive the process of agriculture transformation, given that government budget is far from adequate in offering the necessary intervention for the sector. Cardinal to this approach is the public sector’s coordinating and monitoring role while allowing the private sector to be empowered and to thrive while encouraging synergy between them.

Nigeria has found the multi-stakeholder approach an innovative one in leveraging the power of the private sector in dimensioning agriculture within its implementation economic plan. Through this approach the focus lab methodology has been appropriately deployed to fast track investments and resolve complex interagency issues for agriculture. Within the focus lab engagements of high-level public officials, CEOs in private sector and development partners are sustained until specific issues are resolved within specified timelines. In 2018 Nigeria held series of its first focus labs for an unbroken period of six weeks. Coming out of this first engagement agriculture gained a commitment from the private sector participants to invest US$1.2b and create 110,000 jobs if the government would commit to providing the needed enablers offered in that process. Nigeria plans to run a series of these labs to progressively attract investment and innovation into its agriculture sector.

It was also in the focus lab that solutions for clustering fragmented land, aggregating produce and harmonizing criteria for private sector led outgrower scheme was put in place by the big players. In the scheme the big players would serve as the off takers of produce for domestic, industrial and regional markets while the smallholders would be the outgrowers. The outgrower scheme is expected to promote private sector best practice, government support and farmers participation. By clustering fragmented land, outgrower schemes are being utilized to organize farmers to increase economic activity and crop yields in the locality of the schemes, thereby increasing overall productivity of the sector and creating jobs for millions. The scheme provides big players the basis for aggregating produce from the smallholders who form 70% of the farming community to gain exposure to best practices and optimize yield per hectare. The participation of the government ensures that there is a balance of power within the engagements, the identity of farmers verified and captured, their registration into the national identification system and certification into the scheme are done. The private sector participation ensures that quality training, credit and inputs like seedlings and fertilizer are provided to participating smallholder farmers on time and when required. This approach seems to be the most systematic approach that Nigeria has yet used to optimize yield, attract investment into agriculture and create jobs with an ultimate prospect of using agriculture to diversify the economy from oil and bring about broad-based prosperity.

With the above concerted efforts of government on agriculture plan implementation, Nigeria may be able to finally see land fragmentation as an opportunity for broad based prosperity instead of a barrier to agriculture transformation.

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