en Inter-réseaux Développement rural en Inter-réseaux Développement rural


Staple crop production and consumption: Nigeria on the way to food self-sufficiency

Nigeria is endowed with abundant natural resources and
has substantial agricultural potential. While it ranks first
among the leading agricultural producers in the region, it is
also the largest importer of staple products in West Africa.

Despite the preponderance
of hydrocarbons, the agricultural
sector continues
to play a decisive role in Nigeria’s
economic development. Agriculture
accounts for about 36,5% of the creation
of gross domestic product in the
country and employs nearly 45% of the
country’s workforce. With a population
of 150 million, Nigeria is without
contest the leading agricultural power
and the largest market in West Africa.
While the production of staple
foods has risen sharply over the last
twenty-five years, production cannot
yet cover the rising demand for staples,
particularly grains. This article
examines staple food production and
consumption in Nigeria. It discusses
cash crops and livestock operations
only in passing.

Considerable Agricultural Production

A Wide Range of Ecosystems. Nigeria
is distinguished by the diversity of its
ecosystems, an advantage for growing
a broad range of crops. The precipitation
gradient across the country ranges
from 500 mm in the Sahel zone in
the North to nearly 3,000 mm in the
South. The forests in the subtropical
climate of the South produce primarily
root crops and tubers (cassava, yams,
taro, sweet potato), plantain bananas,
rice, legumes and maize. The semihumid
Sudan-climate middle belt is
characterised by a wide range of crops,
reflecting the variety of climate and
agro-pedological profiles. The main
crops in this “agri-ecological mosaic”
are yams, cassava, maize, rice,
sorghum, millet, beans and legumes.
Mechanised farming is on the rise in
this area. The dry zone in the North
is mostly devoted to grains: rainfed
sorghum and millet, irrigated and/
or rainfed rice, legumes, onions and

Abundant Land and Water Available.
Nigeria has abundant natural resources
that are not yet fully exploited, notably
arable land and surface and subsurface
water resources.
The country has over 70 million
hectares of farmable land, i.e. 30% of
arable lands in ECOWAS, an estimated
40% of which is farmed. Nigeria is
said to contain 25% of all uncultivated
arable land in ECOWAS. Despite the
high level of urban development, the
highest concentrations of available land
are found in the coastal and Sudanclimate
Nigeria also has a relatively high
irrigation potential (2,330,000 ha),
amounting to 26% of potentially irrigable
land in the region. Currently
about one million hectares are irrigated.
The lowlands, called fadama,
are also a resource with strong potential
for agricultural development.
These lowlands are estimated at between
5 and 8 million hectares in Nigeria,
or half the potential resource

A Predominance of Smallholder Farms.
The great majority—80% to 90%—of
farms in Nigeria are small family farms
(on average 1,2 ha) with little mechanical
equipment and that rely mainly on the
available labour force. They exist alongside
large, better-equipped [1] agro-industrial
farming operations the average size
of which is around fifty hectares (with
some attaining over 1,000 hectares). Nigeria’s
middle belt is full of these large
farms that belong to businessmen or
high-level civil servants. Many of them
came into being at the time of the green
revolution and numerous government
schemes in the 1980s and 1990s. More
recently, in 2006, large land concessions
were granted in the states of Kwara and
Nassawara to agricultural colonialists
from Zimbabwe.

Significant Staple Crop Production.
Nigeria is by far the largest agricultural
producer of staple crops in
ECOWAS. Production there is thought
to have grown by 30% to 40% between
2000 and 2009 [2]. The most important
crops for Nigeria are root crops and
tubers on the one hand, and grains
on the other.

Root Crops and Tubers. Root crops and
tubers dominate agricultural production,
accounting for eighty-nine million
tonnes in 2009, i.e. 69% of the regional
supply. These crops amount to more
than two-thirds of staples grown in Nigeria.
Production is estimated to have
tripled in the last twenty years, first
because of an increase in the amount
of land devoted to these crops, and
secondly thanks to improved yields.
Nigeria’s is the world’s leading producer
of cassava, yams and taro root, and
the second largest producer of sweet
potatoes. Domestic cassava production
has increased greatly since the
late 1990s, rising 44% in seven years
to attain 44 million tonnes in 2009.
This increase is primarily due to the
extension of farmed land, as cassava
yields have stagnated at a low level (12
t/h). Yam production stood at around
35 million tonnes in 2008.

