Nigeria Agriculture

2/5/2023 -

Nigeria Agriculture 1: Plantation past, Permaculture future
The article discusses Nigeria's current food and economic situation, identifying factors such as a large base of small-holder farmers, low storage and transportation capacity, a lack of modern facilities for processed goods, and focus on high-production raw commodities like Cocoa and Oil Palm for export to limited markets. These factors contribute to food insecurity and political instability in the country. The government's approach to the economy, including limited accountability and dependence on oil, worsens these issues. The article suggests that permaculture, an alternative technique that emphasizes sustainability, crop diversity, and resource management, could be a more self-reliant and environmentally friendly approach to food production in Nigeria. Permaculture can be adopted by any community with minimal resources and encourages symbiotic relationships between communities.


Food production is fundamental when it comes to national economic and social stability. Government is responsible for creating the conditions for producers to cultivate crops or rear animals on arable land; enabling delivery of produce to consumers or incentivizing processing of products into other commodities to stimulate increased economic activity up the value chain.
Nigeria’s food and economic situation is currently highly unstable, as influenced by multiple factors including:
  • Large base of small-holder farmer who have less resources to increase yield [3b]
  • Low storage and transportation capacity leading to produce waste [3a]
  • Dearth of modern facilities to manufacture processed goods [3c]
  • Production for export to limited markets for a few high-value raw commodities, and domestic consumption [7]
These factors catalyze food insecurity by leaving the latent potential of Nigeria’s arable land unrealized. Food insecurity affects community resilience, like the ability for people to pay bills or stay on their land, and influences political instability such as conflicts between nomadic cattle herders and sedentary farmers.
Furthermore, the approach to the economy or lack thereof embraced by the government contributes to larger “macro” factors that further worsens food insecurity [1a]. Some examples are: Limited accountability leading to corruption: government embezzlement and misappropriation of farmer grant funds; One-foreign export commodity dependence on oil resulting in limited foreign exchange income streams [1b]; Low investment in education and science/technology: lack of industrialization in rural areas [3d]; High insecurity: interstate roads are unsafe due to internal conflicts (fundamentalist insurgents, kidnapping for ransom) [1a]
Historically the solutions to agricultural development revolve around foreign direct investment or public-private partnerships. These investments/partnerships go towards industrial investments like providing inputs and tools to allow farmers to grow high-value produce efficiently at scale. These investments encourage industrialized agriculture which will further stimulate the economy via increased internal and export trade activity and volumes. The potential drawback is that local low cost food commodities might also be neglected in favor of higher value export commodities which could lead to food insecurity for the lower class. Fewer crops planted at high volume also effects the ecosystem at large, leaving it more vulnerable to pests, drought. Downstream of this, Insecurity compromises investment due to a high risk and unpredictable environment.
This article promotes alternatives that can fulfill the core objective of food security, while being more self-reliant and circumventing environmental damage that’s associated with industrial agriculture. This requires rethinking things like “cash” crops, crop diversity, land tenure, resource use & waste management — the system of alternative techniques described are commonly referred to as “Permaculture”.
Permaculture provides [17]:
  • Highly sustainable solutions with low capital investment
  • High pest resilience and fertility via crop diversity
  • Species and habitat restoration
Permaculture techniques can be adopted by any community with minimal resources, exemplifying a “bottom-up” approach to economic development.
Additionally, adopting grassroots-oriented resilience-focused agriculture enables/revives symbiotic relationships between communities that have interrelated for centuries.


