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SME Guide

Unlocking the Potential of Nigerian Agribusiness: An In-Depth Look at Farming and Crop Export Opportunities

Introduction to Nigerian Agribusiness Potential

With a population of over 200 million and abundant natural resources, Nigeria has immense potential to develop its agribusiness sector and become a major global exporter of agricultural products. However, the country continues to import over $11 billion USD worth of food annually, despite having over 84 million hectares of arable land that is suitable for cultivation.

Only about half of this arable land is currently in use for farming and crop production. Additionally, the agricultural practices used by most smallholder farmers in Nigeria remain relatively basic and inefficient, with yields for most crops well below the global average.

There are significant opportunities to unleash the full potential of Nigerian agribusiness through:

  • Increasing the productivity and efficiency of existing farmland under cultivation
  • Expanding the amount of arable land under cultivation across the country
  • Providing training and resources to smallholder farmers
  • Improving storage, processing, and transportation infrastructure post-harvest
  • Developing robust export-oriented value chains for key crops and agricultural products

If the challenges limiting agricultural development can be properly addressed, Nigeria could potentially produce enough food to meet its own domestic needs while also generating billions in annual export revenue. The country has the potential to become a major exporter of key crops such as cassava, rice, cocoa, sesame seeds, and more to markets around the world.

Challenges Limiting Nigeria’s Agribusiness Potential

However, there are several major challenges that continue to limit the productivity and development of the agricultural sector in Nigeria:

Limited Access to Financing and Credit

The high cost of financing and difficulties accessing credit makes it harder for Nigerian farmers and agribusinesses to afford the equipment, labour, transportation, and other expenses needed to effectively scale their operations. Providing increased financing options could give farmers the working capital required to increase productivity.

Inadequate rural infrastructure

The lack of critical infrastructure like irrigation, storage facilities, cold chain transportation networks, last-mile rural roads, and electricity grids significantly contributes to post-harvest losses and makes it difficult to get Nigerian agricultural goods to domestic and export markets before spoilage.

Outdated farming practices and low mechanisation

Most Nigerian smallholder farmers continue to use relatively basic tools, equipment, and farming techniques, relying heavily on manual labour. Mechanisation remains extremely low compared to other major agricultural producers. Helping farmers upgrade to more advanced equipment and precision farming methods could drive major increases in productivity.

Underutilization of Agricultural Research

Research institutions play a crucial role in developing new seed varieties, farming techniques, and innovations tailored to Nigerian climates and crops. However, the adoption of research findings and agricultural innovations remains low, reducing efficiency and yields over the long term.

Poorly Developed Value Chains and Market Linkages

Inadequate development of agricultural value chains for key export crops results in high post-harvest losses. It also reduces the quantity and quality of produce that makes it to end markets abroad. Creating stronger value chains and market linkages is vital.

With smart policy reforms and a renewed focus on unlocking financing, deploying infrastructure, and enhancing workforce skills, Nigeria can begin transforming its vast agricultural potential into reality.

Key crops and export opportunities for Nigeria

Nigeria is well suited to produce and export a wide variety of crops and agricultural products—from staple food crops to horticulture, tree crops, and more. Here is an overview of some of the major opportunities across key segments:


Nigeria is already the world’s largest producer of cassava, generating over 60 million metric tonnes annually from a cultivated land area of about 7.5 million acres. Grown across nearly every state, cassava is essential to food security and rural smallholder farmers.

The country has become globally competitive in cassava production through the adoption of higher-yielding varieties and increased processing of staples like gari, fufu, and starch. However, opportunities remain to strengthen value addition and develop cassava-based products to substitute imported raw materials worth over $680 million USD per year.

Export opportunities for Nigerian cassava continue to expand as well, especially for starch, ethanol, and processed foods. Current lead markets include China, the Netherlands, Spain, and several neighbouring African countries.


