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Nigeria: Commercial and export agriculture

Unlike the Ivory Coast, the state in Nigeria plays a limited role in commercial and export agriculture, and displays timidity in every initiative agreed.

A brief examination of Nigerian agricultural strategy by recalling the choices made vis-à-vis solving land tenure problems follows here.

Land tenure law and the Land Use Decree

Until the 1978 Land Use Decree, Nigerian land tenure law continued to be governed by legal texts inherited from the colonial period, the Land Tenure Law for the former Northern Nigeria, and the State Land Law that applied in the country's other regions.

The Land Use Decree proposals, and provisions relevant to agricultural development, were:

1) vesting ownership of all land comprising the territory of each state in the federation in that state's Governor (Article 1);

2) all land in urban areas be under the control and management of each state's Governor; all land outside these areas to be under local authorities' control and management (Article 2a and b);

3) the Land Tenure Law and the State Land Law shall continue to be applied by the Governor;

4) the Governor may grant statutory rights of occupancy to any person; local authorities may grant only customary rights of occupancy (Articles 5a and 6a);

5) no single customary right of occupancy be granted in respect of an area exceeding 500 hectares of land for agricultural purposes or 5,000 hectares for grazing purposes (Article 6(2)):

6) the occupier should have exclusive rights to the land against all persons other than the Governor (Article 14);

7) during the tenure of a statutory right of occupancy the holder should have the sole right to and absolute possession of all improvements on the land and may, subject to the prior consent of the Governor, transfer, assign or mortgage any improvements on the land (Article 15);

8) no customary right of occupancy may be alienated by assignment, mortgage, transfer of possession or sub-lease without prior consent of the Governor or the local authority (Article 21);

9) a statutory right of occupancy may not be divided into two or more portions on devolution by the death of the occupier except with the consent of the Governor (Article 24b);

10) the Governor may revoke a right of occupancy for overriding public interest (Article28(1)), and in some cases of revocation the holder be entitled to compensation for the value of improvements at the date of revocation (Article 29(1)).48

These provisions of the Land Use Decree differ from what obtains in the Ivory Coast in that, in Nigeria, the principle of an absolute grant of rights to land to the benefit of private persons is excluded.

The state's role in agricultural production

From 1960 to the present day, the Nigerian state's role in directly productive activities in the commercial and export agriculture sector has been extremely limited. Apart from a few government oil palm plantations during the 1960s, which were considered non-viable as early as 1967, the state has generally been content to create conditions to allow private individuals to engage in agricultural production as profitably as possible. Today, there are no large commercial and export crop plantations owned or managed by the federal government or any state; nor any plantations belonging to enterprises in which there is majority public ownership. Moreover, generally, throughout the country, large commercial plantations are rather the exception. Among the few agro-industrial complexes on a scale that approaches those of the Ivory Coast, are sugar complexes at Bacita and Numan, owned by two private companies comprising, in late 1980, a combined total of 7,000 hectares of irrigated sugar cane estates.

Pre-capitalist agricultural mode of production

In the absence of a policy of large commercial estates, responsibility for production falls almost exclusively on agricultural smallholders with very limited resources. For example, all the cocoa produced in Nigeria in the late 1960s and early 1970s was from 300,000 smallholdings covering 1,200.000 acres, an average of three-and-a-half acres per farmer (1.4 hectares) in the western and midwest regions, which together produced 97.3% of all Nigeria's cocoa; and 17 acres per farmer 16.8 hectares) in the eastern states.' 45% of these farms were then more than 26 years old and 95% more than 11 years.' Ninety per cent of palm oil and palm kernels were from natural palm groves that received little or no maintenance, and 95-98% of rubber was produced by small peasant farms: groundnuts were grown by small producers on one- or two-acre plots.49

Commercial and export crop production in Nigeria, before the oil boom, was thus carried on almost exclusively in the framework of small peasant farms relying chiefly on family labour, occasionally supplemented by wage labour. Regarding the period since 1973, none of the documents to which we have had access has enabled us to know, precisely, the type and size of agricultural farms devoted to commercial and export crops. The general impression, however, is that overall, the situation has changed little since 1973 (except that the area devoted to commercial and export crops is much reduced in size), that the dominant mode of production has remained the same, and that this mode can be generalized to the whole of the agricultural productive sector, in particular to the extent that the same individual will be producing commercial and export, and food crops, and that the areas devoted to each of these two categories are rarely distinct.