First, here’s some historical background on industrial agriculture in Nigeria, as it relates to development factors like:
  • crop production yields
  • rural industrialization and urban migration
  • economic growth
  • quality-of-life and nutrition
Starting in the 1830s, high-value cash crops like Oil Palm were highly cultivated in plantations in south-eastern Nigeria where they grow natively [2a]. These were exported to Britain and other markets where they were processed to make soaps, candles and many other commodities. Oil Palm plantations were owned domestically and operated by workers from local communities [2f], and their produce was traded locally and for export. Other crops like Cocoa were introduced by foreign merchants to coastal south-west Nigeria then increasingly cultivated in the hinterlands, and Groundnuts were farmed in the north reaching a peak of 1.6 million metric tonnes in 1973 (41% of the total production in West Africa at the time) [4b].
Through the 1970s and 80s, as Nigeria benefited from the oil boom, investments in Agriculture also initially increased by 13x [5b]. These enabled more access to fertilizer and tools, increasing cash crop yields and strengthening relationships with particular export markets. Cocoa and groundnuts for example are heavily exported to the EU, where manufacturers and resellers add value to the raw materials [4a]. Exporters were able to build the relationship between producers and foreign markets, relying on strong yield and favorable international prices to make sure they and the farmers get a return.
These incentives made it efficient for farmers to cultivate a few varieties of high market value crops to maximize returns, mostly for export and further manufacturing abroad. Additionally, adoption of synthetic fertilizer made it easy to grow large “monocultures” of crops without concern for pests or diseases.
In the east, we saw the growth of plantations which employed rural farmers as they subsumed former subsistence farmland, and rapid growth of urban areas from growing number merchants reinvesting. Former subsistence farmers moved to the cities like Port Harcourt and Enugu for wage jobs as porters, laborers or supporting of merchants, miners and quarries supporting urban infrastructure development to galvanize internal and external trade [8].
This is a typical story of economic growth: relying on relatively few larger capitalists reinvesting towards more commodity trade, increasing local awareness/dependence on goods from far flung locations while hiring greater numbers in servicing trade (providing services in centers of trade i.e. cities) in exchange for dominant exchange currency to engage in increasingly globalized markets for the latest “common need” commodities — examples of which are processed household goods like soap or powder, manufactured mostly by foreign conglomerates like PZ Cussons and Johnson and Johnson. These conglomerates might build local factories but I’d argue they’re limited in their ability/incentives to localize industrial knowledge and can stifle development via market monopoly.
But as we’ve outlined with the pitfalls of “growth”-oriented agriculture, this can be fundamentally unsustainable as it leaves markets, people and the wider ecology far more vulnerable to external crises. This is in essence due to a lack of internal resources and the capacity to produce/add value to them, which is forgone in favor of a capacity to trade externally on a wider market, upwards accumulation to whoever controls trade and more-or-less novelty for consumers.
Following the oil bust of the 80s, the IMF adopted “deregulate and diversify” directives for Nigeria’s economy involving economic stimulus and inputs for rural farmers [10b]. This type of policy was ineffective in translating farmer resources into value for urban consumers because of:
  • Lack of knowledge of other dynamics like crop diversity, agronomy, food insecurity, middle class mobility
  • Promotion of intense mono-cropping & fertilizer use, resulting in soil degradation and biodiversity loss. The effect of this is losing harvest efficiency each season
  • Corruption and bureaucracy capturing resources meant for farmers
Industrial expansion is necessary for greater prosperity, but if done myopically or with little attention to sustainability and grassroots empowerment it can lead to “superficial” progress and the hollowing out of capacity for self-reliance.


Let’s summarize agriculture in Nigeria in terms of the following:
  • Land use, ownership and tenure — Production factors
  • Crop types, uses — Commodities in their exchange
  • AG industries manufacturers — Value chain multipliers
  • Main export markets, exporters, imports and importers — Trade networks, figures/institutions + their relationship to producers and consumers
  • Government involvement or intervention — Policy, centralized planning and it’s impact
Much of Nigeria’s agriculture is done by smallholder farmers working on 2 hectares or less of land. These farmers are often producing for subsistence and selling their extra produce, using crude tools and processes. Larger farmers including industrial plantations serve local and foreign manufacturers with their raw produce. Their techniques usually involve mono-cropping and heavy fertilizer use to ensure reliable yields. They focus on specific high value export markets through relationship-building with specific buyers [4a]. Export crops include cocoa, oil palm, groundnuts, shea nuts.
Groundnuts or peanuts have a variety of uses especially in direct consumption especially snack making and for oils. Oil palm is used in everything from food, to cooking oils, soap production, biofuel e.t.c. Shea nuts are well known for creating shea butter that’s used in skin and hair products. Outside of export crops, other staple plantings include plantains, bananas, yams, cassava, beans, and taro — native fruit tree and root crops that also make up much of the local staple diet.
Common manufacturers include companies like
  • Cadbury Nigeria: cocoa based products and snacks
  • Unilever Nigeria: packaged foods and home cleaning products
  • Vital Products: consumer packaged foods and seasonings/condiments
  • Vista International: agrochemicals, paper and printing materials
Companies like Cadbury for instance were established in the 50s and 60s, starting off as trading outposts importing foreign goods then moving to local manufacturing after sales and distribution were solidified. Cadbury’s flagship products Bournvita chocolate drink and TomTom menthol sweet are category defining staples for Nigerian consumers. In terms of ownership, multinationals often hold larger stakes and are attracted by the large market and alter the stake and direct management accordingly.
Apart from production for local manufacture and consumption, a large amount of key crops especially cocoa, oil palm and shea butter are exported in their raw or partially processed form to foreign markets. Current key crop export markets include: Europe: Cocoa for chocolate making; and Indonesia: Oil Palm for oils, soaps and fuel. provides detailed import/export trade breakdowns for Palm Oil and Cocoa in Nigeria [7]:
The government has utilized import tariffs or bans to encourage local production of products like dairy.
We want to understand the relationships between factors and people involved; how they influence one another. New approaches have to consider all these factors to create a mutually beneficial setup for all stakeholders.


