Food security in Nigeria: Giant strides of SAA, OBJ and 18m farmers





Pundits have long ago classified Nigeria as the global headquarters of poverty. Their reason is on the premise that tens of millions of Nigerians earn less than two US Dollars a day and a significant percentage of the population goes to bed with an empty stomach. 

First-time visitors to Nigeria, equipped with socio-economic literature on livelihood may be expecting to meet emaciated, dejected, and hostile people due to their high level of poverty and sordidness. Instead, as some of the visitors confessed, they met agrarian, energetic, lively, and hospitable people. 

There is a distinct contradiction between the reality on the ground and the information in the media about 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 work tirelessly not only to keep Nigeria one but to make it the loveliest place to live on earth. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) and Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) with their 18 million farmers across Nigeria are in this category. They are unstintingly making Nigeria a habitable place through astronomical enhancement of agricultural productivity in the last three decades. 

SAA as a non-profit and non-governmental organization was extensively discussed in this column a few months ago. As discussed, SAA is a product of intense discussion, negotiations, and strenuous effort of three important personalities focused on eradicating hunger and poverty in Africa. Each of these personalities had reached the zenith of his career but found humanitarian service as an excellent vocation to add to his resume. The three men were Mr Ryoichi Sasakawa (decease), a first-class global multi-billionaire philanthropist, Dr Norman Borlaug (decease), a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and President Jimmy Carter, former President of the USA. SAA came to Africa in 1986 and 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 agricultural systems. Even though 70-85% of the people in most African countries are engaged in agriculture, most governments either have given agricultural and rural development a low priority or have pursued impractical idealistic developmental goals. The population in Nigeria increased from 45 million people in 1960 at the time of the country’s independence to over 200 million people by January 2021. Consequently, the entry of SAA in 1992 was very timely and a great relief to Nigerians. Who was the prime catalyst of SAA’s entry into Nigeria?

Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ), the longest-serving Head 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 about 20 countries with colossal loss of human dignity. That famine greatly shocked the World and propelled the trio of the men (Carter, Borlaug and Sasakawa) to target the year 2000 for ending hunger in Africa. In one of their discussion sessions at the planning level, OBJ as a key Pan-Africanist was invited and his contribution helped immensely in strategy and focus to conquer hunger. My interaction with OBJ a few weeks ago was very informative and revealing. 

He told me, “…Sasakawa Global 2000 original objective was to eliminate hunger in Africa by the year 2000, I advised them that countries, where impacts have to be made, should be selected, Nigeria has one-quarter of the population of Africa, and thus, Nigeria has to be part of the SG 2000/SAA program…”. That was so convincing, and Nigeria became the third country selected for the SAA intervention. 

That was not all, OBJ was eventually admitted into the Sasakawa Governing Board in 1993, He was the first African admitted into that prestigious august body. When SAA ultimately came to Nigeria in 1992, OBJ being what he was/is, a patriotic nationalist allowed logic and comparative advantage in the selection of location where SAA interventions started not starting from his state or hometown as politicians of today do. Thus, Kano and Kaduna were the first states to enjoy SAA activities. In the first decade of SAA’s stay in Nigeria, all activities were done in the six states in the north. Thanks to OBJ’s nationalist posture as he is among the few leaders who gallantly fought a civil war to keep Nigeria one in the 1970s. Now, what is the contribution of SAA to food security in Nigeria?    

Generally, food security is a situation where all people always have both physical and economic access to enough food for an active, healthy living. This means food production should be timely, qualitative, and quantitative to adequately meet the needs of the people. So far, SAA has been making an enormous contribution to the attainment of food security in Nigeria. This is done first through crops’ productivity enhancement by increasing yield per area. For instance, the average maize yield in Nigeria where there is no SAA intervention is 1.5 tons per hectare, which is negligible compared with its yield potential of 8 tons per hectare. However, the farmers working with SAA recorded an unprecedented performance in crop productivity. 

A field evaluation report of SAA activities in Nigeria in the first ten years recorded tremendous increases in crop yield for six promoted crops ranging from 102% for cowpea to 347% for maize. Thus, the result indicated a doubling of yield increase for cowpea and sesame, quadrupling for rice and wheat, tripling for millet, and quintupling for maize per unit area of production. 

These were quite outstanding results, which increased national food security attainment and significantly contributed to poverty eradication. After productivity enhancement, SAA upscaled the intervention to include the promotion of post-harvest technology and marketing. This took SAA to the next two decades with more zeal and vigour that covered more crops and locations extending to 18 states across north and south of Nigeria. As of December 2021, SAA had directly increased the productivity of 18 million farmers with conservatively trice the number along crops value chains as indirect beneficiaries of the SAA program in Nigeria.

This is certainly a giant stride towards food security attainment. Beautifully, the SAA activities always cascade down the ladder to cover more people with elements of sustainability. Thus, agriculture is always treated as a business venture rather than a hobby. The modus operandi of SAA includes technology sourcing, packaging, dissemination through physical demonstration and result evaluation as evidence for adoption. This is done with government officials as a pilot case in a few communities for government to adapt and upscale for wider coverage. Can government pick the gauntlet to achieve the desired food security in Nigeria?