The Biggest Challenge in African Agriculture

The Biggest Challenge in African Agriculture

As we get ready to converge in Abuja for Sterling Bank’s Ag Summit, I want to share this perspective which I left in the comment area on LinkedIn. Agriculture in Nigeria is very challenging for farmers and investors. Unfortunately, things will NOT change overnight. Simply, until we make farmers businesspeople from just ancestral custodians of culture, nothing significant will happen in our agriculture. Most people do not farm to make profit – the gold standard of any venture; they farm because that is a way of life with making profit a secondary nexus. 

Because of that, if you do the numbers, you will have no strong correlation between input and expected output. So, you see a man who has been farming for 10 years and yet is still poor. With blazing irony, a man in the community of farmers will expect government to send him food! 

Nonetheless, he will continue to farm even though the “business” is not working. In other trades, the man could have moved from selling corn to pure water or something else. But in farming, the output does not drive the next year strategy. 

That is the biggest challenge in  Nigerian agriculture – inability to make farmers businesspeople. I work with many of them in our business – and I have seen things. Do not think anyone can reprogram culture overnight. It is tough! Your motive for profit is secondary – what matters to most is that the way of life is strong, irrespective of the mass poverty it is creating in the community!

I hope to continue this conversation during Sterling Bank’s Ag Summit Africa; I am one of the speakers. By 2030, everyone expects African agriculture to hit $1 trillion mark. It has to happen if opportunities must abound in the continent.

The Agriculture Summit Africa is one of the continent’s leading platforms dedicated to creating a convergence of private and public sector players, investors and agriculture practitioners across the entire value chain.
This year’s conference is themed ‘Agriculture: Your Piece of the Trillion- Dollar Economy’. This theme was inspired by the World Bank’s projection that the agriculture sector will exceed 1 trillion dollars within a decade and will facilitate debate on key issues including access to capital by investors across the value chain, access to electricity, better technology and digitization methods and well irrigated land to grow high-value nutritious foods.
The benefits of this are enormous as the growth of the sector will help increase exports and income levels, create employment, reduce poverty, boost growth rates, and promote food self-sufficiency across the continent while concurrently safeguarding the environment.
The Summit will take place under the distinguished Chairmanship of His Royal Majesty, Emir Sanusi Lamido, the Emir of Kano State, with His Excellency, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria delivering the keynote address.

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4 thoughts on “The Biggest Challenge in African Agriculture

  1. There are many ways to approach the ‘primitive farmers’ quandary, without needing to totally reconstruct their minds. Another layer can be created, to be dominated by those who see agriculture as a business, this group of people will in turn ‘own’ or ’employ’ the farmers; so that whatever the farmers produce already have a ready buyer.

    Agriculture is a very serious business for us to rely on largely illiterate farmers and custodians of cultures to take us anywhere, it will never happen. The same way we cannot leave a serious business like politics/governance in the hands of politicians alone, you would get burnt of course.

    The biggest issue is even with the land ownership/tenure system in practice here, because most people who know what to do with farmlands don’t have access to them, leading to massive inefficiencies and underutilization in many places.

    Again, we need to get serious when it comes to financing agribusiness, especially after produce have left the farmlands; selling/exporting raw materials in a country/continent yearning for industrialisation appears very silly to me.

    1. ” this group of people will in turn ‘own’ or ’employ’ the farmers; so that whatever the farmers produce already have a ready buyer.” Very good idea – that is how the makers of Peak Milk does it in Europe. The farmers become feeders into the MNC supplying their raw milk.

  2. I discussed factors limiting agriculture in my book Sustainable Development in Africa ( While lack of business approach to agriculture is a problem (not only in Nigeria, but elsewhere) the more critical problems include insecurity, poor and inconsistent government policies, corruption, poor infrastructure, limited access to inputs and necessary technology, inefficient domestic markets, unfavorable global trade and finance structure, inadequate investments, in addition to natural factors such as drought, pests, diseases and poor soil. With the right policy, we can reposition agriculture in Nigeria and be pleasantly surprised by the resultant benefits in terms of employment, income, foreign exchange, industrial development, etc. – Okey Ukaga, University of Minnesota


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