The African Development Bank Group’s Board of Directors approved a $134 million loan for Nigeria’s National Agriculture Growth Scheme – Agro Pocket program on Friday to increase food production and improve livelihood resilience.

The program will help to accelerate the implementation of essential legislative and institutional reforms, as well as increase private sector participation in agriculture. This will contribute to an increase of 7 million tonnes in cereals and oil grains production to 35 million tonnes. It will also raise average cereal yields from 1.42 to 2 tonnes per hectare over the implementation period of September 2022 to December 2023.

The program aligns with the Bank’s African Emergency Food Production Facility and will support Nigeria’s efforts to mitigate the impacts of the war in Ukraine. Food prices have been rising rapidly due to higher volatility caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, aggravated by the war.

The program also aligns with the Bank’s Ten-Year Strategy as it promotes climate-resilient agriculture and targets the vulnerable population, including youth and women.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is projected to hit 402 million by 2050 from 206 million people in 2020, making it the third-most populous country globally. The bulk of its rural population, representing 48% of the populace, produces up to 90% of the national output.

However, inadequate support for the farmers has confined them to traditional agronomic techniques, resulting in low productivity and limited opportunities for value addition. In 2020, the harvested cereals area and yields declined by 2.75% and 1.5%, respectively.

Lamin Barrow, Director General of the Bank’s Nigeria Country Department, said the program would prioritize support for five strategic crops: maize, rice, wheat, soya beans and sorghum, with a particular focus on wheat value chains.

He said the National Agriculture Growth Scheme – Agro Pocket program is anchored in the National Agriculture Technology and Innovation Policy (2022-27) which aims to modernize Nigeria’s agriculture sector in line with changing global food systems and supply chains. The program will complement Bank-supported operations in the country, particularly in the Special Agricultural Special Zones.

“The Bank will support the Federal Government to put in place a robust institutional framework, including operationalization of the National Agriculture Growth Scheme – Agro Pocket program Secretariat as the administrative vehicle to oversee the implementation of the Agro-Pocket Scheme, whose precursor is the highly successful e-wallet scheme that was rolled out in Nigeria between 2012 and 2015,” he said.

The National Agriculture Growth Scheme – Agro Pocket program would help build the resilience of farming livelihoods, enhance farmers’ access to improved seeds, and strengthen the capacity of industry stakeholders, Barrow stressed.

Beth Dunford, the Bank’s Vice President, Agriculture, Human and Social Development, said: “Cushioning the poor from the effects of higher food, and energy costs, requires urgent and sustainable policy, such as increased public expenditure on agriculture.”

The African Development Bank led the mobilization of $538 million for the flagship Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones program to develop value chains for strategic agriculture commodities in Nigeria and transform rural areas into zones of economic prosperity.