Despite steady growth in the agricultural sector, averaging 4%[i] a year between 2010 and 2017, Nigeria is a long way from achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2) of zero hunger. In recent years, the country’s agricultural productivity has fallen at one of the fastest rates on the continent: since 2014, productivity has decreased by 20%, compared for example with growth of 4% in Rwanda and 2% in Ethiopia.[ii] One in every four Nigerians still lacks secure access to sufficient amounts of food,[iii] and the number of undernourished people has been on the rise since 2011, increasing from 11 million to 14 million as of 2016.[iv] In 2016 nearly half (44%) of Nigerian children below the age of five were stunted, meaning that Nigeria has the world’s second highest incidence of stunting.[v] In the long term, malnourishment and food insecurity affect citizens’ health and well-being, and they also affect their ability to complete a quality education, work efficiently and generate income. By 2050, Nigeria is set to become the third most populous country in the world, with about 411 million people.[vi] Feeding all these people will require a significant increase in food production. However, if current trends continue, the number of malnourished people in Nigeria will reach 31 million by 2050, almost equivalent to the entire population of Ghana today.[vii] Adequate investments need to be made now to double agricultural productivity and to ensure that Nigeria’s growing population is well nourished.


The trends highlighted above are a result of significant challenges that exist in Nigeria’s agriculture sector. These include the following: 

  • Agricultural yields remain low, with cereal yields at around 1,444 kg/hectare, compared with 2,993 kg/hectare in India or 3,227 kg/hectare in Malaysia.[viii] This is mainly because most farmers do not have timely access to quality inputs (seeds, fertiliser and pesticides), irrigation, technology or improved farming practices. For example, fertiliser use in Nigeria is extremely low at 11 kg per hectare, compared with an average of 58 kg/hectare in Ethiopia and 32 kg/hectare in Rwanda.[ix]
  • Climate change threatens food security and is projected to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) has shown that dramatic changes in weather patterns have led to a smaller number of rainy days.[x] It is estimated that by 2050 climate change could result in a 20% reduction in the number of productive growing days in sub-Saharan Africa, which will have serious impacts on crop and livestock productivity.[xi]
  • Access to finance remains a major constraint for many small-scale farmers, despite various government policies and credit schemes. Currently, two out of every three rural dwellers, who are mostly farmers, have no access to either a bank or a mobile bank account.[xii] The share of bank lending to agriculture is very low at 3%, given that the sector contributes around 25% to GDP, and this is insufficient to boost investment.[xiii]
  • Land rights and security remain a challenge. Nigeria is endowed with abundant agricultural land resources, yet there is limited access to secure land for farming activities, especially for women and youth. The World Bank’s ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’ report for 2017 ranks Nigeria 36th out of 38 countries evaluated on the issue of land administration.[xiv] A number of other land issues, such as land grabbing and weak tenure systems, are also threatening development in the sector.[xv]
  • Women are marginalised, even though they make up almost 50% of the agricultural labour force. Globally, women produce between 13% and 25% less than their male counterparts, with Northern Nigeria being an extreme case with a gap of 27%.[xvi] This is due to challenges associated with access to financial services, land ownership, agricultural inputs and access to markets, as well as constraints on the time that women are able to allocate to agricultural labour due to their burden of unpaid care work.[xvii] For most government interventions, there is limited gender-disaggregated data available to evaluate the impacts on women.
  • The cost of doing business is high, and the business environment in Nigeria is particularly tough for most agribusinesses. Poorly developed rural infrastructure and weak institutional frameworks have held back the development of most agricultural value chains[xviii] and are also hindering the participation of youth in agriculture. For example, poorly developed rural roads make it difficult for farmers to access markets and increase crop wastage.[xix] As a result, most small-scale farmers are forced to sell their farm produce to middlemen at low prices, sacrificing income and leaving themselves open to exploitation.[xx]

These barriers are made worse by low levels of public investment in agriculture and challenges relating to insecurity across the country. The government has shown weak support for the agricultural sector, despite careful planning on paper. Although agriculture accounts for a significant proportion of GDP (about 25% in 2017[xxi]), the share of Federal Government expenditure on the sector is extremely low at an average of 2% annually, falling well short of its Malabo commitment of 10%.[xxii] The government has not only failed to meet this obligation, but has failed to prioritise investment in high-impact interventions, including interventions that would address the barriers to growth. This has resulted in low levels of agricultural productivity. Meanwhile, high levels of insecurity in the North East, where Boko Haram continues to inflict violence and threaten stability, and in the South due to conflict between farmers and herdsmen, have continued to inhibit food production. The state of insecurity has discouraged farming in some key food production areas across the country. 


