Essay: Why the US needs to invest in agriculture in Nigeria

Nigerian journalist Sam Otti, the winner of our ONE Act a Week essay contest with Roger Thurow, shares an essay on why the US should invest in agriculture in Africa.

Sam Otti

There is a popular saying in my community that if money grew on trees, several women would marry monkeys. Unfortunately, not every woman would like to marry a farmer in Africa because farmers live in abject poverty.

I grew up in a remote village in Nigeria where I witnessed the humiliation suffered by peasant farmers. I learned to weed my father’s farm when I was barely six years old, and at age 10, I joined other children in the neighborhood in tilling the soil. Aside the privilege of attending local schools, I returned to the farm during holidays. Despite long hours at home, we barely had enough to eat.

Photo caption: Sam Otti

Although farming was the major source of livelihood for rural dwellers in Africa, only few families in our rural communities could boast of regular meals. In faraway northern Nigeria, where I later did my National Youth Service Corps program, children ate sugarcane for lunch. Others drank raw milk from cows to calm their biting stomach. One may wonder why food insecurity abounds in a region where 70 percent of the population engage in full-time farming.

In Nigeria, more than 67 million of the youth are unemployed. Out of this number, 25 percent are graduates of universities and other tertiary institutions. These youths would rather sleep on the streets in the cities than return to the village farms with hoes.

There is no doubt that Africa remains a potential food basket of the world. In Nigeria, with an estimated population of 150 million, agriculture has remained the highest employer of labor. There is also the irresistible attraction of arable farmlands for all season farming activities in the continent. However, the major setback is that these farmers often access to loans to expand their business. So, they are constrained to produce crops mostly for their consumption.

The US can invest in agriculture in Africa to open up the neglected sector to international market. In many African communities, tomatoes, maize and okra are produced in large quantities but sold at give-away prices. Poor farmers would rather earn a pittance than watch their products destroyed.

African countries need to diversify their economy to survive the present global recession. Agriculture is the possible lifeline for the continent and this can be achieved through US investment in cocoa, cotton, palm oil, groundnut, rubber, rice, yam, cassava, maize, millet, soybeans, cowpea, tomatoes and several other cash crop productions.

Sam Otti writes from Lagos, Nigeria. He can be reached on samotti@ymail.com.