Could Farmers Bring Peace to Nigeria?

New agriculture programs are targeting a demographic that could otherwise turn extremist.

Africa’s most populous country can’t feed itself. Despite boasting more than 80 million acres of arable land, Nigeria relies heavily on imported food. Meanwhile, more than two million young Nigerians enter the workforce each year only to face a 25 percent youth unemployment rate. Extremist groups like Boko Haram pull recruits from this restless demographic.

With a hundred-pound basket of tomatoes on his head, a farm labourer in Nigeria is an example of how an irrigation system can help farmers survive during the dry season. - PHOTOGRAPH BY JASON ANDREW

Can encouraging youth to take up hoes instead of arms help resolve these issues? “Just as oxygen is to fire, so are unemployed youth to insurgencies,” says Kola Masha, a Nigerian-American entrepreneur. “Why has it become so easy for disgruntled individuals to raise a mini-army? Because young people have limited economic opportunities.”

Hairu Sale tills his onion fields, which he says were expanded eightfold by the support from farming organization Babban Gona. Nigeria has been the testing ground for programs aiming to scale up subsistence farmers. - PHOTOGRAPH BY JASON ANDREW

Masha runs Babban Gona—Great Farm—which aims to lift young, small-scale farmers out of subsistence by boosting their yields and access to higher priced markets. Agricultural investment is the most effective form of foreign aid in reducing conflict—while other types of aid can exacerbate it, says Edwin Price, director of Texas A&M’s Center on Conflict and Development.

Small-scale farmers in Nigeria battle poor-quality supplies, unpredictable markets, and climate change to feed themselves and make a living. - PHOTOGRAPH BY JASON ANDREW

A farmer named Timothy stands next to stacks of hay and dried chilli peppers in his barn. - PHOTOGRAPH BY JASON ANDREW

Programs like Babban Gona are being launched across the continent. “Nigeria is seen as a trendsetter,” says Evelyn Ohanwusi, who heads an “agripreneurs” project run by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. Using that program as a model, the African Development Bank aims to create 1.5 million agribusiness jobs for youth in the next five years across some 30 countries.

A group of Babban Gona's farmers chews on sugarcane while playing a board game called doki under the trees. Already, similar programs are taking root across Africa. - PHOTOGRAPH BY JASON ANDREW

Lead image: Photography by Jason Andrew 

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