Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, productivity in African farming failed to keep pace with population growth. Any increases reflected bringing more land under cultivation rather than increasing yields. As a result, domestic food production per capita fell, forcing African countries to rely on imports, and spend billions of US dollars each year buying commodities such as wheat, sugar and rice from international trading houses. The over-reliance on food imports put countries against the wall once wholesale prices surged. The 2007-08 food crisis – the first in three decades – which saw record prices for rice and wheat, triggered riots in several African countries, including protests in Nigeria and Senegal.
Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s agriculture minister, told an audience: “Nigeria was food self-sufficient in the 1960s and well-known for its global position in major agricultural commodities.” Then something changed. “We found oil and became too dependent on it. Nigeria soon became a net food importer, spending on average $11bn a year on wheat, rice, sugar and fish alone.”