Groundnut pyramids in Nigeria: Can they be revived?

Nigeria produces 41% of the total groundnut production in West Africa. The groundnut pyramids used to be conspicuous in Kano city of Kano State (northern Nigeria) and proudly pointed out to visitors. The huge piles of sacks that tapered to a point higher than most of the buildings, were a symbol of northern Nigeria’s abundance in an important cash crop. Strategically placed at the center of the production region and at the head of the railway to Lagos, Kano was once a staging post in a thriving trade to the market of Europe. Today the dusty yards where the groundnut marketing board stock- piled farmer’s harvest lie mostly empty and have been occupied by buildings.

The history of groundnut in Nigeria traces back to 1912 when most farmers were encouraged by high economic returns from groundnut. The marketing of the crop was well organized. At the end of each production season, agents moved to various parts of the region to purchase the produce while some farmers preferred to carry their produce by themselves to Kano city, where it was sold at a price fixed by the marketing board. The produce was collected from strategic collection centers and then transported to the port of Lagos by train. Groundnut production in Kano and neighboring states has declined. The total groundnut production up to 1973 used to be more than 1.6 million t which has come down to less than 0.7 million t in the mid 80’s. Both farmers and traders shifted to other agricultural (e.g. cowpea, sorghum, millet) and horticultural crops. This decline also affected industries which used groundnut as a raw material. Some even closed down or shifted to other oil seeds.

What happened?

Several factors led to the rapid decline in groundnut production in Nigeria. The major causes were drought, rosette virus, and general neglect of agriculture due to oil boom, lack of organized input and marketing and dissolution of groundnut marketing boards.

There have been adverse changes in rainfall pattern in the last thirty years. Average annual rainfall has reduced drastically from 800 mm to 600 mm and consequently the length of the growing season has become shorter (from 4 to 3 months). Drought spells have become more frequent than ever before. This undoubtedly has led to the failure of groundnut, which requires more than 4 months with the currently available cultivars to reach maturity. Drought has also been associated with outbreaks of diseases and insect pests such as aphids. Aphids are carriers of the groundnut rosette virus, which is a devastating disease. It wipes out the entire crop during epidemic outbreak. For example, in 1975, an epidemic of rosette virus destroyed nearly three quarters of a million hectares of the crop in Nigeria and wiped out regional trade worth estimated at US $ 250 million. Subsequent epidemics in 1983, 1985 and 1988 had a major impact on farmers’ decisions. Many of the farmers who suffered financial ruin have stuck to other crops such as cowpea, sorghum and pearl millet. As a consequence, groundnut production has not yet returned to the pre-1970 levels of 1.8 million t.

Research on fertilizer use in northern Nigeria began in 1925. Experiments have shown that groundnuts respond to added superphosphate. Seed for planting was freely distributed to growers and cash subsidy was later introduced. This encouraged farmers to use high quality seeds and fertilizer. With the economic structural adjustment program, subsidies for agricultural inputs were removed. The decline in production and dissolution of marketing boards led to the collapse of the marketing structure that had been established. Farmers are no longer assured of a ready market for their produce. This has led to the diffused sales of groundnut and therefore, no single collection center to build he pyramids. There was complete neglect of Agriculture in Nigeria after the discovery of petroleum oil in early 70s.The consequence of this development was a more complex problem militating against effective agricultural productivity. There was a high cost of labor resulting from the exodus of young people from rural areas into urban centers in search of employment. Such people considered agriculture a poor man’s job.

With the devastating effects of the groundnut rosette disease, many farmers abandoned growing the crop. Even with the inception of Agricultural Development Programs (ADPS) and other externally funded projects, adaptive research on groundnut was not given high priority. Emphasis was placed on other crops such as cereals and cowpea.

Can the pyramids be revived?

The pyramids may not be revived because of the multi-sector use, diffused sales and diversified use of groundnut produced in Nigeria, but the total groundnut production is expected to increase substantially in coming years. This optimistic outlook is based on the following developments: The International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Institute for Agricultural research (IAR, Samaru) have joined the search for sustainable solutions to groundnut production in Nigeria. Through collaborative research, extra-early varieties maturing in less than 90 days have been developed which escape drought. Resistance to rosette has been incorporated into these early maturing varieties. On-station yield of these new varieties is as high as 3.5 t ha-1 and should reinstate farmers’ confidence in growing groundnut. State governments in northern Nigeria are placing major emphasis on increasing agricultural production in general and on increasing groundnut production in particular. Kano state for example even imported large quantities of 55-437 to enable farmers to have access to seed. Continued support of this nature along with revived inputs supply and organized marketing will greatly enhance groundnut production.

Need for further interventions

Seed is basic to agriculture and makes a major contribution to agricultural productivity. No crop cultivar is of value to the farmer unless its seed is available in the right place, at the right time in adequate quantities and quality at affordable price. Thus timely multiplication and distribution of improved groundnut cultivars is essential if seed is to be used as a vehicle to alleviate poverty and hunger in rural and urban poor. Officially recognized channels for multiplication and distribution of improved seed are in place. Unfortunately public sector seed multiplication and distribution systems are inefficient. Private seed agencies are more efficient than such public agencies and can better service the niche markets with locally adapted cultivars. However, they are less interested in groundnut that is easily multiplied by purchasers. They can obtain higher returns marketing seed from single cross hybrids where fresh seed stocks must be purchased for each season’s sowing, and this is where they generally concentrate their efforts. An effective means of improved seed distribution is farmer-to farmer seed exchange. This may be primed to a limited extent by supplies of improved seed from public agencies, agricultural research stations and non-governmental organizations to farmers in easily accessible villages. However, such a system is very slow. To speed up the flow of seed of adapted acceptable improved varieties to farmers, there is a need to form a network between research institutes, public and private seed multiplication agencies, agencies involved in quality control and various nongovernmental organizations interested in various aspects of seed production. This network will identify bottlenecks in the seed production chain, catalyze or instigate applied and adaptive research and policy changes, that may be required to ensure rapid movement of new cultivars to farmers who need them. This approach will require continued interaction between the various stakeholders.

With the dissolution of the groundnut marketing board, farmers have been left alone and most of them are not only struggling to get seeds and fertilizers but also have problems selling their produce on remunerative prices. Additional incentives to groundnut farmers are vital. These may include:

For more information contact:
Dr. Bonny R. Ntare
BP 320, Bamako