Family farms have long been the backbone of agriculture in Nigeria, playing a crucial role in food production, rural development, and poverty reduction. I grew up having my maternal grandmother (of blessed memory) visit us with fresh gallons of fresh palm oil whenever she is back from village – she would always emphasise how it came from her husband’s (my grandfather) farm. Now that she’s gone to sleep with the elders, there have been talks of who would continue the legacy or oversee continued operations on our large family farm. Not that I have an idea of where it is located or how to run it; however, the mere mention of having an inheritance of farmland thrilled me until my mother cautioned my young and naïve mind about the troubles of such inheritances.
Some of the issues she mentioned are no doubt contributing to how the concept of family farms has been gradually fading away. First, succession issues are a great pain for agriculture prosperity in Nigeria. Many family farm owners are reaching retirement age without a clear succession plan. Younger generations are increasingly opting for non-agricultural careers, attracted by better income prospects and a more comfortable lifestyle. The lack of interest in taking over the family farm, results in the loss of valuable agricultural knowledge and the potential abandonment of land. This lack of clear succession plan often leads to disputes and conflicts and even confusion among family members when the time comes for the older generation to pass on. At times, cultural traditions in the area of passing on of inheritance also challenges flourishing of family farms. For instance, in some communities, land is passed down through male lineage while in others, it follows a matrilineal system. These practices can create challenges when determining, who will inherit and manage the farm, particularly when there are multiple potential heirs.
Also, there is much preaching of hope in urban areas to youth, hence the reason for mass exodus of the younger generation in these supposedly big cities. Many parents nowadays, especially in an environment like Nigeria even encourage their children to go out in search of better economic opportunities rather than watching over their heritage. As a result, many young individuals from farming families are opting for urban jobs, leaving behind the traditional family farm. The allure of urban living, higher incomes, and the perceived prestige associated with urban jobs, has contributed to the fading interest in family farming.
Hence, this shift in lifestyle preferences in the urban setting has, no doubt, contributed to the fading idea of family farms in Nigeria. Younger generations are increasingly drawn to alternative career paths, seeking white-collar jobs, and desiring a different lifestyle from the physically-demanding nature of farming. The perception that farming is less glamorous, risky, and lacks social recognition, has deterred young Nigerians from pursuing agricultural activities. In other words, the allure of urban life and the rise of non-agricultural industries have further diminished the appeal of family farming. Furthermore, in Nigeria, land fragmentation is a prevalent issue due to population growth and traditional inheritance practices.
As families expand, available farmland is often divided among family members, resulting in smaller and less economically-viable plots. Moreover, the inheritance system often favours the eldest son, leaving other family members with limited access to land. This fragmentation hampers the ability of family farms to operate at optimal scales and reduces the incentives for younger generations to continue farming. This further makes it difficult for those that decide to continue farming, to access credit and modern agricultural technologies, making it difficult for them to compete with larger-scale commercial farms. This inability to access credit further restricts investment in the farm, leading to a decline in productivity and sustainability.
In conclusion, the fading idea of family farms in Nigeria carries significant implications for the agriculture sector and the country as a whole. The decline in family farms threatens food security, as small-scale farmers are the primary producers of staple crops. It also contributes to rural poverty and exacerbates the urban-rural divide. Additionally, the loss of traditional farming knowledge and practices can impact negatively on the sustainability of agriculture and cultural heritage. Finally, to address this trend, it is crucial for policymakers to prioritise agriculture by implementing measures that promote rural development, enhance access to credit and technology, and encourage youth engagement in farming. Efforts to modernise and make farming more attractive, while preserving traditional knowledge, can help revive the family farm concept and ensure sustainable agricultural practices for Nigeria’s future.