Maize farming is one of the most lucrative agribusinesses in Nigeria. With domestic demand far outweighing supply and government support for staple crop production, maize farming presents a tremendous opportunity for aspiring agricultural entrepreneurs.
This definitive guide provides everything you need to know to set up a profitable commercial maize farming operation in Nigeria from scratch.
Why start commercial maize farming in Nigeria?
Massive and Growing Demand for Maize
Nigeria is one of the world’s largest maize consumers. Rising demand is driven by rapid population growth and the expanding use of maize for poultry feed, food processing, confectionaries, and breweries, as well as industrial starch and oil production.
Local supply can only meet a third of demand, making maize imports worth over $600 million a year. This huge supply-demand gap ensures lucrative offtake opportunities and prices for commercial maize farmers.
Government Support for Increased Maize Production
The Nigerian government has introduced policies like subsidised inputs, higher import duties, and funding for mechanisation to boost domestic maize output through private sector participation.
Maize farming aligns strongly with the government’s strategic food security and import substitution priorities for the economy.
High-Profit Margins for Quality Yields
Maize delivers substantially higher profit margins than many other crops. Average maize farm gate prices range from ₦120,000 to ₦150,000 per MT. After costs, net margins for good yields can exceed ₦500,000 per hectare.
Ideal Agro-Climatic Conditions for High Yields
Nigeria’s northern savannas enjoy optimal climatic conditions for maize cultivation, with average yields reaching 4 MT/ha, rivalling global benchmarks. The right inputs and farming techniques can further boost productivity for a higher income.
Relatively low start-up costs
Unlike other cash crops, establishing a sizeable commercial maize farm requires a relatively low start-up capital outlay for land acquisition, inputs, equipment, and operational expenses, especially in northern Nigeria.
Essential First Steps to Take
Conduct in-depth maize market research.
Thorough research will reveal the functioning dynamics of the Nigerian maize industry value chain, spanning demand segments, buyer preferences, prices, competitors, and distribution channels, amongst other factors, to guide your production and sales strategy.
Develop robust financial projections.
Based on the gathered market intelligence and reasonable yield assumptions, prepare detailed financial statements projecting costs and revenues. This will determine start-up and working capital requirements, cost management needs, and profitability potential to inform viability.
Choose a suitable farm location.
Prioritise locations based on soil fertility, rainfall patterns, irrigation access, proximity to target markets, availability of farm labour, and security considerations. Northern Nigeria offers the most suitable conditions.
Acquire the necessary capital.
Explore financing from your own funds, loans from family and friends, banks, or Nigeria’s new agricultural investment schemes and grants to cover expenses for land purchases, farm development, and first-year operations based on earlier financial projections.
Obtain relevant permits and licences.
Register your maize farming enterprise with the Corporate Affairs Commission and fulfil all location-specific regulatory requirements around environmental assessments, farming permits, operational licencing, etc.
Procure quality planting seed.
Obtain certified seeds of high-yielding, disease-resistant hybrid varieties from reputable sources. Popular options include the Oba Super 7, Oba Super 9, and Oba Super 10 in Nigeria. Avoid old, recycled seeds.
Recruit a capable farm manager.
Hiring an experienced farm manager well-versed in commercial maize cultivation or related grain crops is highly advisable during the start-up. Offer them business stakes or profit-sharing incentives tied to your targets.
Outgrower Partnership Opportunities
Consider engaging smallholder farmers as outgrowers through a contract farming arrangement. This cost-effectively expands your land under maize cultivation while transferring skills and benefiting rural communities.
Land Acquisition and Farm Infrastructure Setup
Size of Required Land
For profitable scale, acquire at least 50 hectares of arable land in close proximity with room for future expansion. Rented or purchased land are both options to explore.
Facilities to Construct
Essential facilities include storage structures, irrigation systems, rainwater harvesting structures, cold rooms, loading bays, security posts, changing rooms, toilets, office space, and staff quarters.
