Urgently strategic insights to resolve the Nigerian food security crisis – Kenneth David Strang et al

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Our Take: Food insecurity is a severe problem in developing countries, but it is a far more serious issue in Nigeria. As this gradually becomes a widespread social problem, Nigeria must brace itself for the dangers ahead by making available the necessary tools to address food security and its triggers.


The food security crisis is a serious worldwide predicament in developing countries but it is a relatively larger problem in Nigeria. We argued there was no solution for the Nigerian food security crisis because researchers had not customized theoretical models with data-driven priorities grounded on local agriculture subject matter expert knowledge. We collected data from local agriculture extension workers who had specialized knowledge of the problems. We applied the consensual qualitative research method with embedded nominal brainstorming and multiple correspondence statistical techniques at the group level of analysis to develop a proposed solution. Our final model highlighted strategically urgent ideas to increase agriculture productivity and appease the most severe constraints in rural Nigeria. The results extended what was already published in the literature and should generalize to rural farmers in Nigeria as well as to government policymakers in developing countries around the world.


The food security crisis in Nigeria is a serious problem because it impacted over 90 million citizens during 2017–2018 (Olomola and Nwafor, 2018). Globally, food security poverty affects approximately 11% of world’s population (FOAUN, 2017), yet the extent of individuals impacted in Nigeria soared almost six times higher at 64% in some states through 2017–2018 (UNOCHA, 2019).

Nigeria has many resources and strong economic potential but the country cannot escape the vicious agriculture-related poverty cycle. At almost 200 million people, Nigeria is the highest populated country in Africa and sixth largest in the world (Nigeria-NBS, 2019), and it has a large workforce with more than 50% employed in food-related production (Nigeria-NBS, 2018). Nigeria has a modern democratic government, it has a functional central bank and on average it received over US$165 million annually in overseas development assistance during the last 10 years (Nigeria-NBS, 2018, 2019, Olomola and Nwafor, 2018). The soil and climate are ideal for agriculture across most regions in Nigeria (Enesi et al., 2018). Paradoxically, Nigeria imports significantly more wheat, rice and sugar at unfavourable currency exchange rates than what farmers could grow (UNOCHA, 2019).

The a priori factors attributed to the food security crisis in developing countries have been well-documented in the literature (e.g. Adepoju and Osunbor, 2018; FAOUN, 2017; Mlambo and Mnisi, 2019; Orr, 2018; Yustus et al., 2018). Some researchers based in Western countries have pro- posed food security solutions for African  nations  based on literature reviews (e.g. Clark and Hobbs, 2018), but academic advice does not work in Nigeria unless it is data-driven and customized by local experts to accommo- date the unique sociocultural issues (Olawuyi, 2019; Omo- tayo et al., 2018; Strang et al., 2019). The common factors empirically found to impact food security in Nigeria include arable land size, modern inputs, education level, family size, age, technology use, farmer attitude and income diversifica- tion (Abu and Soom, 2016; Akeju et al., 2018; Kazeem et al., 2017; Mogues and Olofinbiyi, 2018; Obayelu et al., 2019; Okunold et al., 2018; Olawuyi, 2019; Olowogbon et al., 2019). Unfortunately there are very few forward-looking studies, and no solutions have been published, to resolve the food security crisis in Nigeria.

We argue there is no solution for the Nigerian food security crisis because researchers have not customized theoretical models with localized empirical rural farm data. While some excellent scholarly ideas have been published, many studies contain complex models that would not be practical for farmers to interpret. Even the best research may contain numerous theoretical recommendations that are not prioritized to resolve local rural Nigerian farming problems. We asserted the root cause was individual survey data produced descriptive statistical estimates but not a prioritized consensus of the most experienced educated farmers. We proposed a group of rural farming subject matter experts ought to be brought together with experi- enced researchers to develop a localized solution for the Nigerian food security crisis. To accomplish this, we used the consensual qualitative research (CQR) method with an embedded nominal brainstorming technique at the group level of analysis to collect insights from rural Nigerian agriculture extension workers. Agriculture extension work- ers are a special category of farmers, they are considered subject matter experts with many years of previous farming experience, they regularly communicate with government- sponsored support agencies, and they work directly with rural farmers so they know the sociocultural problems faced by farmers. We then applied the multiple correspon- dence analysis statistical technique to develop a localized data-driven solution for the food security crisis in Nigeria.