Nigeria has made rice self-sufficiency a major policy objective, with the aim of eliminating $2 billion USD worth of annual rice import bills. The country has tripled its domestic rice production over the past decade to about 7.5 million metric tonnes annually.

To build on this momentum, efforts are underway to continue increasing smallholder farmer rice yields through R&D and wider adoption of improved seeds like Faro-44, Faro-52, and IR-8.

Developing solar-powered irrigation infrastructure could also enable year-round cultivation and allow an extra annual rice crop to be grown in certain regions. If well supported, Nigeria could produce 15 million metric tonnes or more of rice annually.


Cocoa remains a vital Nigerian export crop, providing livelihoods for approximately 900,000 smallholder farming households across 22 producing states. Current levels are over 350,000 metric tonnes of beans exported annually, primarily from Cross River, Ondo, Osun, and several other southern states.

However, ageing farmer demographics and tree stock, pest and disease pressure from black pods, and limited financing have led to a decline in productivity. Correcting these challenges and providing training, inputs, and financing to farmers could increase cocoa output to over 500,000 metric tonnes annually.

Sesame Seeds

In recent years, a surge in demand for Nigerian sesame seeds has led export values to rise from $150 million USD in 2015 to over $500 million USD today. The country now ranks as the 7th largest sesame seed exporter globally.

Nigeria has ideal growing conditions for producing the high-quality white sesame seeds coveted by overseas markets. Planting of early-maturing and drought-tolerant varieties is concentrated in key northern states like Jigawa, Kano, Nasarawa, and Benue.

With Nigerian sesame only occupying about 415,000 hectares currently, there is scope for continued expansion as global demand grows by over 10% annually. Rising prices and profitability make sesame an appealing cash crop alternative for Nigerian smallholders.

Soya beans

Demand for soya beans continues to intensify both locally and abroad, driven especially by growth in poultry feed, oil, and industrial uses. Nigeria currently has to import $600 million worth of soya beans annually to meet rising domestic demand.

Expanding soya bean production could enable import substitution while also providing a crop export opportunity worth over $600 million at current prices. Soya beans grow well across Nigeria’s northern grain belt and yield an average of about 1.8 tonnes per hectare.

Developing higher-yielding, disease-resistant varieties and expanding cultivation areas could enable Nigeria to produce up to 2 million metric tonnes of soybeans annually in the years ahead.

Beef and meat exports

Livestock is another agribusiness segment with immense potential in Nigeria, which has over 150 million cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens across mainly pastoralist farming systems. However, limitations like poor animal health and vaccinations, basic livestock husbandry, and inadequate transportation currently constrain productivity.

Addressing these challenges could allow Nigeria to substantially boost meat production and begin exporting beef and meat products. This would provide high-value protein foods to African countries while also generating vital export revenue as regional demand grows rapidly.

Fruits and vegetables

Tomatoes, chilli peppers, onions, and citrus fruits are among the leading fruit and vegetable crops in Nigeria, mostly grown by smallholders across the fertile middle belt and northern regions. However, current productivity falls below potential due to reliance on rain-fed agriculture, limited inputs, post-harvest losses exceeding 40%, and a lack of standardised grading.

If these constraints can be resolved through training programmes, extension services, R&D efforts, and infrastructure investments geared towards fruits and vegetables, then Nigeria could substantially boost yields. Developing integrated value chains and agro-processing facilities would also enable higher quality standards for export markets.

The scope for export growth remains strong, especially for rapidly urbanising African and Middle Eastern consumer markets seeking Nigerian fruits and vegetables.

Tree Crops and Permanent Crops

In addition to the already-highlighted cocoa and oil palm, Nigeria has extensive potential to substantially increase cultivation and productivity for other tree and permanent crops—both for domestic usage and exports.

Major opportunities lie in scaling cashew nuts, bananas, mangoes, oranges, rubber, kolanut, and sugar cane output across suitable agro-ecological zones via financing and infrastructure to aid smallholder producers.

