Experts have long ranked Nigeria as the world’s seat of poverty. Their reason is that tens of millions of Nigerians earn less than two US dollars a day and a large percentage of the population goes to bed hungry.
New visitors to Nigeria, equipped with socio-economic literature on livelihoods, can expect to encounter people who are emaciated, discouraged and hostile due to their high level of poverty and squalor. Instead, as some of the visitors confessed, they encountered agrarian, energetic, lively and hospitable people.
There is a stark contradiction between the reality on the ground and media reports of poverty, insecurity and hunger in Nigeria. While the elasticity of Nigeria’s resilience seems to be limitless, we must acknowledge the efforts of some Nigerians and friends who are working tirelessly not just to keep Nigeria one, but to make it the most beautiful place to live on earth. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) and the Sasakawa Association for Africa (SAA) with their 18 million farmers across Nigeria fall into this category. They are relentlessly making Nigeria a livable place through the astronomical improvement in agricultural productivity over the past three decades.
SAA as a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization was discussed extensively in this column a few months ago. As stated, the SAA is the product of intense discussions, negotiations and strenuous efforts by three important personalities focused on the eradication of hunger and poverty in Africa. Each of these personalities had reached the height of their careers but found humanitarian service an excellent vocation to add to their curriculum vitae. The three men were Mr. Ryoichi Sasakawa (deceased), a top-class global multi-billionaire philanthropist, Dr. Norman Borlaug (deceased), Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and President Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States. SAA came to Africa in 1986 and to Nigeria in 1992.
For several decades, food production in Nigeria has not kept pace with demand, as explosive population growth and declining soil fertility have overwhelmed traditional farming systems. Even though 70-85% of people in most African countries are engaged in agriculture, most governments have either given low priority to agricultural and rural development or pursued unrealistic idealistic development goals. The population of Nigeria has grown from 45 million people in 1960 at the time of the country’s independence to over 200 million people in January 2021. Therefore, the entry of SAA in 1992 was very timely and a great relief for Nigerians. Who was the main catalyst for SAA’s entry into Nigeria?
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ), the longest serving Chief and Executive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, was the main catalyst that brought SAA to Nigeria. In the 1980s, Africa experienced the worst famine that hit twenty countries with a colossal loss of human dignity. This famine greatly shocked the world and caused the trio of men (Carter, Borlaug and Sasakawa) to aim for the year 2000 to end hunger in Africa. In one of their discussion sessions at the planning level, OBJ as a key Pan-Africanist was invited and his input helped tremendously in strategy and focus to overcome hunger. My interaction with OBJ a few weeks ago was very informative and eye-opening.
He told me: “…The original objective of Sasakawa Global 2000 was to eliminate hunger in Africa by the year 2000, I advised them to select countries where impacts are to be made, Nigeria has a quarter of the population of Africa, and therefore, Nigeria should be part of the SG 2000/SAA program…”. It was so compelling that Nigeria became the third country selected for SAA’s intervention.
That was not all, OBJ was finally admitted to the board of Sasakawa in 1993, he was the first African admitted to this prestigious august body. When SAA finally came to Nigeria in 1992, OBJ being what it was/is, a patriotic nationalist allowed logic and comparative advantage in selecting where SAA interventions began and not from of his state or his hometown as politicians do today. Thus, Kano and Kaduna were the first states to benefit from SAA activities. During the first decade of SAA’s stay in Nigeria, all activities were carried out in the six northern states. Thanks to OBJ’s nationalist posturing, he is among the few leaders who valiantly waged a civil war to keep Nigeria one in the 1970s. Now, what is SAA’s contribution to food security in Nigeria?
In general, food security is a situation in which all people always have physical and economic access to enough food to lead an active and healthy life. This means that food production must be timely, qualitative and quantitative to adequately meet the needs of the population. So far, SAA has made a huge contribution to achieving food security in Nigeria. This is done first by improving crop productivity by increasing yield per area. For example, the average maize yield in Nigeria where there is no SAA intervention is 1.5 tonnes per hectare, which is negligible compared to its yield potential of 8 tonnes per hectare. However, farmers working with SAA have recorded unprecedented performance in crop productivity.
A field evaluation report of SAA activities in Nigeria over the first ten years recorded huge crop yield increases for six promoted crops ranging from 102% for cowpea to 347% for maize. Thus, the result indicated a doubling of the yield increase for cowpea and sesame, a quadrupling for rice and wheat, a tripling for millet and a quintupling for maize per unit area of production.
These were quite remarkable results, which increased the achievement of national food security and contributed significantly to the eradication of poverty. After productivity improvement, SAA expanded the intervention to include promotion of post-harvest technology and marketing. This brought SAA to the next two decades with more zeal and vigor that covered more cultures and locations spanning 18 states in northern and southern Nigeria. By December 2021, SAA had directly increased the productivity of 18 million farmers with a conservative number of three times the number along crop value chains as indirect beneficiaries of the SAA program in Nigeria.
This is certainly a giant step towards achieving food security. Beautifully, SAA activities are still cascading down to cover more people with elements of sustainability. Thus, farming is still treated as a business enterprise rather than a hobby. SAA’s modus operandi includes technology sourcing, packaging, dissemination through physical demonstrations, and evaluating results as proof of adoption. This is done with government officials as a pilot case in a few communities for the government to adapt and scale up for wider coverage. Can the government choose the glove to achieve the desired food security in Nigeria?