This predominant mode of agricultural production in Nigeria cam in my opinion, be seen as similar to what has been described as the 'peasant mode of production', the basic features of which are: a) it 'is based on family units of peasant workers, owners of the land, whose product is intended mainly for family consumption, although a small portion of it is sold': b) 'the basic unit is both the unit of production and the unit of consumption, commodity trading is only marginal': and c) the peasant 'does not seek to maximize profit from his "capital" and to accumulate but primarily to live on the land which is his by virtue of peasant social organization'.50

This mode of organizing production, as well as the land tenure system codified by the Land Use Decree, is also reminiscent of what Samir Amin has described as the pre-capitalist 'tributary mode of production'. In this mode, instead of two antagonistic classes as is typical of the capitalist mode of production, 'the bipolarity is between peasant producers (organized into communities) and a State-class which controls access to the land. Rights in the land of the peasant communities (and/or of their members) and of the State-class (and/or of the State and its constituent parts) are superimposed on one another...'51 These two concepts accurately describe the reality of the agricultural sector in Nigeria.

Relations between state and producers

With agricultural producers organized thus the state simultaneously maintains two types of relations that are contradictory in kind but dialectically linked. On the one hand, a policy of support, and, on the other, measures of exploitation. The exploitation aspect dominated the period from 1960 to the oil boom, while the support aspect seems to have been the most obvious since 1974.

State policy during the first period has been assessed unflatteringly. According to Gray, for example, it was a policy that could be summed up as taxing agriculture to finance other sectors; he goes on to cite export taxes, producer taxes, and the marketing board surpluses, noting that as a result of these levies, the producer's shortfall per metric ton of produce sold during the period 1961-65 averaged 30.5%% for cocoa, 8% for groundnuts, 2.6% for cotton, 10% for palm kernels. 17.2% for palm oil, and 19.6% for rubber.52

Y. A. Abdullahi's fuller and no less critical analysis of the same period describes the strategy adopted as a 'strategy for accumulation without responsibility' end accuses the governments, foreign companies and local middlemen of having indulged in excessive exploitation of peasant agriculture and its resources, of failing to reinvest in agricultural production the revenues and superprofits thus extorted, and therefore of having made no contribution to the reorganization and development of the productive system.53

The openly exploitative character of official policy in this period, or at least its scant sympathy toward the peasants, is illustrated by the extent to which producer purchase prices in 1973 had changed since the 196()-61 period: groundnuts, 11.2% reduction; seed cotton, 18% increase; palm kernels, 5% increase; palm oil. 8.7% reduction; and cocoa, 63% increase.54

Thus, during the first 13 years of independent Nigeria, only the price of cocoa was appreciably increased; prices for seed cotton and palm kernels had slightly increased over the 1960 levels, but palm oil and groundnuts fell below. These prices, measured against real purchasing power, represent a bleak prospect for all categories of producer.

Federal, regional and state governments did, however, invest a total of over £N 179 million. Quite clearly, this sum was invested in structures underpinning economic development, and did not serve to finance directly productive activities. It can also be said that they flowed from the desire not to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs, the goose whose very existence was to be seriously threatened, at least in the northern parts of the country, by the natural calamities of the early 1970s.

The years 1973 and 1974 marked a turning point in Nigeria's agricultural policy. There were two reasons for this: 1) the natural calamities mentioned above revealed the intense fragility of a technologically backward peasant agriculture, the impotent victim of calamities such as drought, disease or attacks by parasites; 2) the post-1974 oil boom meant that the state no longer had to depend on surpluses generated by agriculture: and a large proportion of the substantial revenues accruing from oil was diverted to agriculture, principally in the form of large-scale agricultural development programmes: National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), Agricultural Development Project (ADP), Agricultural Development Area (ADA), and the River Basin Development Authority (RBDA).