Robust extension programmes focused on distributing improved planting materials and good agricultural practices training would strengthen yields and quality over time. Significant potential also exists to enhance food processing levels prior to export.

Building Blocks for Transforming Nigeria’s Agribusiness

For Nigeria to capitalise on the immense potential of its agricultural sector, a concerted and holistic approach is required, encompassing the following core building blocks:

Improved Agricultural Financing Ecosystem

Making affordable financing more accessible across the spectrum—from smallholder farmers to larger processors and exporters—continues to be a crucial barrier limiting growth. Government initiatives, increased lending from commercial banks, dedicated funds that target the sector, and impact investment could provide billions in fresh capital to catalyse development.

Infrastructure and transportation upgrades

Major infrastructure gaps, including rural access roads, electricity, irrigation, storage facilities, and more, must be addressed across Nigeria’s breadbasket regions to curb post-harvest losses, drive productivity gains, and enable agribusinesses to efficiently transport goods. Port infrastructure and airport cold chain capabilities also need enhancement to meet export market requirements.

Mechanising and modernising farm practices

Strengthening mechanisation and precision agriculture adoption rates via financing schemes and better access to extension services can help farmers use advanced techniques and technologies, raising per-hectare yields closer to global averages while enhancing profitability and environmental sustainability.

Robust Agricultural Research and Development

Expanding agricultural research through increased funding allocation and closer public-private collaboration is vital to driving innovation in farming techniques tailored specifically to Nigerian contexts. This should encompass the full range from seed system development to breeding pest- and disease-resistant crop varieties to biological control of fields and storage pests.

Workforce development and skills training

Beyond farmers, building skill capacity across the wider Nigerian agribusiness value chain must be prioritised, spanning food safety experts, lab technicians, agriculture extension officers, inspectors, drivers, laboratory analysts, mechanics, and machinery operators. This will professionalise the sector.

Value Chain and Market Linkages

Strengthening business linkages across the value chain to improve market access, scale certified production to meet standards, enhance packaging, integrate processing capacity, and build cold chain infrastructure remains crucial, especially for Nigerian agricultural goods exported overseas.

Commitment to Policy Reforms and Public Sector Support

Sustained high-level commitment from the Nigerian government to implement market-friendly sector reforms, incentivize private investment through instruments like the Anchor Borrowers Programme, and facilitate access to improved farm inputs can exponentially accelerate agribusiness growth.

The opportunities for Nigeria to spearhead an African agribusiness renaissance through increased food self-sufficiency and high-value cash crop exports are immense, given inherent competitive advantages in land, climate, and labour availability.

With a paradigm shift towards unlocking financing, deploying infrastructure, and developing human capital and value chains, Nigeria can transform itself into a global powerhouse. One capable of producing enough staple and horticulture foods to feed its surging population while generating tens of billions in annual agricultural export revenue.

The time for change is now.

Few other sectors can match agriculture’s potential for driving inclusive economic growth across Nigeria. Beyond increased income and living standards for 30–40% of Nigerians engaged in farming, a wholesome agribusiness expansion creates jobs across associated secondary industries, from logistics to food manufacturing and textiles.

If focused reforms, hard infrastructure development, research, and skill-building initiatives can be executed with strong leadership commitment over the next decade, Nigeria will witness a significant agricultural evolution.

One where smallholder farmer prosperity rises exponentially, Nigeria produces the majority of the food it consumes domestically, hundreds of agro-processing centres thrive nationwide, and Nigeria evolves into a top-3 global exporter of crops ranging from cocoa to sesame seeds.

The future remains profoundly bright for Nigerian agriculture and agribusiness. The country is primed for a robust farm sector transformation—finally turning long-lauded potential into remarkable, large-scale reality through innovation, youthful dynamism, and global value chains driving prosperity across rural communities nationwide. The time for change is now because the 21st century surely belongs to Nigerian agriculture.


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