Undertake land clearing, construction of access roads within the farm, demarcation of fields, installation of irrigation and drainage facilities, as well as fencing of the perimeter and fields according to crop separation requirements.
Construct weather- and pest-proof storage facilities for inputs like seeds, fertilizers, and agrochemicals, as well as harvested maize grains and dried cobs. The provision of palettes and moisture metres is also crucial.
Have dedicated office space with computers for farm records and accounting, processing buyer orders, market research, etc. It is essential to run operations professionally from the onset.
Utility Access Development
Connect the farm to the national electricity grid or develop an onsite solar system and backup generators for energy supply. Similarly, establish access to utility water or develop boreholes and water storage tanks.
Waste management planning
Institute safe waste disposal mechanisms for the management of resulting debris, plastics, empty agrochemical containers, and spoilt grains in an environmentally responsible manner right from inception.
Determining Your Production Targets
Conservatively target grain yields of at least 4 metric tonnes per hectare for rain-fed cultivation under good agricultural practices while factoring in the potential impacts of pests, disease, and erratic rainfall.
Annual Output Targets
Given projected yields and intended acreage allocation between early and late-maturing hybrid varieties, determine annual maize output targets over the first 5 years, factoring in incremental expansion.
Estimate potential volumes of additional by-products like dried maize cobs, husks, and stalks that have economic value to set revenue diversification targets beyond grains.
Sales Revenue Benchmarks
Multiply annual production quantities across grains and by-products by prevailing farm gate prices for wholesale maize to establish your turnover benchmarks. Build relationships with off-takers early.
Land preparation and input acquisition
Plough fields to medium depth during the dry season and harrow to refine the tilth for proper root development, nutrient absorption, and friability. Well-tilted land is vital for higher yields.
Soil testing and amendment
Conduct NPK testing of your fields and adjust nutrient levels accordingly through inorganic fertilisers or well-decomposed manure to optimise soil fertility for robust maize growth.
Determine the total requirements for certified seeds, fertilizers, and crop protection chemicals needed, guided by recommended application rates based on the intended acreage each season.
Sourcing Quality Inputs
Always obtain certified seeds of chosen hybrids from authorised dealers to assure purity, germination capacity, and seed viability. Similarly, source industry-standard fertilisers and agrochemicals from trusted suppliers.
Keep seeds in cold, dry, and airtight conditions. Store chemicals and fertilisers safely, locked away from moisture, direct sunlight, and water sources, to maintain product integrity.
Expert Planting for High Productivity
Land Pre-Planting Preparation
Undertake secondary tillage and harrowing just before planting for uprooting of weed seedlings and maintaining friable top soil ideal for planting.
For rain-fed maize, plant at the onset of the rainy season. For irrigated maize, plant to make grain availability consistent year-round, guided by the duration to maturity of the chosen hybrids.
Optimal Plant Spacing
Space rows 75 cm to 90 cm apart, with the distance between seeds along the rows at 25 cm for optimum plant density that minimises competition and facilitates mechanisation.
Correct Planting Depths
Plant seeds at depths of 5 cm to 7 cm. Too shallow reduces germination, while too deep delays seedling emergence and raises rotting risks. Proper depth is vital for uniform stands.
Focused Gap Filling
10 days after germination, fill gaps through replanting where stands have failed to optimise plant population and restore the desired density for maximum yields.
Water Management for Resilient Growth
Where rainfall is inadequate or ill-timed, provide supplemental irrigation evenly across fields during moisture-stress periods like the flowering stage. This prevents disastrous crop losses.
Efficient application methods
Utilise furrow irrigation channels, sprinklers, or drip lines rather than water flooding for precision watering, improving uptake while reducing erosion risks and waste. Invest in suitable equipment.
Construct small reservoirs, dugouts, and channels to collect and store excess runoff during rains for supplementary irrigation use in moisture deficit periods to reduce crop vulnerability.
Practice mulching using crop residues, grass, and plastic sheeting to curb water evaporation losses from the soil while reducing weeds.