In the framework of these programmes' major public resources - estimated at over 11 billion Nairas between 1975 and 1985 - were made available to individual private farmers who, because of the limited technology to which they had access and knew how to use, were allocated small plots, which many were unable to develop, precisely because of the handicaps that apply to smallholders in general. This financial assistance also took the form of large and generous loans that led to large-scale privatization of large tracts of land all over the country at the expense of peasant producers.55 Finally, it resulted in producer price level increases year by year. Table 6. I shows the steep rises in all producer prices between 1973 and 1983-84.

Table 6.1
Producer prices 1973 and 1983-84

Product 1973 1983-84 Comment
Groundnuts N80 or £N40 N450 or £N225 Price increased 5.62 times
Seed cotton N132 or £N66 N560 or £N280 Price increased 4.24 times
Palm kernels N61 or £N30.5 N230 or £N115 Price increased 3.77 times
Palm oil N84 or £N42 N440 or Price increased 5.23 times
    N495 or  
    £N220.00 or  
Cocoa N354 or £N177 N1,400.00 or Price increased 3.95 times

Source: Central Bank of Nigeria, Annual Report and Statement of Accounts.

Paradoxically, this period of rapid producer price rises, massive investments in agriculture and a generous credit policy corresponds to the decline and then collapse of industrial and export crops. Why?

The first explanation that suggests itself is that all the resources put at the disposal of agriculture and all the development programmes had, above all, the objective of promoting food crops: the urgent need was to feed the population. But that, for example, at least two of Nigeria's main industrial and export crops, groundnuts and palm oil, are also basic foodstuffs widely consumed throughout the country by all social strata was not taken into account.

The second explanation flows from the fact that even with the means currently available for the promotion of food crops. Nigerian agriculture, which occupies such a large percentage of the population, is increasingly incapable of feeding the population.

In the urban areas the 1974 oil boom led to the creation of numerous new opportunities for paid employment as well as a sudden and substantial improvement in all wage incomes; this, obviously, led to yet more migration to the towns. With a rapidly rising urban population enjoying reasonable incomes the demand for foodstuffs rose to unprecedented levels and concomitant price increases, thus cultivation of food crops became more lucrative than growing commercial and export crops, despite the increasingly attractive prices offered to producers of these latter. Failing any significant modernization of farming techniques and a consequent increase in productive capacity, the rural working population, numerically declining and becoming physically weaker (as a result of the fittest and most active age groups' departure to urban areas), concentrated its efforts on meeting its own needs, and with any available surpluses, try to meet urban needs. Today, however, urban demands for foodstuffs are less and less met by national agricultural production. This situation might be explained in the following way:

The peasantry, as we now know, does not seek to 'maximize profits from its "capital"' and the product of its labour 'is intended principally for subsistence, only a proportion of it being marketed'. In a country dominated by a peasant-type mode of production, as long as the urban population remains small compared to the rural population, the commercial exchanges feasible for the peasantry could suffice to satisfy the urban population's needs. But once the size of the urban population grows beyond a certain threshold (a threshold, in my opinion, crossed in Nigeria after 1974) the unreliable surpluses of a weakened peasantry with an outdated technology become totally inadequate to satisfy all the needs of the urban market, and these needs are not limited to foodstuffs but also include the raw materials required by the industrial establishments.

Nigeria, despite the upheavals consequent upon the oil boom, retained an agricultural development strategy based, almost entirely, on the peasantry. Inevitably, it seems, the current serious shortages of foodstuffs and raw materials are the outcome of this strategic choice.


1) The commercial and export products of agricultural origin traditionally grown in Africa are for the most part as vital for the populations and industries of Africa as they were and continue to be for overseas countries' economies. Thus, they call for the same care and attention as might be granted food crops.

