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Economic aspects of agriculture and nutrition: A Nigerian case study

by S. O. Olayide and J. K. Olayemi *

The ultimate goal of agricultural plans in national development is to raise the standard of living (1). However, "standard of living" is related to many other factors, and its measurement involves attention to a considerable number of variables. One of the more important yardsticks for measuring standard of living is the average nutritional intake of the population. The importance of this yardstick as an index of quality of life derives from the valid assumption that a given level of nutritional intake is influenced by many economic and social variables, with all of their implications, and thus, a population's level of nutritional intake can be used to draw certain broad inferences about the social and economic well-being of the people.

The relation in a country between the level of nutrition and the level of agricultural development is obviously very close. Agriculture is, of course, an economic activity which supplies the food to satisfy nutrition necessities. Nutritional balance within a population is a reflection of the prevailing food supply-demand balance, a balance itself conditioned by many socioeconomic variables.

Indeed, the interrelations among economic development, agricultural development, and nutrition status are complex and multidimensional. This paper will be confined to a small aspect of these interrelations in Nigeria. In particular, we shall consider the interactions between nutritional intake and the state of Nigeria's food economy. The economic factors that influence the existing food supply and demand, and hence the nutrition status, will also be examined. To this end, the paper will consider first the average nutrition condition of the Nigerian population; next the major economic variables that explain the prevailing food supply-demand balance, and hence the nutritional balance in Nigeria; and finally, strategies associated with effective planning for adequate nutrition in Nigeria.

I Average Nutritional Intake in Nigeria

The task of apprasising nutritional intake in Nigeria is made difficult by a dearth of reliable data. Moreover, data on food supply and demand are notoriously unreliable, as are estimates of actual calorie and protein consumption derived from them. However, over the past decade the rate of increase in food demand has outstripped that of supply in Nigeria. The most optimistic estimate of the average rate of growth in the food supply is about 3 per cent per annum, while the average rate of growth of demand is slightly in excess of 5 per cent per annum. The consequence of this for Nigeria's dietary energy intake can be inferred from Table 1.

Table 1 Average energy intake in Nigeria (Kilocalories/capita/day)

Year Intake % of Minimum Requirement
1971 2,248 94
1972 2,292 96
1973 1,503 63
1974 1,743 73
1975 2,114 88
Average (1971 - 75) 1,980 83

*2,400 kilocalories per capita per day (FAO)
Source: Computed from estimated supplies of a wide variety of food commodities in Nigeria, as published periodically by the Federal Office of Statistics. Lagos.

Table 2 Per capita protein intake (g/day)*

Year All Proteins Animal Protein Pulses Others
1971 74 15 7 53
1972 78 15 6 57
1973 58 15 4 39
1974 65 15 5 45
1975 77 15 8 55
1971 - 1975 70 15 6 50

*Source: Same as for Table 1.

On average, only about 83 per cent of the recommended minimum per capita calorie intake was met between 1971 and 1975, less than the 95 per cent which was met in the 1960s. Moreover, the projection is that, at best, not more than 93 per cent of the minimum calorie requirement will be met by 1980 12), still lower than in the 1960s. The averages presented in Table 1 cannot show the seasonal and geographical discrepancies in energy intake in Nigeria: more important, however, is that these averages hide the nutrition problems of the very poor and vulnerable.

The average protein intake in Nigeria over the same period is shown in Table 2. It shows that the average protein intake between 1971 and 1975 was about 70 grams per capita per day. Viewed against the WHO/ FAO recommended safe level of intake, the average protein intake would appear marginally adequate. However, several factors should be noted. First, the recommended safe level of intake is not necessarily the optimum. It is the amount estimated to be sufficient for most healthy persons; it does not allow for the adverse effects of acute and chronic infections (3).

Second, the average intake shown in Table 2 fails to depict the extent of the deficiency because protein supplies are not distributed according to need. Averages do not indicate the extent to which deficiency occurs among poor families, certain vulnerable groups of the population, and pockets of depressed areas of the country.

