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Does agriculture account for nearly half of Nigeria’s economy and provide a living for ‘90% of rural dwellers’?

An online publication claimed that Nigeria’s economic crisis was due to its neglect of agriculture. But did the statistics it cited add up? We checked.

This article is more than 3 years old

  • The pro-Biafran news site is correct that a large percentage of the rural population in Nigeria participates in some form of agricultural production. 

  • But no data shows this share to be as high as 90%. A key factor affecting this is whether individuals are engaged in full-time agricultural production. 

  • Agriculture doesn’t contribute half of Nigeria’s gross domestic product. Over the past decade it has declined from around 40% to roughly a quarter of the country’s economy, though these estimates also vary.

To help leave a legacy in Africa, US president Joe Biden should focus on the continent’s economy, said an online news publication. 

For Nigeria in particular, the “present economic crisis” could be traced to the “rampant destruction of farmlands”, iConsNews said in February 2020, as it defended secessionist agitation for an independent Biafra state

Biden “must understand that agriculture accounts for almost 50% of the Nigerian economy as 90% of the population, dwelling in the rural areas earn their living from agricultural activities,” the article claims.  

Are these statistics accurate? We checked.


Agriculture accounts for almost 50% of the Nigerian economy.



We asked the publication for the source of its numbers and will update this report with their response.

Data on agriculture’s share of the economy can be found in the quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) updates and other reports published by the National Bureau of Statistics, Willie Okowa told Africa Check. 

He is professor of development economics at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria’s southern Rivers state.

“Agriculture contributes much less than 50% of the GDP,” Okowa said, but asked us to check the bureau’s data for the exact share.

The most recent quarterly report covers the last three months of 2020. The statistics office has two ways of measuring how different sectors contribute to the GDP:

  • All sectors are divided into the oil and non-oil sectors.

  • All sectors are divided into agriculture, industries and services. 

Using the first approach, oil contributed 5.87% of the “real” GDP – where inflation has been accounted for. The non-oil sector accounted for 94.13%.

Under the second method, agriculture accounted for 26.95%, industries 18.77% and services 54.28%. This pattern was the same when the entire year was considered, at 26.21% for agriculture, 21.36% industries and 52.44% for services.

Historical data from the statistics agency shows that agriculture has not contributed 50% to GDP over the past 10 years. In 2010 the sector contributed 40.87%, and this has declined since.


Processed agricultural products count to ‘industries’ GDP contribution 

Dr Baba Madu, who heads the agency’s national accounts division, told Africa Check that in the bureau’s GDP calculation, agriculture-related industries are not counted as agriculture. 

“We consider agriculture as the production of raw food or livestock, like raw cassava, maize or animals. Once any of this is processed and a product is made out of it, it then counts as industries. For instance, suya and flour are not counted as agriculture,” Madu said. (Suya is a spicy grilled beef kebab.)

This means a fraction of the contribution of industries to the GDP is agriculture-related. However, even if those were added to agriculture’s contribution, it would still not reach 50%.

Youth leaving agriculture for services sector

The drop in agriculture’s contribution to GDP is partly due to a decline in agricultural activities and a boom in the services sector, Ndem Ndiyo, professor of economics at the University of Calabar in southern Nigeria, told Africa Check.

“We have left agriculture to the elderly. Most of the young men just want to go to school, get a certificate and find a job in the services sector,” he said.

Government farms have been dying while there have been few large-scale investments in commercial farming by the private sector, Ndiyo said. “On the other hand, the rise in information and communications technology is boosting the growth of the services sector."


90% of the population dwelling in the rural areas earn their living from agricultural activities



This claim was off the mark, three experts told Africa Check, with available data not supporting it.

The share of rural dwellers who depend on agricultural activities as their main source of income is far less than 90%, Prof Okowa of the University of Port Harcourt said. 

“What you find in many rural areas across Nigeria is that the people combine farming with other activities such as crafts and trade. Relying only on agriculture for sustenance and household income is not that widespread,” he said.   

The 2018/19 Nigeria Living Standards Survey grouped participation in labour activities among those older than 15 into five types of employment.

These are wage, farm, non-farm, apprenticeship and mixed (a mixture of two of the other employment types).

In rural areas farm labour participation was 45.1% for males and 28.1% for women. 

However, another household survey done in 2019, the Living Standards Measurement Standards Integrated Survey on Agriculture, found that up to 90.3% of households in rural areas were involved in either crop farming or rearing livestock. 

Data not split between individual and household agricultural participation 

The sample for the survey includes households that earn a living from those two activities, Leo Sanni, statistical information officer at the National Bureau of Statistics, told Africa Check. 

“The survey looked at participation in agricultural activities by households, not individuals. We found that about 90% of households in rural areas either farmed some crop or kept livestock or both,” he said. 

The survey had considered households as persons living together and mostly eating from the same pot. 

“So you may have six people in a household and only two of them are actively engaged in crop farming or keeping livestock. That household is counted. It is based on the understanding that the entire household benefits from the proceeds of such agricultural activities,” Sanni said.

Insecurity in the north also a factor

But having a farm or livestock is not the same as earning a living from agriculture, Okowa said. 

“Most rural dwellers own farms or rear livestock at home, but many of them don’t depend on them as sources of income. In rural areas, it is common to see a carpenter, for instance, who earns a living from making furniture and still owns a farm,” he said.

If you put together all the people in rural areas who earn income from agricultural activities or are engaged in subsistence farming, it could get to 70 or 80%, but not up to 90%, Sokoto Abdullahi, professor of development economics and policy at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto, northwestern Nigeria, told Africa Check.

“Rural dwellers engage in other economic activities other than farming. Farming is increasingly difficult due to rising insecurity, particularly in northern Nigeria,” Abdullahi said. 

Agricultural work seasonal, impacted by migration

Olanike Deji, professor of agricultural extension and rural sociology at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, southwestern Nigeria, also highlighted the impact of rural to urban migration.

And of the rural farmers who stayed, some were diversifying into “more lucrative artisanal” activities such as carpentry, auto mechanics and masonry, while trading was also an option, Deji said.

“So 90% of rural dwellers earning a living from agriculture is exaggerated. Mind you, engaging in agriculture is different from earning a living from it.”  

Further, Nigeria’s latest unemployment report covering the second quarter of 2020 notes that employment in agriculture fluctuates with the seasons.

Rural farmers are considered underemployed if they only work on their farms during the planting and harvesting period and do nothing in between, it says. If they work through the dry and wet seasons, “as is increasingly the case”, then they are seen as being in full time employment.


Photo: Luis TATO / AFP

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