Soil erosion protection
Establish vetiver grass bands across sloped fields to curb rapid top soil runoff while constructing bunds and contour walls for erosion control to preserve arable land.
Strategic Application of Fertilisers
Soil Fertility Maintenance
Continuously replenish extracted soil nutrients after each crop using a carefully determined blend of nitrogen and phosphorous-based fertilisers to boost plant vigour, cob sizes, and grain filling.
Rather than a single full dosage, apply one-third of NPK fertiliser at planting, one-third at the knee height stage, and one-third when tasselling to gain the highest absorption and minimise losses from leaching.
Where soils are gravely or sandy, spray liquid fertiliser formulations directly onto leaves when tasselling to supplement soil feeding, ensuring nutrient deficiencies are avoided at this vital stage.
Organic Fortification Options
Explore augmenting inorganic fertilisers through cheaper organic options like well-composed animal manure, decomposed crop residue dumping, and intercropping with legumes to improve the soil’s natural fertility over time.
Routine soil testing
Conduct NPK testing before each new season to monitor nutrient levels and adjust fertilisation regimes for optimal balance as soil chemistry changes over successive cropping cycles.
Effective field pest and disease control
Correct pesticide application
Closely monitor crops for signs of Fall Army Worm and Stalk Borer attacks before significant damage emerges. Apply the right pesticide formulations correctly during early infestations for effective control.
Look out for destructive and fast-spreading diseases like maize lethal necrosis (MLN) while crops are young. Rogue out and safely destroy infected plants immediately to save the entire crop.
Train and routinely mobilise farmhands to scout fields, looking out for emerging pest infestations and disease symptoms for timely interventions before widespread crop losses occur.
Pesticide Handling Safety
Educate workers thoroughly on pesticide toxicity hazards, correct dosages, application techniques, protective clothing and gear needs, container disposal, and post-exposure treatment to avoid the risks that come with these chemicals.
Introduce and nurture populations of beneficial predator insects like lacewings on your farm as a potent biological control for notorious pests like stem borers and aphids, avoiding overreliance on pesticides.
Timely weeding and thinning
Pre-emergence Weed Control
Apply pre-emergence herbicides like atrazine after planting and before maize emerges to suppress weeds at the onset, allowing crops to establish themselves without competition.
Undertake 1-2 rounds of meticulous hand weeding with hoes or using mechanical weeders during early crop stages to eliminate competition that retards growth while roots are still shallow.
Spot herbicide application
Where manual weeding proves inadequate, precisely apply post-emergence herbicides using protective cones directly on stubborn weed clumps visible between crop rows rather than entire fields.
Thinning for Optimal Density
Where germination density is excessive, undertake plant thinning 2-3 weeks after emergence to attain desired plant populations that avoid excessive competition and enable robust development.
Practice intercropping and undersowing with fast-growing legumes that check weed growth through suffocation while fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil as a free fertility boost.
Meticulous Harvest and Post-Harvest Handling
Timing the harvest
For grains, harvesting begins promptly when husk leaves dry out completely and cobs turn downward. Timely harvesting prevents field losses through ear rot, pests, and storm damage.
Grain Processing Equipment
Invest in maize shelling machines, cleaning equipment, moisture metres, and storage handling equipment like conveyors and elevators for efficient large-scale grain extraction and handling after harvesting.
Cob drying and storage
After shelling, stack husked cobs under airy sheds over wire meshes raised above ground, allowing proper natural drying to ~15% grain moisture, ideal for storage and milling quality.
Fumigation against storage pests
Fumigate dried grain and cobs using phostoxin tablets or other recommended fumigants prior to storage to eliminate grain borers, weevils, and other storage pests that ruin produce.
Cold Room Storage
Construct large-scale cold room facilities for portions of harvested grains not immediately sold to enable higher-value sales out of season when market prices surge rather than distress sales at harvest.
The exhaustive information provided across the key facets equips you to establish and operate a highly productive and profitable maize farming enterprise in Nigeria. Adapt the recommendations to your unique local conditions as you bring this investor-friendly opportunity to life!