Materials and methods

We adopted a pragmatic inductive ideology for this study, which led to the goal of collecting in-depth localized data from subject matter experts to brainstorm food security crisis solutions relevant for rural Nigerian farmers. However, the farmers were not interviewed directly. Instead, agriculture extension workers were selected to participate in one 6-h focus group meeting at a field site. Agriculture extension workers are a special category of farmers, they are considered subject matter experts with many years of experience, most have a university education, all have knowledge of economics as well as government programmes, and they work with local farmers so they are aware of the unique sociocultural issues.

The CQR formal method was applied based on the gui- dance of Hill et al. (2005). CQR was used to collect com- plex focus group sense-making data. Next the multiple correspondence analysis technique was used to identify the best ideas and a grounded theory literature review was applied to relate the ideas back to the literature. CQR was preferred over similar relevant methods including grounded theory and phenomenology because CQR is used at the group level of analysis and we as researchers were interpreting the data collected from participants (Strang, 2015a).

According to Strang (2015b), correspondence analysis is situated within the family of multivariate exploratory techniques capable of producing statistical estimates and graphical diagrams of qualitative factor relationships. Correspondence analysis was selected as the final inductive technique in this study because it is particularly useful for transforming complex qualitative data into relationship- interdependence patterns (Strang, 2015a). Important hidden relationships in the data can be visually highlighted  by creating a multidimensional plot to make sense of the data (Strang, 2012). Factors that are similar to each other appear close to each other in the diagram to indicate they are related in some underlying way (Strang, 2012). The advantage of correspondence analysis over similar classification techniques like cluster analysis is that the former can identify the strength of each hidden relationship without losing attribute details, whereas in a cluster analysis dendrogram the factors are split based on similarity or difference but relationships are not evaluated (Strang, 2012). Furthermore, correspondence analysis does not classify records into groups but rather the content of the fields are used to estimate the correlation between factors which is the correspondence. Therefore, correspondence analysis is a powerful non-parametric technique that can be inductively used to analyse hidden relationships in qualitative data in a similar way that factor analysis is used to reduce the complexity of the quantitative data (Strang, 2015a).

According to Strang (2012), there are two basic forms of this technique, the first is simple correspondence analysis, involving two factors, and the second is multiple corre- spondence analysis when more than two factors are involved. Given that there were numerous food security crisis factors identified in the a priori literature, multiple correspondence analysis was ideal for this study. SPSS version 25 was used to apply correspondence analysis using a 95% confidence level (0.05 level of significance).

Sixteen agricultural extension workers across the three LGAs representing 900 farmers participated in this study. The members were evenly distributed between the three North-East Nigeria LGAs of Mubi South, Maiha and Mubi North. All participants were married, most were above age 40, 81% were male, and 19% were female. Approximately half of the participants (7 of 16) had a university degree but all had at least high school education. Most were Christians (12) and 4 were Muslim. Most participants (12) were active members of a farm cooperative or community association. All participants had at least 6–10 years of agriculture exten- sion worker experience, 1 had 11–15 and 10  had  over  15 years. The mean number of farmers each participant maintained in their network was 169.1 (SD  230.8) and  the median was 66.5, which indicated considerable scope. Most participants communicated with their partners on a weekly basis (12), 2 did it fortnightly and 2 met monthly.


The results of the focus group sense-making data were analysed in SPSS. A multiple correspondence analysis of the food security crisis ideas with focus group ratings was conducted to estimate the strength of relationships between each idea, and the relative importance of each idea as com- pared to the whole. The result was significant with the best- fitting parsimonious model having two aggregate factors, with the first dimension accounting for 19% of the inertia and the second capturing another 17%, with a non- parametric correlation of 0.23 between the two dimensions. Twelve dimensions were required to capture 100% of the variance but the two-factor solution was practical and included all ideas synthesized from the focus group con- sensus. The two-dimension multiple correspondence anal- ysis model had an r2 0.05 (p < 0.05), which is a small but significant effect.

The first dimension represented the severity of the con- straints impacting rural Nigerian farmers in the food secu- rity crisis. The constraints referred to macro-level factors such as government policy corruption, lack of training, poor infrastructure and similar national barriers. The sec- ond dimension represented the importance of productivity improvements which could help rural Nigerian farmers overcome the food security crisis through increased or more efficient crops. This dimension could refer to any level of idea ranging from central government, to industry, down to the individual rural farmer. Figure 1 is an inductive two-dimensional diagram developed from the multiple cor- respondence analysis with four quadrant labels interpreted by the authors. The x-axis and y-axis scale in Figure 1 represents priorities so the maximum because there was more emphasis placed on productivity by the participants. The model in Figure 1 is inductive because the sense- making ideas were analysed using the data from the focus group participants. The authors partitioned the plot into four strategic quadrants based on observed patterns in the plot, with each quadrant suggesting a different combination of agricultural productivity importance and constraint severity trade-offs. The x-axis represents 14 constraint severities while the y-axis represents 20 productivity improvement idea ratings. The labels of the focus group ideas were abbreviated to fit into the plot. For example, the ‘a’ prefix on many factors such as ‘eTraining’ refers to agriculture to differentiate it from other types of generic training that farmers receive, whereas the ‘eCommunica- tion’ idea refers to receiving or sending a broad category of electronic communications using mobile phones or even radio. Table 1 shows the sense-making ideas cited in Figure 1 along with the descriptions.


The focus group ideas were partitioned into four quadrants, starting from the most important in the upper right, strate- gically urgent, and then counterclockwise to the upper left, urgent. The insights categorized in the bottom two quad- rants were building resilience and operational tactics.

Strategically urgent insights

According to focus group participants, Nigerian rural farm- ers have not been using modern fertilizers or seeds because the seeds are too expensive in the marketplace, so they use local stock. The quality of seeds from local marketers or the dealers is thought to be adulterated or not good. The issue is that farmers cannot identify good seed varieties and cannot get access to them at affordable prices. Likewise, the same problem exists for fertilizers and herbicides (which are grouped together in this study as fertilizers). The consensus was that good quality seeds and fertilizers were not available because the government does not pro- vide these inputs directly to rural farmers at affordable or subsidized prices. This factor was clearly in agreement with the literature, specifically Azih (2008) and most other Nigerian study authors (Adesiji et al., 2014; Ashagidigbi, 2017; Bamigboye, 2016; Enesi et al., 2018; Ojo et al., 2019; Okeke and Oluka, 2017; Zhang et al., 2018). The focus of this study was on the critical success factors that could alleviate the food security crisis in Nigeria.

Some rural Nigerian farmers do not know the modern farming methods such as crop spacing to improve yield, planting to encourage maturity, as well as how to apply fertilizer mixes and alternative weed chemicals. Rural farmers need the training to find and apply the relevant information to cultivate corn, maize, beans, groundnuts as well as cattle (since this provides them with free organic fertilizer). The lack of modern farming method knowledge or training in Nigeria was a common food security problem reported in the literature (Abu and Soom, 2016; Aderibigbe and Ajiboye, 2013; Adetimehin et al., 2018; Akeju et al., 2018; Babatunde et  al., 2018;  Bamigboye, 2016;  Elijah et al., 2017; Fatusin and Oladehinde, 2018; Kassali et al., 2018; Okeke and Oluka, 2017; Okunold et al., 2018; Olowogbon et al., 2019; Osa-Afiana and Kelikume, 2016; Yahaya and Abdulrahman, 2018).

According to focus group members, the Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) is mostly sidelined in the current government process for disseminating agricultural inputs (fertilizers and improved inputs), and the process is too complex. What happens is that the inputs are dispatched from the central government to the LGA then to the local government wards or ward chairman. From there, the inputs are inexplicably diverted to the markets or political favourites, but often none reaches to the farmers directly as intended. The consensus was that corruption by opportunistic politicians in the federal and local government apparatus has led to a hijacking of the inputs dissemination process to the disadvantage of rural farmers.

In the past, the previous Growth Enhancement  Scheme (GES) programme  effectively  delivered inputs to farmers across Nigeria through the ADP extension system, often free of charge or significantly subsidized. The GES was replaced with a new process requiring farmers to acquire raw agriculture inputs from unregulated dealers whose interests are limited to generating profits for themselves without genuine concern for farmers or quality. The perception of farmers and extension workers is that the current system of inputs dissemination is severely broken, and they are powerless over the cost, quantity and quality of the agricultural inputs they obtain. For example, farmers often must make do with less than 3 bags of fertilizer in situations where they used to deploy 10 bags, due to the increased costs and lack of subsidies. The inputs dispatched by the Ministry of Agriculture end up in the hands of local politicians who turn around and sell the inputs to make profits for themselves. The consensus among participants was that the Ministry of Agriculture has not been listening to extension workers and farmers. Individual farmers are afraid to protest against these corrupt practices, but they have been unable to organize as a group to mount an effective protest because there is no united farmers’ association or a farmers’ cooperative union to handle such grievances or advocate for farmers.

Some rural Nigerian farmers do not have access to mar- ket data or know how to perform strategic planning. There was a lot of evidence to support this point in the literature, namely, Alegwu et al. (2018), Dauda et al. (2015), Kassali et al. (2018), Magbadelo (2018) and Marketline (2017). The focus group participants felt Nigerian farmers do not treat farming as a business. Farmers lack business knowl- edge, and so they farm basically to survive. Maybe farmers do not need business degrees, but at least they need strate- gic planning mentoring and advising from experienced, trusted sources. Olomola and Nwafor (2018) claimed that the Nigerian government NV20:2020 strategy launched in 2009 attempted to address this problem through the agri- cultural transformation agenda known as the green alterna- tive but it failed.

Furthermore, rural Nigerian farmers produce crops with- out knowing if and where they will be sold. Farmers do not know how to and do not have the means to export their  products to the market. This problem is consistent with the extant literature (Alegwu et al., 2018; Azih, 2008; Elijah et al., 2017). Asenso-Okyere and Mekonnen (2018) noted that lessons from the Asian experience could help Africa, specifically that access to market information could help rural farmers become more competitive and productive. According to focus group participants, what occurs in rural Nigeria is intermediaries or middlemen come and buy from farmers on site or at small local markets, but this puts rural farmers at a significant disadvantage because there is often no buyer competition. Presently, the middlemen have a monopoly on the farmers’ produce because they are the only buyers and they have total control of the prices. The middlemen buy the farmers’ produce at very low prices and then transport it to distant markets where they sell at sub- stantially higher prices.

In addition, the middlemen often manipulate the weights or bag sizes to cheat the farmers. Usually, the  middlemen also mix good quality products with bad quality produce thereby ruining the reputation of good rural Nigerian farmers and snuffing out any bargaining opportunities the farmers could exploit. There are few if any farmer associations, which have been successful in the past in addressing the bargaining position of the farmers, or government regulators to protect the genuine interests of well-intended farmers. Farmers’ produce associations could control commodity prices and regulate the farmer- buyer middlemen exchange to reduce corruption (CISLAC, 2017). This could reduce the negative perception that the rural Nigerian farmer markets offer low- quality products or the market managers are corrupt.

Urgent ideas

Focus group members felt the lack of strategic planning is partly due to the lack of agricultural extension workers. There are not enough well-qualified extension workers to properly support farmers, or in many cases, the extension workers are not able to get to the farm or vice versa. The evidence of this is that sometimes the farmers even make longer trips to the Zonal Director’s office because they desperately need assistance, but there are no extension workers available to visit them at their farms. The root cause of this problem may be that extension workers have limited incentives or allowances because the government has stopped providing these allowances. In the past, the government supported extension workers by providing salaries and allowances, which enabled the extension workers to provide training to farms via demonstration plots. With- out these incentives, the extension workers cannot maintain themselves and cannot continue with the demonstration plots. The demonstration plots are particularly valuable for facilitating experiential or applied learning because the farmers can easily see and assimilate the modern applied methods and the production results. Farmers would be will- ing to adopt new methods if they could readily confirm the new methods would be better. Adetimehin et al. (2018) emphasized the importance of agriculture extension worker role to reduce the food security crisis because their linear regression model indicated higher extension worker pres- ence as mentors increased farmer productivity.

The consensus among the participants was that local road transport, export logistics and lack of adequate infra- structure remain key problems. The farmers cannot sell their products to markets outside of their local areas because of logistics problems due to poor roads and lack of affordable transportation. In the past, rural farmers depended on motorbikes to carry their farm inputs and  farm produces around. This worked well when there was sufficient local demand, but now safety is an issue due to Boko Haram insurgency and increased kidnapping risk, and it is no longer feasible to carry the farm produce to distant markets. Similarly, in the past, extension workers also relied on motorbikes or pushbikes as a cheap transportation mode to get around. Due to the Boko Haram insurgency, motorbikes have been banned by the government in some LGAs such as Mubi North and Mubi South. Thus, rural farmers cannot travel to export their products, and agricultural extension workers cannot easily travel to advice local farmers. This was a common issue reported in the literature (Badiru and Akpabio, 2018; Elijah et al., 2017; Idowu et al., 2012; Okeke and Oluka, 2017). For example, Idowu et al. (2012) observed that motorcycles and bicycles were used frequently by rural Nigerian farmers, who often need to cover 5–10 km daily, but these modes are inefficient and have limited capacity, whereas cars or trucks are too expen- sive to purchase.

Operational tactics

Focus group participants reported that a problem was there were no local processing and storage facilities and equipment. For example, milling machines, which would allow farmers to add value to what they grow, are neither available nor affordable. If there were local processing facilities, this would alleviate the logistics problems and potentially draw buyers from outside the local markets into regional areas, strategically transferring the burden of transportation from farmer to buyer. The consensus among the participants was that transportation to markets must be improved and local processing facilities need to be developed to bring buyers to the rural centres. Not enough supporting evidence was found in existing literature, although Bamigboye (2016) reported that some Nigerian farmers had created sustainable low-tech facilities to make herbicide lotions from local produce. There is also a lack of technological equipment for storing farm produce, especially for perish- able crops like tomatoes, onions and others. Often farmers must take their crops to the market to sell them on the same day of the harvest to avoid spoilage, especially because of the high temperatures in the area, and as such, they cannot make enough money from their produce. The consensus was that either better climate-controlled storage or at least equipment for processing would alleviate this major constraint and help to improve the farmers’ bargaining position in the marketplace.

The focus group participants also noted that rural farm- ers lack good and safe storage facilities for agrochemicals or chemical inputs as well as the knowledge about how to handle agrochemicals. Some chemicals contain dichlorodi- phenyltrichloroethane or other toxic ingredients which the farmers and marketers use for preserving beans. Farmers also use old unsafe methods of storing and handling hazar- dous chemicals that can result in dangerous burns, fires or other damage. What happens is that farmers store harmful chemicals in the same room where they live and sleep, thereby exposing their families to these harmful chemicals and other dangers. The consensus among participants was that rural farmers need to be trained on how to use and store agrochemicals. Zhang et al. (2018) recommended that the government should have a nationwide pest management plan to suppress weeds which could alleviate the work needed at the farm level.

Another significant problem that focus group members identified was rural farmers’ lack of access to financial credit, as there are few loan facilities to boost rural farmer productivity. As such, farmers cannot afford to acquire improved inputs and new technologies to improve their productivity. The consensus was that there is a lack of finance or access to credit for the farmers. This finding was consistent with other relevant existing literature (Michael et al., 2018; Ndubueze-Ogaraku and Andamadi, 2017; Osa- Afiana and Kelikume, 2016; Yustus et al., 2018). Michael et al. (2018) concluded the financial credit problem was due to a lack of acceptable collateral, high interest rates, low financial literacy and complex prevailing banking pro- cedures. Michael et al. (2018) recommended that farming associations needed to be formed to provide the needed capital and banking operations should be simplified to suit farmers’ circumstances. Yustus et al. (2018) pointed out that rural Nigerian farmers in the Adamawa State have benefited from the rotary credit union, an association with pooled resources and government funding that allows farm- ers to borrow limited capital.

Building resilience

Focus group participants thought there was inadequate training and knowledge available to extension workers and farmers from agricultural research centres or stations. Obayelu et al. (2019) found that training and access to extension worker knowledge was correlated with lower food security status of rural Nigerian farmers. Participants noted that the research centres are sponsored by the gov- ernment, and extension workers used to receive training from these centres, but they no longer do.

Furthermore, information, knowledge and messages were once disseminated from the research centres to the extension workers who in turn shared the information with the farmers. Similarly, the feedback and lessons from the farms used to be channelled through the extension system back to the research centres, with the zonal offices coordinating activities in each LGA. This system of training and communication has since stopped, and the extension workers and farmers are suffering because of this break- down. Consequently, farmers’ problems are not being adequately captured, not being addressed, and often it takes far too long to get a resolution for their problem. Kazeem et al. (2017) found that while farmers’ attitudes towards training were positive, the content was often not relevant to the rural farmers’ problems or presented to accommodate their perspectives. Other researchers found even with well-intentioned food security-related regulations or third-party certification, there was difficultly reaching the rural individuals in countries like Nigeria (Clark and Hobbs, 2018). Therefore, more localized advocates such as agriculture extension workers ought to be used to deliver policies, messages, knowledge and training to rural Nigerian farmers.

Finally, rural farmers would welcome support from NGOs or private businesses who could also advocate for them. There is support for this concept in the literature where the existence of farm cooperatives with credit services results in higher agriculture productivity (Adepoju and Osunbor, 2018; Ndubueze Ogaraku and Andamadi, 2017). The government could assist in launching and funding more farmers’ cooperative unions to be located   in the LGAs. The farmers’ cooperatives could take on a coordination function to handle both agriculture input regulation and output export market promotion, possibly, at nominal self-sustaining fees. Additionally, it may be possible to establish a relationship with the African Trade Union to sponsor more knowledge transfer to farmers (Marketline, 2017) and to better leverage export avenues through existing agreements (Strang and Chrysostome, 2018).


The food security crisis is a serious worldwide predicament in developing countries but it is a relatively bigger problem in Nigeria. In this study, we argued there was no solution for the Nigerian food security crisis because researchers had not customized theoretical models with localized data-driven priorities grounded on farming subject matter expert knowledge. We applied the CQR method with embedded nominal brainstorming and the multiple correspondence statistical techniques at the group level of analysis to develop a proposed solution for the Nigerian food security crisis.

The most important strategically urgent ideas in our proposed solution included farmers’ access to affordable seeds, fertilizer, knowledge of modern methods and training, access and use of market information, availability of road and transport infrastructure, access to affordable credit or financing, and agricultural mentors. These ideas were considered strategically important to maximizing agricultural productivity while alleviating the most severe constraints. Other factors also emerged from the analysis as supporting ideas that could re-enforce the most important rural farmer needs such as storage and processing facilities.

The two key limitations of this study concern the inductive nature of the method and the sample size. Although the ideas in the model were populated directly from the participant sense-making data and the relationships were calculated using multiple correspondence analysis, the authors chose the keywords to partition the four quadrants in Figure 1. The choice of quadrant terms like strategically urgent, and the labelling of the ideas, was subjective based on the authors. Nevertheless, the member-checking technique added credibility and fidelity to this solution because participants were given the opportunity to review and pro- vide constructive feedback on the final model.

Finally, the sample of 16 agricultural extension workers was small although this represented over 900 farmers from Adamawa State, Nigeria. Thus, a larger sample size of agriculture extension workers will be needed to ensure the entire country is adequately represented. Therefore, additional studies will be needed to validate and extend this study’s findings in Nigeria and potentially to other developing countries. Furthermore, Reif et al. (2015) posited that multiple analytical methods ought to be used to investigate the food security crisis in order to present a true picture of the data and results.


  • The government should provide affordable seeds, fertilizer, knowledge, and usage of contemporary farming tools, market information, road and transportation infrastructure,  low-interest loans to farmers to enable them to boost agricultural production and further curb food shortage.

Source: SAGE Journals

Keywords: Food Insecurity, Agriculture Extension Research, Consensual Qualitative Research, Focus Group, Correspondence Analysis, Agricultural Policy, Agricultural Economics

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