mechanized farming, rinderpest, cattle rearing, contagious virus, rural infrastructure
Agriculture, including farming and herding, accounts for about two-fifths of Nigeria’s GDP and engages 3 percent of the economically active population. Agriculture contributed more than 75 percent of export earnings before 1970. Since then, however, agriculture has stagnated, partly due to government neglect and poor investment, and partly due to ecological factors such as drought, disease, and reduction in soil fertility. By the mid-1990s, agriculture’s share of exports had declined to less than 5 percent, most of which was contributed by cacao. Nigeria’s major crops of the mid-1990s included palm oil (of which Nigeria was the world’s leading producer until 1971), peanut oil, rubber, and cotton, all of which were once exported but are now sold mostly locally. Also grown are sorghum, millet, maize (corn), yams, and cassava, all formerly used as food for growers but now widely sold for cash.
The great majority of Nigeria’s farm production comes from smallholders who use hoes and similar basic tools. In less crowded areas, crops are typically planted in rotations that let soil lie fallow and recharge. In more crowded areas, for example near large Hausa cities and in the Igbo heartland, cropland is typically under constant cultivation. With the notable exception of Hausaland, women play a prominent role in farming in Nigeria.
In the last two decades the government has increased farm output—at great cost—through major irrigation projects, massive investments in rural infrastructure, and introduction of modern seed varieties and chemicals. In the mid-1980s, in an attempt to stop the import of food and raw materials that could be grown locally, the government encouraged large-scale, mechanized farming by local entrepreneurs and international corporations. Although large-scale, machine-based farming has increased substantially, it accounts for only a fraction of total production.
The livestock sector is dominated by Fulani pastoralists, who use mostly traditional forms of production. State and federal governments have tried periodically to encourage the Fulani to form large-scale cattle ranches, but with little success. In 1983 cattle rearing was devastated by a highly contagious virus known as rinderpest, but by the mid-1990s had mostly recovered. Modern poultry farming, geared to meeting urban demand for eggs and chicken, has increased substantially since 1980.
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