2) The Ivory Coast has proved that the possibilities for African agriculture are enormous and that agriculture is an adequately solid basic starting point for the economic development of African countries. The surpluses generated by agriculture alone have enabled the Ivory Coast today to have a relatively large industry, whose contribution to GNP reached 23% in 1982, and whose products represented 55% of total Ivorian exports in 1981-82. It is also principally due to agriculture that Ivorians today en joy the highest annual per capita income in the West African sub-region, including Nigeria.56

3) The origin and class position of the Ivory Coast's ruling group have played a determining role in the successes recorded by its export agriculture, but they are also responsible for the enhanced relations of dependency of the Ivory Coast on the industrialized world.

4) Since independence, the state has played the role of pioneer and motor in regard to agricultural production for commerce and export in the Ivory Coast, a role it alone was able to undertake.

5) In Nigeria, where British colonialism's system of indirect rule enabled pre-capitalist modes of production and pre-colonial administrative systems to survive and even enjoy a degree of autonomy while favouring the emergence of an embryonic urban bourgeoisie, independence did not bring to power a homogeneous ruling group such as that in the Ivory Coast in terms of class origins: perhaps as a result of this heterogeneity, clearly defined class position has been identified. One consequence of this is the contradiction between a Nigerian social formation described as capitalist, and its agriculture, almost wholly organized on the basis of a pre-capitalist mode of production.

6) The peasant basis of Nigerian agriculture had intrinsic limitations that prevented it taking up the challenges of a process of urbanization on the scale experienced by Nigeria since 1974. Limitations that must be taken into account when attempting to apportion responsibility for the current agricultural crisis.


1. Africa South of the Sahara, 1982-1983.

2. S. O. Olayide and Dupe Olatunbosun. Trends and Prospects of Nigeria's Agricultural Exports, NISER. Ibadan 1975, p. 12.

3. Marchés Tropicaux et Méditerranéens, 2013. 8 June 1984, p. 1429

4. Africa South of the Sahara 1981-1984, p. 441.

5. Olayide and Olatunbosun, op, cit.. p. 27.

6. Ibid.. pp. 18 and 28.

7. Ibid.. pp. 17-18.

8. Ibid., p. 29.

9. United Nations Demographic Yearbook. 1970.

10. Jacques Baulin. La politique intérieure d'Houphouët-Boigny, Eurafo-Press. Paris 1982, pp. 93-4.

11. G. A. Kouassigan. 'Propriété foncière et développement. Tendances générales et options négro-africaines', in Le Village Piégé. Presses Universitaires de France. Paris and Cahiers de l'IUED' Geneva 1978, pp. 303-6.

12. Baulin, op, cit.. pp. 94 and 151.

13. Samir Amin. Le Développement du Capitalisme en Côte d'lvoire. Editions de Minuit, Paris 1967, p. 40.

14. Claude Meillassoux. Anthropologie Economique des Gouro de Côte d'Ivoire, Mouton. Paris 1964, pp. 327-37.

15. Amin, op, cit.. p. 43.

16. Bulletin de l'Afrique Noire (Ediafric-La documentation africaine. Paris), 997. 28 March 1979, p. 19365.

17. Baulin, op, cit.. p. 87.

18. Africa Contemporary Record 1971-1972. Africa Research Ltd.. London, p. B596.

19. Baulin, op, cit.. p. 112.

20. Ibid, pp. 99 and 146.

21. Ibid.. pp. 149 and 154-5.

22. Le Président Houphouët-Boigny et la Nation Ivorienne, Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines. Abidjan and Dakar 1975, pp.209 and 212; Baulin, op, cit.. pp, 149, 150.

23. Africa Contemporary Record, op, cit.. p. B596.

24. Paul-Henri Siriex, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, I'homme de la paix. Seghers, Paris and Nouvelles Editions Africaines. Dakar and Abidjan 1975, p. 238.