To address the numerous obstacles in the agricultural sector, policy-makers must increase investment in agriculture, improve the quality and targeting of investment, focus on women and youth as a priority, improve the business environment for producers and resolve the conflicts that are leading to food insecurity. Specifically, the government must do the following:

Honour the Malabo commitments: In 2014, African countries committed under the Malabo Declaration to increase the quantity and improve the quality of agricultural sector spending in order to contribute to food security, economic growth and poverty eradication. In African countries where agriculture is thriving, public investment in the sector is significantly higher than in Nigeria. Rwanda and Ethiopia, which have been cited as having the best agricultural performance in Africa, both spend above 7% of their budgets on agriculture each year.[xxiii]

Improve the quality of public spending: In addition to increasing investment in agriculture, it is important that the government prioritises investment in areas that address the core challenges facing agriculture. This should include public investment in agricultural research, extension services, increasing agricultural productivity for women and youth, and climate-smart agriculture. In addition, there is a need to reduce wasteful spending by putting in place appropriate monitoring and evaluation (M&E) frameworks, supported by relevant digital technology.

Invest in women and youth: It is essential to improve the access of women and youth to critical farm inputs and to formalise land rights by introducing policies that secure and protect the rights of women (for instance, through formalised registration of tenure). It has been shown that in developing countries gender parity can improve yields on farms owned by women by 20–30% and boost agricultural output by 4%.[xxiv] Investing in youth could generate additional returns of $90 billion a year for the economy.[xxv] In addition, a lack of education on modern agricultural techniques is holding back the use of technology and the pace of innovation in the agriculture sector. The government should provide adequate training support to build an understanding of the benefits of technology and improve knowledge about technology use among women and youth.

Improve the ease of doing business for agriculture: A significant improvement in the ease of doing business could help attract much-needed private sector investment. Additionally, it could help improve farmers’ access to finance in the medium to long term. The case of Rwanda can serve as a model, as significant improvements in the country’s business environment have been key to its economic transformation. Between 2008 and 2015, foreign private investment in Rwanda increased significantly, and this has benefited agricultural investment.[xxvi] Although Nigeria has been working towards eliminating business constraints, it continues to underperform in the areas of rural infrastructure development and access to land. For the future, it is important for the government to address these barriers. This is certainly possible to do, but it will require deliberate efforts and the development of public–private sector partnerships to scale up rural infrastructure, improve property rights and reduce corruption and bureaucratic bottlenecks.

[i] NBS database. Available at:

[ii] African Union (2018). ‘Biennial Review’. (last accessed 30 August 2018)

[iii] FAOSTAT. ‘Suite of Food Security Indicators’. (last accessed 23 August 2018)

[iv] Ibid.

[v] WHO. ‘World Health Statistics data visualisation dashboard: Child stunting’. (last accessed 23 August 2018)

[vi] UN DESA. ‘World Population Prospects’ database, op. cit.

[vii] ONE analysis of FAO Food Security Indicators. – data/FS (last accessed 23 August 2018)

[viii] FAOSTAT database. ‘Crops’. (last accessed 23 August 2018)

[ix] African Union (2018). ‘Biennial Review’, op. cit.

[x] C. Nwajiuba. ‘Nigeria’s Agriculture and Food Security Challenges’, p.5.

[xi] K. Sebastian (ed.) (2014). ‘Atlas of African Agriculture Research and Development’, p.57. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). (last accessed 23 August 2018)

[xii] World Bank Global Findex Database, op. cit.; and NBS database. ‘GDP by Production Backcasting Series (1981–2017)’, op. cit.

[xiii] NBS (2018). ‘Selected Banking Data, Q1 2018’.

[xiv] World Bank (2017). ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture 2017’, p.112. (last accessed 23 August 2018)

[xv] A.L. Mabogunje. ‘Land Reform in Nigeria: Progress, Problems and Prospects’, p 3.

[xvi] World Bank/ONE (2014). ‘Levelling the Field: Improving Opportunities for Women Farmers in Africa’, p.9.

[xvii] D. Philip, E. Nkonya, J. Pender and O.A. Oni, (2009). ‘Constraints to Increasing Agricultural Productivity in Nigeria: A Review’. Nigeria Strategy Support Program (NSSP) Background Paper NSSP 006, p.3. (last accessed 13 August 2018)

[xviii] PwC (2017). ‘Transforming Nigeria’s Agricultural Value Chain: A case study of the cocoa and dairy industries’, p.4.

[xix] D. Philip et al. (2009). ‘Constraints to Increasing Agricultural Productivity in Nigeria’, op. cit.

[xx] L.N.O. Ezealaji and K.O Adenegan (2014). ‘The role of agricultural market reform in enhancing farmers’ income in Nigeria’. African Journal of Marketing Management, 6(3), 27-32.

[xxi] NBS database. ‘GDP by Production Backcasting Series (1981–2017)’, op. cit.

[xxii] ReSAKKS. ‘Tracking Indicators.’ (last accessed 8 August 2018)

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] FAO (2011). ‘Women in Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development’, p.5. (last accessed 23 August 2018)

[xxv] Calculated by multiplying the share of Nigeria’s population by the aggregate for sub-Saharan Africa, which is $500 billion a year. UNFPA (2014). ‘State of World Population 2014: The Power of 1.8 Billion’, p.21.

[xxvi] National Institute of Statistics Rwanda, (2015). ‘Foreign Private Capital Census Report’ (last accessed 30 August 2018)