There is no sincerer love than the love of food – George Bernard Shaw
While that quote from Irish poet Bernard Shaw is debatable, there is however, a take-home; given a healthy mind and body, the love for food is true for a lifetime.
A grim reality though, stares us all in the face. Every day too many men and women across the globe struggle to feed their children a nutritious meal. In a world where we produce more food than ever before, a United Nations report notes that 690 million people still go to bed on an empty stomach each night- most of them smallholder farmers who depend on agriculture to make a living and feed their families. More than 80 percent of Nigeria’s farmers are smallholders who produce over 90% of our domestic output. Yet, according to a report by the World Bank, these farmers make up the poorest 40% of Nigeria’s population; producing relatively small volumes of agricultural produce on relatively small plots of land.
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They face major obstacles that prevent them from integrating into rapidly evolving national and international markets, thus contributing to the vicious cycle of poverty and unemployment. These challenges often range from low yields due to poor agricultural practices to lack of access to premium buyers due to low economies of scale as well as poor access to credit due to poor bankability metrics occasioned by inconsistent quality of harvested farm products. In recent times, conflicts and insurgency have disrupted agrifood systems, driving up prices and damaging livelihoods leading to a venomous cycle of crime and insecurity. Not to mention climate change, which has further deepened the spiral of hunger and conflict.
Amidst such overlapping challenges, it is important to recognize that strategies geared towards food security must take a systems perspective – holistic and inclusive – factoring the interconnectedness and complexities that exist within agrifood systems. Investing in these smallholder farmers—many of whom are women and youth—and in the support markets and services, beyond production and selling segments, is ever more important than ever in order to feed Nigeria’s teeming population.
For agriculture to contribute to sustainable economic development, support market services such as data-driven extension and advisory, market information on variables such as price and weather, transportation, processing, quality assurance, packaging and marketing, etc. should be strengthened to better support production and selling, while ensuring food is available and affordable. Government, social enterprises, civil society, donor agencies and their implementing partners, for profit and non-profit organizations, traditional and religious leaders, and other stakeholders who control formal and informal rules and norms must create enabling policy frameworks and dialogue platforms which are inclusive of smallholder farmers, enabling their voice, agency and access to productive economic resources.
Entrepreneurship within the sector should focus on helping smallholders see “farming as a business”; enabled by modern technologies such as “smart farming” and “climate-smart” production to increase quantity and quality alongside mitigating the negative effects of a rapidly changing climate which has caused rising temperatures, dry spells, flooding, desertification, pests and diseases.
These interventions must be designed with a resilience lens such that while the intensity of farming is increased, our ecosystems are nurtured and preserved and smallholder farmers are better able to mitigate, cope and adapt in the face of climate-driven shocks and stresses. Stakeholders should therefore unite and act quickly to ensure resilient and sustainable agrifood systems are built and maintained.
Strategic partnerships that create collective impact must be prioritized as individual best efforts cannot solve today’s complex and interconnected problems, often called “wicked problems”. Undeniably, it has been said that “collaboration is the new competition” as corporate collaborations have the potential to drive sustainability, and create better products and services.
Therefore, it is in collaborative partnerships that we would find solutions to the challenges the agricultural landscape is facing and roll them out to the farmers in the fields. It is in collaborative partnerships that we would empower smallholder farmers to compete in domestic, regional and international markets. Indeed, it is in collaborative partnerships that we would revolutionize Nigeria’s agricultural landscape through a systems perspective!
This is the approach that informs the work of Inspire Decisions Consulting or IDC – a management consultancy service provider that is committed to helping smallholder farmers maximize their output and increase their profit using data-driven solutions. At IDC, thanks to our strategic collaborative partnerships, we have empowered over 20,000 smallholder farmers and micro enterprises across Nigeria’s North East and Niger Delta regions, providing them with increased technical and enterprise knowledge, smart farming techniques, linkages to affordable credit and higher-value markets that results in more prosperous smallholder farmers and MSMEs.
At these challenging times of insecurities, climate change and insurgencies, we must not forget how important Nigeria’s small-scale farmers, the support markets around them and the formal and informal rules and norms in enabling food security and sustainable economic growth and development. Indeed, the peace and prosperity of future generations depend upon stable food systems.
Nora Agbakhamen is a communications strategist and the Director of Communications and Partnerships at Inspire Decisions Consulting (IDC)