Grains. Nigeria alone grows about 50% [3]
of the grain crops produced in West
Africa. Production has doubled over
the past twenty years. As is the case
in nearly all West African countries,
the rise in grain production is due
more to the extension of cultivated
land than to any significant improvement
in yields.
Millet and sorghum (59% of total
grain production by volume) yields
have either stagnated (sorghum) or
progressed at a very slow pace, putting
the average yield for these two crops at
1-1.5 t/ha over the 2000-2006 period.
Production increased by a factor of 3.8
(millet) and 3.4 (sorghum) between
1980 and 2008, and now stands at approximately
9 million tonnes for each
of these two crops.
Rice and maize stand out, attaining
yields of close to 2 t/ha. However, while
maize yields have risen from about 1 t/
ha in the early 1990s to about 2 t/ha
in 2006, rice yields have stagnated at
around 2 t/ha since 1990. Maize has
performed well in Nigeria, and its production
volume has risen from around
1 million tonnes in 1980 to over 7.5 million
tonnes in 2008. The volume of rice
produced increased by a factor of 3.4
between 1980 and 2008, reaching 4.2
million tonnes of rice in 2010 [4].
Wheat production remains low, at
roughly 60,000 tonnes per year in recent
times, despite large investments
by the federal government to promote
this crop and lower wheat and flour

© M.Mitaut

Legumes and Oilseed Plants. Nigeria is
the world’s largest producer of cowpeas
(niebe), with about 3 million tonnes
grown in 2008 (58% of regional production).
The country also produces
3.9 million tonnes of groundnuts, or 57% of all groundnuts grown in West

Production Still Insufficient to Meet
While the overall trends of
agricultural production in Nigeria can
be ascertained, very little is known
about the structure of the demand for
staple crops. This demand is strongly
influenced by a number of factors, and
divided between domestic needs and
demand from neighbouring countries
(in particular for grains). This relative
lack of knowledge about import and
export flows with neighbouring countries
makes is difficult to establish an
overall food assessment.

A Diet of Two Basic Foods. Nigeria’s
food regime is based essentially on two
foods: grains, which provide 46% of
calories and 52% of proteins consumed,
and root crops/tubers, which provide
20% of calories and 8% of proteins consumed.
Consumption of grains and
root crops/tubers amounts to 150 kg
and 214 kg respectively per person and
per year (in 2007).

Rapid Development of Urban Markets.
Domestic demand for staple crops is
rising, as a result of growing population,
urbanisation (Nigeria is one of
the most heavily urbanised countries
in the region), improved living conditions,
the needs of a rapidly expanding
processed food and beverage industry (notably breweries) and livestock raising
While self-consumption of crops in rural
areas still predominates (especially
for millet and sorghum), the rapidly
developing urban markets are becoming
a major outlet for local production.
Towns and cities now absorb more than
50% of cassava and yam production,
close to 30% of millet and sorghum
crops, half of the maize crop, and 72%
of domestically grown rice.
Root crops and tubers are almost
entirely destined for domestic (mainly
human) consumption, with small
quantities of gari and yams exported
to other countries in the sub-region
(in particular Sierra Leone).
Demand for grains is dominated
by human consumption, followed by
the food processing industry and biofuel
production. The remainder goes
to neighbouring countries. Proportions
vary according to economic
circumstances. Millet and sorghum
crops largely exceed domestic demand,
providing exports [5]. The situation is
less clear-cut for maize, depending to
a great extent on the level of domestic
demand which has been rising steadily,
driven by the food processing industry
and demand for poultry feed
(1.3 million tonnes in 2009). Urban
growth has steadily pushed up annual
rice consumption, which has risen
from 8 kg per person in 1960, to 15 kg
in 1980, and then to more than 20 kg
per person in 2007.

Imports Needed, Particularly Rice
and Wheat.
Although local products
provide most of the food for cities in
Nigeria, the country has a structural
deficit for two grains, rice and wheat.
Domestic rice demand has been about
5 million tonnes a year since 2008, and
Nigeria imports more than one million
tonnes annually, making it one of the
largest rice importers in the world. It
also imports more than two million
tonnes of wheat (flour) every year.
Nigeria therefore continues to be a
very substantial net importer of grains.
Between 2000 and 2008, these annual
grain imports represented an average
annual cost of $939 million. Nigeria
alone accounted for between30%
and 40% of all grain imports in the
region. Its dependence on imports
is relative, however, in that Nigeria
is home to over half the population
of West Africa and only about 10% of
Nigeria’s grain needs seem to be met
by imports. Nonetheless, Nigeria has
a large agrifood trade balance deficit,
which attained nearly $1.5 billion in
In conclusion, Nigeria is the most
powerful agricultural economy in the
region, and exports to neighbouring
countries (millet, sorghum, gari and
yams) [6]. But it is also the ECOWAS
country that imports the most (in
particular grains) to satisfy urban
consumption needs, accounting for
36% of ECOWAS’ agrifood imports.
How will this situation evolve as the
population, urbanisation and standard
of living in cities continue to rise?
What are the foreseeable impacts on
Nigerian imports and on the production
surplus that can be exported to
neighbouring countries?
Given Nigeria’s weight in the regional
agricultural and food economy, it
goes without saying that this country
holds the key to “regional food sovereignty”,
an objective pursued by
ECOWAS and networks of farmers’
organizations. Nigeria has the potential
to reduce its food dependence
and that of the region, but proactive
and sufficiently stable internal policies
will be needed to make the most
of this potential. To achieve this goal,
Nigeria must also play a more active
role in harmonising and implementing
agricultural, trade and fiscal policies
at the regional level.