Staff recruitment and management
Hiring qualified personnel
Recruit workers with extensive experience in similar crop cultivation roles, covering farm supervision, machinery operations, irrigation, input application, and general labour. Certified agronomists are ideal for advisory work.
Provide regular practical skills training for workers on agronomy best practices spanning land preparation, planting, pest management, harvesting, and post-harvest handling for optimal implementation and to minimise losses.
Offer wages at par or slightly above averages for the region and industry to attract and retain competent personnel. Provide clear opportunities for diligent workers to progressively advance into supervisory roles.
Institute clear key performance indicators and evaluations around operational efficiency, input usage, compliance with protocols, and crop care for monitoring staff and optimising productivity. Reward high performers.
Provide staff with suitable housing, medical access, meals, uniforms, and transportation to ensure concentration on delivering the required farming activities. This sustains motivation and productivity.
Implement strict safety precautions around the usage of machinery, pesticides, grain drying, storage fumigation, and general farm operations. Provide protective gear and appropriate training.
Comply with national regulations around minimum wage, payment schedules, maximum working hours, annual leave, sick pay, maternity leave, and redundancy terms to foster cordial labour relations.
Record-keeping for efficiency
Field History Archive
For each cultivation field, comprehensively log applied inputs, crop performance parameters, and harvested yields over every crop cycle to gain insights for optimising results season by season.
Maintain updated records on all farming activities, like land preparation durations, planting schedules, irrigation details, and fertilisation regimes, alongside the responsible personnel for tracking efficiency.
Use digital stock management systems for inputs in storage to enable precise tracking of fertiliser, seed, and agrochemical balances and trigger replenishment orders in time for the next crop demand, avoiding shortages.
Continuously analyse actual production costs and revenues against projections and prior seasons to identify areas for enhancing operational profitability through improved agronomic practices and loss reduction across the farming cycle.
Equipment History Cards
Keep individual history cards for each machinery and equipment item, recording hours run, fuel consumed, servicing activities, and breakdown repairs, to forecast maintenance needs before failures disrupt operations.
Customer relationship management
Maintain an updated database around client off-takers, contact persons, product preferences and loyalty, outstanding payments, and grievances for sustaining relationships that underpin sales and farm incomes.
Processing and value addition
Preparing for Aggregation
Liaise with smallholder farmers’ associations prior to every season to contract portions of member harvests for aggregating larger marketed volumes capable of attracting premium institutional buyers.
Acquire a small maize milling plant comprising sheller, cleaning, drying, milling, and packaging equipment for value-adding grains into packaged flour, bran, and animal feed blends targeting high-margin sales.
Explore manufacturing fortified blended maize foods enriched with vital micronutrients for vulnerable groups through partnerships with nutrition-focused NGOs, women groups, and public health agencies serving ready markets.
Hybrid Seed Production
Establish dedicated seed multiplication fields and conditioning facilities to produce certified seeds of popular hybrids during low periods, ensuring valuable counter-season sales to other farmers in time for key planting cycles.
Organic fertiliser production
Process resulting organic waste from maize harvesting like stovers, cobs, and stalks through compost facilities into premium bagged fertilisers is enjoying growing demand for organic farming, allowing income diversification.
Maize Bran Oil Extraction
Setup small decorticating and oil-expanding mini-plants powered by diesel or electricity for value-adding dry maize grain bran into clear maize oil, ideal for application in cooking oil blends and biofuels, which present huge demand.
The expanding maize market and enabling environment make maize farming highly lucrative for aspiring agropreneurs in Nigeria, despite emerging competition. Savvy business planning and robust execution best position you to achieve consistent profitability from this enterprise. Maximising yields through expertise while minimising costs is vital for positive margins. Seek partnerships that enhance access to inputs, finance, extension, processing equipment, and distribution infrastructure for unlocking maize farming’s immense potential. Adapt operations responsively based on emerging market needs and policy changes.