Nigeria: One Reason for Low Productivity

This weekend Nigerian journalist Abubakar Kabir Matazu invited me to drive with him and his children to his home town of Katsina in the far north of Nigeria to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Katsina is known as a ancient center of Islamic learning and Eid is the day thousands of brightly regaled horsemen parade before the Emir (see photos in my next posting). However I wanted to go to meet Matazu's father Alhaji Kabir Matazu, who is what one might call a middle class Nigerian farmer, and he is struggling.

Matazu senior is a former military officer who has acquired almost 1000 acres of land, a tractor and modern farm machinery and was very productive in the 1980s and 90s. But the machinery mostly sat in the shed this year, he said, and most of his land lay fallow. "The costs of fertilizers and other inputs were too high," he explained. And what is so sad is that in 2008 the rains were good in the north and there were bumper harvests. Nevertheless he said he lost less money than farmers who were more productive. "The cost to grow crops were some 50 percent more than the price the farmers got for their crops," he said. Thus the more a farmer produced the more money he lost.

Matazu's father blames the government.

Farm inputs such as fuel and fertilizers should not be expensive in a country that is the world's eight largest producer of crude oil. But refined petroleum products are mostly imported and though the government subsidizes fertilizer, it sells through middle men who jack up the price beyond what poor and middle class farmers can afford. Matazu's Dad only bought enough to cultivate a few acres, just enough to feed the family. He is a middle class farmer who, like most Nigerians, farms to subsist.

Some 70 percent of Nigeria's 140 million inhabitants farm the land and some 90 percent of those are considered "subsistence farmers". But the term is misleading according to Sabo Nanono, head of the Kano chapter of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria. Less than 10 percent of subsistence farmers can subsist year round. Most are dependent on rain feed farming which means that during the dry season they must find alternative livelihoods, such as day laboring, petty trading and illegal activities. They are what one might call sub-subsistence farmers and aid organizations estimate that at least half of them and their families do not get enough to eat.