This article is
based on a
number of
Nigeria’s Cereal
, B. G.
Soulé, D. Balami,
R. Blein, SOS
Faim, ROPPA,
November 2010;
Framework for
involvement in
rainfed food crop
supply chains
development in
West and Central
, AFD,
July 2010;
potential of West
, R. Blein,
B. Soulé, B.
Dupaigre, B.
Yérima, Farm,

Statistical data
on Nigerian
agriculture are
scarce and
contradictory. For
the most part, this
article draws on
FAO data. As is
often the case for
data on West
African countries,
the statistics
presented here are
not always reliable
and should be
viewed with

Dawanau Market in Kano

Located in the city of Kano, Dawanau
market is the largest grain
market in West Africa. Created in 1985,
the market houses over 10,000 stores
and 662 warehouses (averaging 6,000
cubic metres each).
It occupies an area approximately 3
km long and 400 m wide, and is divided
into 5 zones: cowpeas (niebe) and
sesame crops in zone A; groundnut,
wheat and cassava in zone B; yams
in zone C; and maize, millet and sorghum
in zone D. Zone E is used by
The market has a roster of twenty-
seven groups, some specialised by
crop or product, others not. Vendors
must belong to one of these groups to
operate in the market. In 1996, these
groups created an umbrella organization,
the Dawanau Market Development
All the ethnic groups in Nigeria
are represented, as well as merchants
from the sub-region (mainly from Niger,
Chad, Cameroon, Benin, Togo,
Ghana and Mali).
The market is a purely private enterprise,
open every day from 6:00
a.m. to midnight in the off season and
around the clock in the high season.
Sales are mostly of crops grown in
northern Nigeria: cowpea, maize, sorghum,
millet and rice. Thousands of
people work in and around the market:
there are over 4,000 warehouse
staff, 500 security guards, immigration
agents, police officers, etc.
Credit can be readily obtained at
the marketplace itself (in an informal
manner). Prices fluctuate very
rapidly and merchants make heavy
use of their networks (transporters,
food processors, etc.) to stay abreast
of prices, quantities, etc. via mobile

Poultry Farming on the Rise in Nigeria

Poultry farming is the leading form of
meat production in Nigeria: amounting
to 350,000 tonnes per year, it accounts for
36% of total livestock production and covers
19%of domestic meat needs.
To boost consumption of animal protein
in the country’s growing population, Nigeria
is counting on higher productivity for
short-cycle livestock operations, in particular
poultry. The domestic production shortfall
in relation to potential demand for poultry
is estimated at 25,000 tonnes per year. This
rising demand is driven by the growing middle
class, consumption outside of the home
(restaurants) and the development of fastfood
restaurants in big cities.
In July 2002, the federal government banned
imports of poultry products with the aim of
accelerating the growth of domestic production.
Despite this ban, illicitly imported frozen
chickens are found on the market. The
volume of these illegal imports has dropped,
however, due to regular inspection operations
and confiscation by the authorities.
While there are some semi-industrial
poultry operations, rural family farms are
still predominant in this activity, in which
women have an important place.
The place of poultry products in the
household food basket and the amounts
consumed vary considerably depending on
the social context. In rural areas, poultry
is eaten only occasionally; in urban areas,
consumption is much higher. On average,
Nigerians consume 1.6 kg of poultry per
person and per year.
Egg production has reached a level that
allows the country to export eggs to surrounding
countries such as Benin, Niger
and Chad. Domestic consumption of eggs
has risen sharply, and the average in Nigeria
of 3.2 kg per person per year is much
higher than the regional average (2.2 kg per
person per year).
The avian flu epidemic that affected Nigeria
between 2006 and 2008 had a strong
impact on poultry operations. The disease
seems to have died out however, as no foyer
of flu infection has been reported since September

Source: Impacts socio-économiques de la grippe
aviaire en Afrique de l’Ouest :
“ Étude de cas au
Nigeria ”
Republic of Nigeria, October 2006.

  • Réagir :
  • Partagez :

Respond to this Article

Stay Informed! !

You can subscribe to our publications and newsletters and get them directly in your email. You can also create personalised news alerts to receive the newest information published on topics of your choice. Sign me up!


    Site produced with the support of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie and the Agence Française de Développement.

  • How to participate?

    There are many possible ways you can join in the life of the network. You can subscribe to our publications and create custom news alerts. Subscribe to our publications. You can also subscribe to our RSS feeds and follow us on social networks. Send us your contributions and suggestions by contacting us! Contact us!

    Abonnez-vous à nos publications

  • You can also subscribe to our RSS feeds and follow us on social networks.

  • Send us your contributions and suggestions by contacting us!

  • Contact us