When Innocent Alu, a farmer in the Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, lost most of his chickens and all his fish to floods in October, his options were limited. He did not have access to emergency credit or insurance on his farm to recoup his loss.

Monday Moju, his friend, had to open a fundraiser account for him on GoFundMe. Except something good comes out of it, Alu’s only option may be to cut out meals or often go to bed hungry.

“I have lost over 10,000 laying birds, 30,000 points of sale fish, and 3 million fingerlings, all of these to an estimated tune of N75 million. All of this happened in the space of 2 weeks,” Alu said.

In rural areas, farmers grow the food that feeds us all, including the urban communities. Small-scale farmers grow one-third of the world’s food, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

Nigeria has just suffered one its most devastating floods in history, claiming 600 lives and displacing over 1,600 persons, according to the Humanitarian Ministry
Five acres only
By seeing agriculture as a business, smallholders as entrepreneurs, and companies as organisations that want smallholders as customers and suppliers, policymakers and investors can leverage the continent’s existing assets to catalyse economic transformation rather than trying to create it from whole cloth.

“Smallholder farmers are farmers that cultivate less than 5 acres of land,” Victor Olowe, a professor and agronomist at the Institute of Food Security, Environmental Resources and Agricultural Research, FUNAAB told BusinessDay.

Of the SDGs, ending hunger, ending poverty, providing good health & well-being, quality education, and gender equality are Nigeria’s top priorities as the country’s baseline indicators point to aggravated human conditions that need to be alleviated.

Nigeria has just suffered one its most devastating floods in history, claiming 600 lives and displacing over 1,600 persons, according to the Humanitarian Ministry. The unprecedented floods have battered the country’s major agricultural belts and are now threatening the country’s food security.

The situation, coupled with the Russian-Ukraine war has led to a sharp rise in food prices to levels not seen in decades. Food inflation hit a 17-year high at 23.72 percent in October.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in a March 2022 report says that 19.4 million Nigerians are food insecure, and this number is expected to double as flooding issues have worsened the hunger crisis in the country.

For the country to prevent this kind of catastrophe from happening in the future, experts say it must reform its food systems to become sustainable and resilient to achieve zero hunger and withstand any future climate shocks.

Olowe says if government intervention must be holistic, it must revolve around and address the needs of the primary producers, the smallholder farmers.

“The smallholders contribute about 80 percent of the food we eat. They are major stakeholders in food security. So, if you are bringing in any interventions, you must factor their conditions into such intervention,” Olowe said.

He added that the basic needs of this category of farmers are inputs, seeds, fertilisers, agrochemicals, and these must be made available to them.
Maria Helena Semedo, deputy director general of the FAO, while speaking during the launch of the Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation initiative during COP27 climate talks says countries need bold transformative actions to boost Agrifood system transformation, and support to ensure that resources reach food producers across the value chain.

The latest Global Hunger Index (2022) ranks Nigeria 103 among 121 countries facing hunger crises, a position it has maintained for the second consecutive year. Hence, there is an expected clamour for more significant action, responsiveness, and delivery to avert a food crisis in Nigeria.

Kabir Ibrahim, national president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, says that the federal government and all state governments have to work in unison “to support the smallholder farmers by encouraging them to embrace all-year-round production, Climate Smart Agriculture, system of crop intensification, agricultural biotechnology, and good agricultural practice”.

For decades, farming was viewed as a subsistent activity whose loftiest goal was food security for individual households. But then, “Agriculture can pay,” Akinwumi Adesina, former Nigerian agriculture minister who is currently serving as the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), said in a report on the AfDB website. However, when farmers have no access to finance, inputs, information, or markets, it does not pay.

“And when I say pay, I mean it in the broadest sense of that word. Yes, pay in terms of incomes for smallholders, and yes, pay in terms of profit for the business people engaged in the sector. But also pay in terms of a healthier and happier life for hundreds of millions of Africans, and a stronger Africa,” Adesina added.

Agricultural transformation has to be led by the private sector, and the government can only enable it by making more room for businesses to intervene
According to Adesina, agricultural transformation has to be led by the private sector, and the government can only enable it by making more room for businesses to intervene. Putting the right policies and regulations in place, creating strong institutions, building sufficient infrastructure, etc.
It is also on the basis of these challenges that smallholder farmers face, that some youths have vowed to never have a thing to do with agriculture. Many young Nigerians move to the urban areas and have no interest in taking up agriculture as a source of livelihood.

The rural population comprising mostly smallholder farmers practice subsistence farming, and for many, there is a lot of uncertainty that comes with farming. And even though they are faced with the problem of low productivity, they have found it difficult to adopt the technology that will help them scale their farms and remove the uncertainty attached to their means of livelihood.

Technology is revolutionising every sector across the globe, and the agriculture sector is no different. Innovation in agriculture will act as a pulling power for every stakeholder in the agriculture sector as it will create a positive economic clime that will benefit businesses greatly.

Youths gather around technology, and that demography must be clearly pulled into the agriculture sector if its potential to end hunger and poverty in the country will be optimised, experts say.

Speaking of big plans that revolve around smallholder farmers, Ifeoluwa Tryphena Olatayo, a 33-year-old female entrepreneur, founded Soupah Farm-en-Market Limited; an e-marketplace that connects rural small-scale farmers to large off-takers with end-to-end supply chain traceability.

With a “simple” solution that connects rural smallholder farmers to urban markets, eliminating the endless middlemen chain, by using a USSD short code as a procurement interface, she earned for herself $10,000 in a recent agritech competition.

Interrelated risks and challenges
According to a study by Shenggen Fan and Christopher Rue on The Role of Smallholder Farms in a Changing World, more than 80 percent (475 million) of the world’s farms operate on less than two hectares of land. Although these farms account for only 12 percent of the world’s farmland, they provide an estimated 80 percent of the food produced in Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

Despite the key role smallholder farmers play in achieving food security and nutrition, they are a vulnerable group often neglected by development policy and they account for most of the country’s poor and hungry.

The study finds that smallholders face a mix of interrelated risks and challenges which threaten their livelihoods, food security, and nutrition.
Traditionally, the literature on smallholders has focused on challenges to their livelihood strategies, such as lack of human capital and limited access to infrastructure, markets, and technologies. But smallholders have also become increasingly vulnerable to a spectrum of emerging climatic, health, price, and financial risks and challenges. Not only does the occurrence of these shocks endanger already fragile food production systems, but the mere likelihood of their occurrence makes some smallholders more risk-averse and likely to pursue more subsistence-oriented activities, thus causing smallholder poverty to persist.

Supporting smallholder farmers to play a greater role in food production and natural resource stewardship is one of the quickest ways to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by 2030. They are the key to ending hunger, experts say.

This article is part of the content partnership between BusinessDay and AFN/Foodlog.