Third, sources of protein intake are important considerations in determining the adequacy of aggregate intake. Certain inadequacies are quite evident in these dietary data. Only about 15 9. of total protein were derived from high-quality animal sources. The amount of protein derived from pulses (grain legumes) was small, being only about 6 9 per capita per day. Nearly 71 per cent of the total protein was derived from sources other than animals and grain legumes.

Nigeria, like many other developing countries, is struggling to keep its food production commensurate with its population growth, and undernutrition and malnutrition may even be increasing. The implication of this situation for future agricultural planning and development in Nigeria is very clear. Nutrition inadequacies derive from food demand-supply gaps and lack of purchasing power among the poor. To offset this imbalance, a drastic readjustment is required in the agricultural economy.

The projections presented in Table 3 leave no doubt that, if the current trends in food supply and demand continue, food demand-supply gaps will progressively widen. Certain variables that influence the existing food supply and demand can be regarded as policy variables that may be manipulated to bring about desired improvements and readjustments. Factors that give rise to the current food supply-demand situation can be considered in terms of supply-and-demand variables.

II Variables in Food Supply and Demand

1. Supply Variables

Broadly, these variables are the constraints of resources, marketing, profit, and organization.

a. Resources Constraints

Traditional agriculture depends for its growth on the expansion of the land under cultivation as well as on increases in the quantity of conventional production inputs. As long as these resources are available in the desired quantity and quality, food production can readily respond to demand. Although historically this has been accomplished in Nigeria, the situation is now changing. With the best land already under cultivation and becoming less fertile, to expand cultivation further means to make use of lower quality, less productive lands. This implies that farmers have to work larger land areas just to maintain the same crop output.

The issue is further complicated by the growing scarcity of other conventional resources, especially rural labour. With the increasing pace of rural-urban migration, the rural labour supply has become badly depleted and, as a consequence, farm wages have risen astronomically. In fact, they have more than tripled within the past ten years or so in Nigeria. Furthermore, farmers and farm-hands left in the rural areas are aging and hence less productive. All of these factors have conspired to slow the rate of growth of food production.

The only other option open for increasing the rate of growth of food production is to use available resources more intensively by employing modern technology and farm inputs. However, technology in Nigerian agriculture has remained virtually stagnant for decades, and the few modern inputs available (fertilizers, chemicals, irrigation water, improved seeds, etc.) are used by only a small proportion of farmers. The end result is that, at a time when the expansion of food production is approaching the limit possible with available, traditional farm resources, yield-raising technology and inputs are not available in sufficient quantity and quality to offset the declining potentials of traditional farm resources.

b. Marketing Constraints

By and large, the marketing of food in Nigeria has been left in the hands of millions of private trade operations of various sizes and categories. This system worked well for some time, but with the increasing monetization of the economy, the task seems to have become too great for the traditional, unregulated food-marketing system to support. The inadequacy of the infrastructure, poor marketing services, and the absence of government regulatory policies have combined to reduce marketing efficiency. In particular, waste of food between the farm and the consumer is enormous, and market co-ordination is generally poor (4). Suffice it to say here that, as a consequence of these problems, the cost of marketing is high, producer prices are relatively low, and the farmers' market risk is high. Under these circumstances, the incentive to produce more food has weakened considerably.

c. Profit Constraints

The food-crop farmer is squeezed between high production costs and relatively low producer prices. Studies have shown that, despite the rising consumer prices of food in Nigeria, the farmers' share of these prices has become consistently lower, not because more marketing services are being performed by traders, but because farmers are largely forced to accept what they are offered for their crops and have little or no control over the market for their products.

At the same time, the costs of farm labour and other essential inputs have been rising. Furthermore, input-price subsidies offered by the government reach only a few farmers. The result is that farmers' profits are seldom commensurate with their efforts, and only those traditional farmers who have no access to alternative job opportunities are left on the farms.

Table 3 Projected food surpluses/deficits in Nigeria* (1000 tons)

Food Commodity 1980 1985
Maize -250.508 -462.352
Millet -942.684 -1,654.556
Sorghum -1,744.769 -2,974.512
Rice +601.608 +1,118.187
Wheat -182.918 -262.249
Acha -10.580 -14.416
Yam -3,863.763 -6,236.785
Cassava -1,299.829 -2,403.277
Sweet Potato -23.477 -43,440
Irish Potato -5.412 -5.957
Cocoyam -56.101 - 156.000
Plantain -217.158 -204.166
Groundnut (shelled) +12.091 -53.475
Cowpea +87.473 +141.505
Soyabean + 13.180 +22.108
Bambaranut +12.323 +20.723
Melonseed -12.712 -23.162
Benniseed -6.528 -12.163
Cashewnut -4.413 -8.065
Kolanut -18.527 -34.318
Vegetables -330.288 -624.451
Fruit -47.025 -87.912
Palm Oil -392.508 -651.722
Groundnut Oil -21.744 -36.189
Melonseed Oil -3.350 -6.056

*Adapted from Olayide, S.O. et al. (see ref. 1).

There is hope, however, that a new generation of modern farmers is now appearing in the country. Because of the size of their operation, the level of their farm organization, and the type of clientele whom they serve, these new farmers seem more capable of regulating the marketing system for their products. In course of time, it may be possible for Nigerian farmers to free themselves from the clutch of middlemen and speculators, earn their due profits, and have more incentive to invest in food production.

d Organizational Constraints

With increasing market orientation, farming, even in Nigeria, is becoming a business that has to be organized on modern business lines. Unfortunately, the small, traditional farmers who produce over 90 per cent of Nigeria's food still operate in the age-old fashion. Mixed cropping, shifting cultivation, aversion to high risk, and lack of even rudimentary accounting systems are features of this traditional agriculture. As a consequence, productivity is very low. With stagnant or low productivity and diminishing opportunities for extensive agriculture, the rate of output growth has to be low. This is one of the basic problems faced by Nigeria's agriculture today.

In summary, the low, even declining, rate of growth of food output in the country is a natural consequence of certain inherent characteristics that should be taken into account if a reasonable food-production adjustment is to be effected.

2. Demand Variables

While some factors repress the rate of growth of food output, other factors on the demand side operate not only to increase the rate of growth of demand for food in the aggregate, but also to generate certain demand imbalances, as described below.

a. High Rate of Income Growth

It is no longer a secret that the Nigerian economy has been growing at a fairly rapid rate over the past decade or so. As a result, average per capita income has more than doubled over the period. The consequence of this on the demand for food is obvious: demand has been rising rapidly. It is one of the accepted doctrines in economics that, at low-income levels, the elasticity of demand for food is high. Thus when, from a low base, Nigeria's per capita income started to increase rapidly, a good share of this increased income went for food. In addition, certain categories of food normally higher in demand have relatively high income elasticities. Meat, eggs, fish, and other high-quality foods fall into this category. The result, therefore, is not only a high rate of increase in the aggregate demand for food, but also a particularly high rate of increase for the superior types of food. In the face of the sluggish increase in food supply, demand deficits can be expected to emerge, especially for high quality, more expensive foods.

b. Poor Income Distribution

Under rapid economic growth, and in the absence of countervailing measures, there is a tendency for income to become more unevenly distributed among the population. As a result, it is not uncommon to see affluence co-existing with abject poverty. So, also, it is not uncommon to see people living in luxury side by side with those who can hardly afford two good meals per day. The implication of this for food and nutrition is that, while the average rate of demand for food, particularly for good food, may be high, there is still a significant segment of the population that is lagging behind in terms of energy and protein intake. Ironically, in Nigeria it is becoming evident that this lagging segment is predominantly in the rural areas.

c. High Consumer Prices

When food supply fails to meet the demand, one or both of the following happen: first, food imports may increase to bridge the gap between domestic demand and supply, thereby stabilizing consumer prices somewhat. Second, domestic food prices may rise to equilibrate supply and demand. Both have happened in Nigeria. Nigeria's food-import bill has doubled in the past five years. Yet, imports have not fully bridged the demand gap, and consumer prices have continued to rise. This high rate of increase in food prices has had undesirable consequences for the population's nutritional well-being. While a few well-to-do persons can improve the quality of the food they eat, even in the face of rising food prices, there are bound to be millions who can barely sustain their accustomed levels of nutritional intake, and additional millions whose nutritional intakes deteriorate. Worse still, it is the prices of foods of high nutritional quality that tend to rise more, given the same degree of demand deficit. As a result, it is the consumption of these foods that is often reduced drastically. d. Socio-Cultural Factors

It would be wrong to blame all food problems and the concomitant nutrition problems on economic factors alone. Socio-cultural factors are also known to play important roles. Consumer ignorance, food taboos, and the predominant crops under local cultivation make people choose their staple foods irrespective of nutritional qualities. Cooking methods, which determine the nutritional value of the food finally eaten, are also important in this respect. The problem really is that these practices and habits persist, regardless of what science and scientists have to say about the resulting nutritional deficiencies.

III Agricultural Planning for Nutritional Balance

Strategies for increasing food production and supply, and for rationalizing the food-demand structure, have been extensively discussed in past years. However, a new dimension to this is the consideration of measures to enhance quantitative and qualitative food balance.

1. Quantitative Balance

In an economy where decisions about food production are made by millions of very small, independent, pseudo-subsistence farmers, it is likely that certain imbalances in food supply and demand will occur. Surpluses of certain food commodities may sometimes coexist with shortages of other essential foods. This is even more likely where farmers are exposed to all the uncontrolled vagaries of nature, and where the price mechanism does not perform its farm resource-allocation role efficiently. Furthermore, poor co-ordination of the marketing system may lead to an uneven geographical distribution of available food. Thus, even without an over-all food deficit, certain areas of a country may still experience food scarcities at a time when other areas have surpluses.

A rational plan for quantitative food balance over time and geographical areas should involve strategies for improving the efficiency of the price mechanism and/or government intervention when necessary to effect desirable changes. Setting minimum producer prices for food commodities, organizing farmers into cooperatives to improve their bargaining power, maintaining strategic food reserves, and providing infrastructural and regulatory facilities, are some of the measures the government can adopt to effect a quantitative balance in the food economy.

2. Qualitative Balance

Food quality balance has to do with ensuring that every member of the society, and especially the young and other vulnerable groups, have at least a satisfactory daily intake of energy, protein, fats, vitamins, and essential minerals. For a start, this means setting (and achieving) target outputs for various food commodities, the over-all goal being that every component necessary to a proper diet is present in the right proportion. But qualitative balance is much more than this. It also entails policies aimed at ensuring that quality foods finally reach the various categories of consumers.

The production of high-quality foods is usually resource-intensive and their unit costs of production are therefore much higher (5). As a result, their market prices are also relatively high. The problem then is to ensure that poor families, children, pregnant women, and other vulnerable segments of the society can obtain these high-quality foods. One approach is mass education to reorient consumption habits. A second is a preferential food-subsidy programme for the vulnerable segments of society. This can be supplemented by school and institution feeding programmes as well as programmes for other institutions that serve these groups of people. A third approach is a conscious effort by the government to redistribute income through taxation and other fiscal policies in order to spread increasingly effective purchasing power to the greatest number of people (6).

A complementary approach for ensuring that more people can afford to buy high-quality foods is for the government to devise a selective production-subsidy scheme for producers of high-quality foods in order to reduce the production cost and, hence, the market prices of these foods. This may also be an incentive for farmers to expand their production of these foods. A special marketing scheme will also have to be evolved, otherwise most of the benefits of the subsidy will disappear into the pockets of food distributors and middlemen.

In the final analysis, the objective of a food supply-demand readjustment policy should be to reduce the percentage of the population which is undernourished, malnourished, or overnourished (7).

IV Summary and Conclusions

This has been an overview, in economic terms, of the state of food and nutrition in Nigeria. It is confined to Nigeria for the obvious reason that one can best speak within the limits of his own experience. Nevertheless, what obtains in Nigeria is similar to what obtains in a number of other developing countries of Africa.

Broadly speaking, it may not be true to say that most Nigerians are grossly undernourished or malnourished, but most of the population has always hovered around the minimum level of adequate nutrient intake. Furthermore, projected food supplies and demands indicate that the situation is not likely to improve much if the current trends continue.

In general, the four main variables that influence the existing low rate of growth in food supply are: (11 the growing scarcity of traditional farm inputs, including the increasing man-land ratio, stagnant production technology, and low use of modern farm inputs; (2) marketing and price constraints; (3) profit constraints; and (4), organizational constraints. On the demand side, the variables are: (1) high income growth rate; (2) poor income distribution; (3) high consumer prices; and (4), socio-cultural factors.

Instead of discussing solutions in terms of strategies for increasing food production and rationalizing food demand per se, this paper has discussed strategies for enhancing quantitative and qualitative food balance. By implication, these are strategies for, in time, ensuring quantitative and qualitative nutritional balance among nutrient sources, and among segments of the population. Because the ultimate objective of a nutrition policy is the welfare of the greatest proportion of the population, the long-term goal for the nation should be the reduction of the number of underfed or overfed people in the population, and the increase in the number of people who obtain optimum nutrition. The extreme of over-nutrition is as bad as the other extreme of undernutrition.


1. Olayide, S.O., Olatunbosun, D., Idusogie, E.O., and
Abiagom, J.D.: A Quantitative Analysis of Food
Requirements, Supplies and Demands in Nigeria,1968 - 1985.
Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1972, P.l.

2. Food and Agriculture Organization: Food and
Nutrition Policy and Planning in English-Speaking
African Countries. Report on the FAO/DANIDA
Seminar, Lusaka, Zambia, 1975, p.10.

3. Scrimshaw, N.S.: "Effect of Infection on Nutrient
Requirements". American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition, 30: 1536, 1977.

4. Olayemi, J.K.: Food Marketing and Distribution in
Nigeria: Problems and Prospects. NISER Monograph,
University of Ibadan, 1974.

5. Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources,
Ibadan, Nigeria: Farm Income and Resource
Management in the Western State of Nigeria, 1972.

6. Olayemi, J.K., and Olatunbosun, D.: "A Review of
Problem Areas of Nigeria's Food Economy". East Africa
Journal of Rural Development 6 (1 & 2): 79 - 96,1974.

7. Olayide, S.O.: "Future Food Needs of Nigeria".
Paper presented at the FAO/NORAD West African
Seminar on Agricultural Planning, Samaru, Jan.-Feb.

The following is a summary of highlights of the discussion of the paper by Drs. Olayide and Olayemi.

In any government action intended to increase food availability and to improve food quality in rural communities, both the producer and consumer must be considered. When prices are fixed, they must be fair to the producer. Reducing tariffs on farm implements does not usually help, but instead leads to increases in the middlemen's profits. In some Latin American countries' producers of cash crops must allocate a certain portion of their land for growing food crops. In the Ivory Coast, when farmers were subsidized directly by the government, the results were better; but the problem of competition for land between cash and food crops remained. Coffee and cocoa allow no land for food crops. For rice, valleys that were not normally cultivated are now being used. The virgin land in the northern part of the country is being brought under cultivation in the hope that it may be irrigated for the cultivation of food crops.

It has been difficult to implement some of the far-reaching recommendations made at the First African Nutrition Congress held on 16 - 21 March 1975 at the University of Ibadan. The FAO is following up some of the recommendations of the Congress with different governments and international bodies.

High consumer demands do tend to stimulate production, but as a result of increase in prices, the relationship ceases to be linear and direct (i.e., from consumer to producer). Signals from consumers for increased production are damped by middlemen, and they do not always reach producers. The result is scarcity. Governments can adopt price policies that will circumvent the middleman and strengthen the link between consumer and producer. Price policies should consider both consumer and producer.

Attempts to produce animal foods generate their own problems, including the need for high-concentrate feeds. Often these need to be imported and this, and other factors, lead to high production cost. The meeting stressed the feasibility and importance of developing animal feeds in such a way that their production does not compete with the output of food for people.

The role of marketing boards in Nigeria for food crops was discussed. There are still serious problems caused by price fluctuations at the producer's level.

The farmer is at times in debt to the middleman who goes to the villages to buy the foodstuffs, thereby circumventing the farmers' problem of lack of transport. In the case of marketing boards, it is the farmers who have to bring their foodstuffs for sale to the board. Marketing boards buy almost nothing, because government functionaries cannot compete with middlemen yet. Farmers can often respond better to higher prices if there are no middlemen. Government policies concerning food production should be adequately explained to the farmers.

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