At more than 160 million people, the population of Nigeria is the largest in Africa and accounts for 47 percent of West Africa’s total population (World Bank 2012). Nigeria is also the biggest oil exporter in Africa, with the continent’s largest natural gas reserves. Nigeria’s oil wealth has helped it maintain relatively steady economic growth despite recent global financial downturns. The country’s GDP grew from 6 percent in 2008 to 8.4 percent in 2010 (World Bank 2012). Unemployment remains a significant problem, however, with an estimated 50 million youth unemployed. The government in 2011 launched a comprehensive public works program to stimulate employment and expand vital infrastructure and services.

Despite its significant natural resources and continued economic growth, poverty remains widespread in Nigeria and has even increased in some areas since the late 1990s. An estimated 70 percent of Nigerians live on less than US$1.25 per day. Nigeria was ranked 40th out of 79 on the 2012 Global Hunger Index and 156th out of 187 on the 2011 UNDP Human Development Index. Poverty is especially widespread in rural areas, where 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line (IFAD 2012).

Agriculture is the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, employing approximately two-thirds of the country’s total labor force and contributing 40 percent to Nigeria’s GDP (IFAD 2012). Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava, yam, and cowpea; yet it is a food-deficit nation and depends on imports of grains, livestock products, and fish (IFAD 2012). Of an estimated 71 million hectares of cultivable land, only half is currently used for farming; there is similar potential for an expansion of irrigation, which now only covers 7 percent of irrigable land. Most of the rural population farms on a subsistence scale, using small plots and depending on seasonal rainfall. A lack of infrastructure such as roads further exacerbates poverty in rural areas by isolating rural farmers from needed inputs and profitable markets (IFAD and World Bank 2012). Pressure from growing populations is also impacting already diminished resources, further threatening food production. Over-farmed land, deforestation, and overgrazing are severe in many parts of the country. Drought has become common in the north, while erosion and flooding is a major problem in the south.