25. Baulin, op, cit.. p. 94.

26. Ibid., p. 152.

27. Le Président Houphouët-Boigny et la Nation Ivoirienne, op, cit.. p. 183.

28. Africa Contemporary Record, 1969-1970, p. B502.

29. Europe Outremer. 657-658. October-November 1984, pp. 36-7.

30. See Bulletin del 'Afrique Noire: 1006, 6 June 1979: and 1175, 17 March 1983.

31. Europe Outremer 657-658. October-November 1984.

32. Bulletin de l'Afrique Noire. 1175. 17 March 1983, pp. 6-7 and 5.

31. Amin, op cit.. pp. 73-4.

34. Africa South of the Sahara 1983-84, op, cit.

35. Bulletin de l'Afrique Noire: 1029, 19 December 1979, p. 19896: and 1183, 19 May 1983, p. 6.

36. Ibid.. 986, 10 January 1979, p. 19186: and 996. 21 March 1979, pp. 19346-7.

37. See: Europe Outremer, op, cit.. pp. 16-7: Bonnie K. Campbell. 'Inside the miracle. Cotton in the Ivory Coast', in The Politics of Agriculture in Tropical Africa. Sage Publications. London & New Delhi 1984, pp. 145-50; Mohamed S. Halfani and Jonathan Barker. 'Agribusiness and agrarian change', in The Politics of Agriculture in Tropical Africa, op, cit., p. 49: Siriex, op, cit., p. 235.

38. Bulletin de l'Afrique Noire: 986. 10 January 1979; and 1183. 19 May 1983.

39. Africa South of the Sahara 1983-1984.

40. Gouffern, op, cit., note at foot of p. 29.

41. Ibid., pp. 22-9.

42. Ibid., p. 29; Jean-François Médard, 'Jeunes et ainés en Côte d'lvoire. Le VII congrès du PDCI-RDA'. Politique Africaine I, 1, January 1981, p. 104.

43. Jeune Afrique: 1013, 4June 1980 .p.60 1048, 4 February 1981, p. 29; 1013, 4 June 1980, p. 60: end Africa Contemporary Record 1980-1981, pp. B515-B516.

44. Jeune Afrique: 1267.17 April 1985, pp.11-15; 1263,20 March 1985, pp.26-7.

45. Europe Outremer, op, cit., pp. 10-11.

46. Jeune Afrique: 1048, 4 February 1981, p. 29; 1013, 4 June 1980, pp. 58-62.

47. Europe Outremer op, cit.. p. 11.

48. Federal Republic of Nigeria Supplement to the Official Gazette Extraordinary vol. 65. 14.29 March 1978. Part A.

49. See: C. K. Laurent. Investment in Nigerian Tree Crops: Smallholder production. NISER. University of Ibadan 1968, pp. 2 and 11; Gray, op, cit.. pp. 202 and 209. Olayide and Olatunbosun, op, cit.. pp. 12-13, 19 and 39; Jude Ejeke Njoku, 'The Nigerian ground-nut marketing scheme: the role of licensed buying agents'. M,Sc, thesis. Ahmadu Bello University. June 1981.

50. Samir Amin. 'Le capitalisme et la rente foncière (la domination du capitalisme sur l'agriculture', in La Question paysanne e, le capitalisme. Editions Anthropos. Paris 1974, pp. 37-8.

51. Ibid., pp. 9-10.

52. Gray, op, cit.. p. 85.

53. Yahaya A. Abdullahi, 'Anatomy of Nigerian agricultural crisis', The Triumph. Vol. 1. No. 5. 5 October 1985, pp. 11-12.

54. Central Bank of Nigeria, Annual Report, 1974.

55. Federal Ministry of Agriculture. Lagos. Information Bulletin on Nigerian Agriculture, January 1984; Yahaya A. Abdullahi, op, cit.. p. 12.

56. World Bank. Towards Sustained Development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Washington. DC. 1984, pp. 59 and 57: Bulletin de l'Afrique Noire, 1198, 6 October 1983, p. 6.

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