There’s a decent amount of optimism about Nigeria’s agriculture, economy and industrialization including:
  • Crop processing facilities
  • Organic and Petroleum-based fertilizers
  • Mechanized agriculture tools
  • Genetically modified (GMO) crops/seeds
Considering their pros and cons:
Local crop processing facilities might be funded by consumer goods companies that might otherwise export raw produce and import finished goods. However, more facilities built for or by smaller farmers (built notably by private sector companies and startups) and, will allow them to add value to the products and capture more trading value to reinvest directly in their communities.
Organic or non-organic fertilizers are an important part of increasing and sustaining reliable yield among farmers, but imported fertilizers are cost prohibitive. The upcoming Dangote Group large-scale fertilizer plant is a promising development for producing petroleum-based fertilizer, supplanting foreign dominance of the fertilizer market [13]. Organic fertilizers are an alternative to petroleum-based fertilizer that doesn’t damage the environment in the long run, and in some cases organic compost fertilizer can be produced on-site with virtually free raw materials (plant and animal waste) and are very beneficial to crops. But it must be noted that organic fertilizers might be tedious to produce
Mechanized agriculture tools are a compelling factor to reducing the labor intensiveness that’s highly associated with farming in Africa. While mechanized tools increase productivity, they can also have a damaging effect on the soil ecosystem especially when misapplied or overused. For example, frequent soil tilling (after each planting cycle) leads to soil compaction and nutrient loss, necessitating further tilling of the soil to make it plantable. Additionally, mechanized tools are often only accessible to larger farmers and frequently imported. Local R&D for smaller scale, less cost-prohibitive implements is one route to treading the line between beneficial and damaging technologies. Nigeria can also “leap frog” developed nations by implementing or subsidizing agricultural robots, and instituting training and knowledge exchange to encourage homegrown innovation.
In terms of agricultural inputs, Genetically modified seeds are typically more resilient to environmental conditions and provide more yields. The frequent concern with such seeds is they might lock farmers into agreements about their limited use or otherwise present restrictions to their practice.
To solve some of the problems in these aspects, let’s consider some “out-of-the-box” permaculture innovations which require minimal capital input and high community involvement. These require reconsidering some key productivity metrics and reorient towards resiliency concerns:
  • Densely interplanting local crops: crop diversity encourages nutrients and natural pest control, rotating planting locations and careful plant selection to maximize resilient yield
  • Verticalization: take advantage of balconies and trellises to grow climbers and plants requiring support e.g. beans, squash, cucumbers and tomatoes
  • Organic compost: free natural fertilizer via combining organic waste with soil and plant clippings. Bonus technique: utilizing earthworms to accelerate breakdown of waste and produce even richer “worm castings” compost
  • No-till planting: minimize soil disturbance to maintain nutrients across seasons. padding soil with cardboard and a layer of fresh soil to plant with minimal worry about weeds
In conclusion, there’s a vast array of possibilities and opportunities around agricultural development. There’s a growing amount of innovation in agricultural efficiency, financing and sustainability. Startups like Releaf, ThriveAgric and others are providing crucial technology to improve production and price competitiveness. This article captures more in-depth about these and other Agritech companies in Nigeria:
In terms of sustainability, governments, companies and communities can focus on incentivizing conservation efforts or enabling exchange of knowledge, tools and resources for sustainable practices. This short video highlights Rwanda’s approach to environmental restoration as the core of natural resource management and sustainable growth:


  1. Current Context: Inflation and Cost of living crisis, Insecurity ^
    1. FACTSHEET: What’s behind Nigeria's rising cost of living? Published 2021/08/11 ^
    2. Nigeria’s Oil Production Deficit Hits 184.1m Barrels in Nine Months. Published 2022/11/08 ^
  1. Native plants, farming practices + Transition to industrial/plantation AG in colonial times
    1. Pétré-Grenouilleau, Olivier (ed.). From Slave Trade to Empire: Europe and the colonisation of Black Africa 1780s–1880s. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2004 ^
      1. David Ellis, "African and European relations in the last century of the transatlantic slave trade"; in Pétré-Grenouilleau, From Slave Trade to Empire (2004), pp. 21–46.
      2. David Richardson, "Background to annexation: Anglo-African credit relations in the Bight of Biafra, 1700–1891"; in Pétré-Grenouilleau, From Slave Trade to Empire  (2004), pp. 47–68.
    2. Influence of Christian Missions", in Helen Chapin Metz, ed., Nigeria: A Country Study, Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1991, accessed 18 April 2012
    3. Tamuno, T. N. The Evolution of the Nigerian State: The Southern Phase, 1898–1914. New York: Humanities Press, 1972, pp. 11–12.
      1. p. 14. "The most significant economic development in Southern Nigeria since 1807 was the transition from the pre-colonial emphasis on subsistence agriculture to an increasing concentration on production for sale.”
    4. Cocoa production in Nigeria: How to Start in 2019
    5. Analysis of Some Drivers of Cocoa Export in Nigeria in the Era of Trade Liberalization. Verter, N.; Bečvářová, V.
    6. Tropical Development, 1880-1913 Studies in Economic Progress. William Arthur (1970) ^
    7. Carland, John M. The Colonial Office and Nigeria, 1898–1914. Hoover Institution Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8179-8141-1
  1. Ownership, worker-base and practices of smallholders and industrial farms
    1. McKinsey report on this for: “Private-sector companies [to] find practical solutions to enter and grow in Africa’s agricultural market” ^
    2. Small Family Farms Country Factsheet - FAO ^
    3. Sustainability projects by Solidaridad Network ^
    4. Rural infrastructure and production efficiency of food crop farmers ^
  1. Industrial AG production in Nigeria: Market, Import/Export, Manufacturing ^ ^ ^
  1. Oil boom and changes to Agricultural Investment
    1. Oil boom in Nigeria and its consequences for the country’s economic development ^
      b. Nigeria’s Oilboom Period (1973-1983): Was Agriculture Really Neglected? January 2011 International Journal of Statistics and Applications. Aliyu Ammani National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services, Ahmadu Bello University ^
  1. Foreign buyers for cash crops & processed commodities
  1. Raw commodity export value vs processed import value. Farmer value return vs Exporters value returns ^ ^
    1. Data c/o
      Palm Oil
      Exports (2020)
      $1.06M Top export markets: USA (42.4%), Canada (19.6%), Portugal (8.04%), Benin (8.46%), UAE (5.68%) and South Africa (3.67%).
      $489M Top export markets: Netherlands ($157M), Germany ($91.3M), Malaysia ($60.1M), Indonesia ($46M), and Russia ($26.6M) 5th largest exporter of Cocoa Beans in the world. Cocoa Beans was the 6th most exported product in Nigeria.
      Imports (2020)
      $351M Top Import markets: Malaysia (69%), Singapore (14.5%), Indonesia (12.7%)
      $9.13k Top import market: Netherlands ($9.13k) 94th largest importer of Cocoa Beans in the world. Cocoa Beans was the 1141st most imported product in Nigeria.
      Deficit (2020)
      -$350M Net Trade
      $489M - $9.13k = $478.9M Net Trade
      Main Exporting Competitors (2020)
      Indonesia,$17.9B; Malaysia,$10.6B; Netherlands,$1.03B
      Netherlands, $2.24B; Côte d'Ivoire, $2.24B; Ghana, $1.94B; Indonesia, $1.24B; Brazil, $813M
      Main Importing Competitors (2020)
      India,$5.04B; China,$3.66B; Pakistan,$2.15B
      Netherlands, $2.24B; United States, $1.98B; Germany, $1.46B; Belgium, $1.29B; United Kingdom, $1.22B
  1. Urban-Rural Migration patterns. Changes in Agricultural labor market, Industrial sector labor, and trading service labor including porters ^
  1. Commodity Conglomerates: Local & Foreign. who adds value? what expertise can we adapt from them?
  1. Agricultural Policy ^
  1. Environmental Impact of Cash Crop Cultivation
  1. Agritech Ecosystem
  1. GMO/Fertilizer-galvanized Cash Crops VS. Native Crops Cultivation ^
  1. Local R&D Opportunities and Benefits
  1. Crop Diversity and Soil Health
  1. Water and Waste Resource Management Practices
  1. Permaculture Farm Design Principles ^


  1. Palm plantations,
    1. Cocoa Farming
    2. Groundnut pyramids
  1. Environmental Impact of deforestation for Oil Palm plantations
    1. Examples from Malaysia and Indonesia, where oil palm is also common and there’s an even greater deal of industrial production
      A satellite image showing deforestation in Malaysian Borneo to allow the plantation of oil palm. C/O Wikipedia, NASA Earth Observatory. Source:
      A satellite image showing deforestation in Malaysian Borneo to allow the plantation of oil palm. C/O Wikipedia, NASA Earth Observatory. Source:
      Satellite imagery from 2019 reveals forest cleared for plantations in the Indonesian province of Papua. C/O BBC, NASA. Source:
      Satellite imagery from 2019 reveals forest cleared for plantations in the Indonesian province of Papua. C/O BBC, NASA. Source:
In Borneo, the forest (F), is being replaced by oil palm plantations (G). These changes are irreversible for all practical purposes (H). Source:
In Borneo, the forest (F), is being replaced by oil palm plantations (G). These changes are irreversible for all practical purposes (H). Source: