Building Resilience in Nigerian Agriculture
The agricultural sector in Nigeria is facing multiple stressors and sources of change. Nigeria is the most populous and most rapidly urbanizing country in Africa. This has implications for the country’s dietary choices and food production (more animal protein as well as more processed foods and restaurant meals, for example). In addition, climate change will make the country hotter and shift precipitation patterns, although scientists don’t know exactly how much. Decision-makers in Nigeria are therefore facing not just uncertainty, but deep uncertainty—meaning, they can’t predict what is going to happen with any confidence or reliability.
In this context, Nigerian decision-makers have to figure out how to maintain and develop the country’s ability to feed itself. The concept of resilience offers a framework for how to do this. Resilience, as defined by scientists who study complex systems (like agriculture) means the ability of a system to withstand shock and continue to develop. Scientists studying resilience have identified a number of key principles which foster resilience in systems undergoing shocks. We discuss three of them here as they relate to Nigerian agriculture: diversity, participation and learning.
Diversity is frequently a characteristic of smallholder farms in Africa. Farmers plant a range of crops so that if one fails, they have multiple other options for sale or consumption. In a diverse system, if one part of the system goes down, the other parts can compensate. This is where Nigeria may have a resilience advantage, because it is a very diverse country in terms of cultural heritage, climatic zones and dietary preferences. If the maize crop fails in a given year, Nigerians have the option of eating a variety of other foods e.g., sorghum, yam, plantains or cassava. This diversity can also operate at multiple scales. For example, poultry sector stakeholders in Nigeria have suggested that keeping the genetic diversity of native Nigerian poultry breeds can help the sector adapt to climate change, as these breeds tend to be more heat-tolerant.
Participation is another characteristic of a resilient system, because when everyone gets involved in problem-solving, more solutions are generated and trust is built. The science of resilience in complex systems teaches us that both problems and solutions can be created at any level of the system. Researchers and partners involved in the Nigeria Agricultural Policy Project (NAPP) are incorporating participation into our work by working with communities in Ebonyi state (in southeastern Nigeria) to catalog the measures they have implemented to become more resilient to floods. These community-based solutions could be taught to other communities or could be combined with insights from scientists or extension workers to build even more effective resilience measures. Similarly, we worked with poultry sector stakeholders to generate solutions for heat adaptation in the poultry sector.
Following a year of learning together, a team of researchers and stakeholders in the poultry subsector (including poultry farmers, veterinarians, feed producers and retailers and poultry retailers) from around Nigeria produced a pamphlet that described strategies for increasing poultry productivity and reducing death from extreme heat. The pamphlet will be circulated among research and extension networks throughout the country. Participatory research, in which scientists work side-by-side with community partners and decision-makers to answer questions, is an important part of building resilient agricultural systems.
The third resilience principle we discuss here is learning. We need continuous observation and experimentation to adapt to changes that are happening in Nigerian agriculture. Under the Nigeria Agricultural Policy Project, we have been working to facilitate learning across sectors and academic disciplines by disseminating Nigerian research on the impacts of climate change and by hosting conversations among diverse stakeholders. This allows farmers to learn from one another about adaptation and resilience strategies and share that information with policy-makers and scientists. By putting networks and information-sharing mechanisms in place, we can ensure that learning will continue after the end of the Nigeria Agricultural Policy Project.
In order to feed its population into the future under highly uncertain conditions, the Nigerian agricultural system needs to embrace resilience. Fostering diversity, participation and learning are three ways to move the system in that direction, and scientists, farmers, extension workers, policy-makers and consumers all have a role to play.