Over the past two decades, Nigeria’s once thriving agriculture suffered as its oil industry boomed.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that, between 1962 and 1968, Nigeria’s major foreign exchange earner was the agricultural sector. Palm oil and groundnuts made up around 47% of the country’s exports. However, Nigeria’s position as an agricultural powerhouse has declined as oil gained prominence in Africa’s largest economy.

“The oil sector represents 10% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Nigeria but accounts for 98% of the foreign exchange earnings of the country and 80% of the revenues for the government,” says the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina.

Farmer. Marathon Man. Businessman

Following the crash in crude oil prices, agriculture is slowly emerging as a remedy for the economic woes of Nigeria.

“We have to provide counter cyclical reports. Nigeria is too big to fail. We will support Nigeria with a $1-billion support program and a number of policy reforms that have to be done to rejig the economy and we have coordinated with others on this. This is actually a cheap source of financing, which will come with a 1.2% interest and a 40-year moratorium, so this is the cheapest source of financing you can get,” says Adesina.

The AfDB and other governmental agencies are pulling together to attract young entrepreneurs to farming once again. Rotimi Williams, a rice farmer, believes Nigerians need to be convinced that agriculture is a viable path to relieve current economic woes.

“The minute we found oil in the 70s, all our attention shifted from agriculture to oil and gas – it was easier for the government to make money from that. We became an importing nation because we didn’t have to do any work; we just had to pick finished goods from other countries. That is one of the reasons why there was a shift and now we are finding it difficult to shift back to agriculture because it needs a complete reorientation of the mindset here,” he says.

Farming Coming To A Town Near You

Williams is the founder of Kereksuk Rice Farms. He has 45,000 hectares of land in Tunga, local government in Nasarawa state, close to Abuja.

“We are operating on 1,000 hectares which is expected to give us 8,000 tons of rice a year. I say expected because ideally I should be doing two crops a year but because of floods, which happen every September, I am only doing one crop. Government is yet to build appropriate dams in the right places. We have no accessible roads, no electricity and we have security issues, so all these things put together limits what we can and cannot do in agriculture,” he says.

Williams is not the only one who believes in shifting the way Nigerians think about farming.

“People first of all need to believe in themselves. The ‘I can do’ spirit must come up in you or else you will be wasting time. People must believe that once the passion is right, nothing is impossible and this is their time to realize their greatness. So we launched the Dakada campaign, which is entrenched into the main core values of our people,” says the Governor of Akwa State, Udom Gabriel Emmanuel.

“Through this process, we realized that a lot of the youth are interested in agriculture, so we said ‘fine, we are not going to give you money but we are going to give you all the resources and facilities to do what you need to do’. So we try to provide not just the environment but the input as well,” says Emmanuel.

According to Antti Ritvonen, CEO and Country Manager at Dizengoff West Africa (Nigeria) Ltd, “The main reasons why the youth are not farming are they have the wrong perception about farming, lack of technical know-how, lack of precise technical support and inadequate financial will power,” says Antti Ritvonen, CEO and Country Manager at Dizengoff West Africa.

Dizengoff claims to provide opportunities to Nigerians looking to move into farming.

“We provide greenhouses that we deploy as a tool for empowering youth and women across Nigeria. Since we started, our greenhouses have created employment for over 50 youths directly and over 700 people indirectly across the country, so agriculture is certainly a driver of economic change and growth,” says Ritvonen.

But they are not the only international company investing in the agriculture sector in Nigeria. According to Reuters, Old Mutual and Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) joined forces to raise $200 million to spend on agriculture projects in the country.

There is, however, a limitation to how successful agriculture can become in Nigeria: land. According to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), about 95% of agricultural lands are not titled, effectively limiting their capacity to be treated as collateral for finance.

“In most developing countries that thrive in agriculture, like Thailand and India, the government gives them funding… but on the books of the government they write those loans off. This means they don’t expect the money back but they expect you to do a lot more with the money they have given you. In Nigeria, the government expects you to go to commercial banks to get funding and that is not going to fly because they require collateral which any young entrepreneur would not have. You need to create that enabling environment, which means land is easily accessible and the resources are also available for them to be able to thrive in the business,” says Williams.

As agriculture slowly becomes a beacon of hope for job creation and revenue generation, the government will need to spend more to help entrepreneurs get their hands dirty and grow.