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Testing the Community Block Farming approach to growing rice in the Niger Delta

Summary

SDN conducted research in 2017, and field tests in 2018, on what livelihood strategies could be viable in the Niger Delta in response to high levels of unemployment and low human development indices. SDN will now use this information to call for investment in the region to replicate and scale up livelihoods with demonstrable potential. One of the livelihoods tested by SDN aimed to reduce barriers and risk for farmers of the Aviara community, in Delta State, to engage in commercial-scale rice farming via the Community Block Farm model. This model was designed to overcome these barriers and spread risk through a partnership with a private sector provider of agricultural services. The project made initial progress but was then met with several challenges, not least unusually severe flooding in the area that caused almost total crop failure. SDN is looking at the potential to re-run the pilot, as the Community Block Farm model showed early potential in a difficult commercial environment.

The need

The economy of Nigeria is heavily reliant on the oil and gas industry that permeates the Niger Delta, yet many people living in the Niger Delta are unable to access employment, and Nigeria’s global human development ranking continues to worsen. Therefore, based on SDN’s earlier research, we implemented a range of pilot livelihood projects to test their viability with the aim to attract the necessary investment to replicate and scale up those demonstrating potential. One of these livelihood projects tested the viability of commercial rice cultivation, which our research indicated is a highly valued commodity in the Niger Delta, a region that also provides favourable growing conditions. However, the research also highlighted that farmers are often unable to gain the credit needed for training and equipment to farm rice on a commercial scale, or insure themselves against poor crop yields or failure.

Exploring a solution

How it works:

The Community Block Farm model involves the provision of a full range of agricultural services to farmers, including: land preparation, project management, inputs, and market access – in exchange for an agreed percentage of the final crop sale to be taken by the provider. This arrangement means ownership of the land remains as it was before and the, often prohibitive, investment needed for machinery and inputs is made by the provider. The risk of uncertain crop yield is reduced for farmers and shared with the provider and the provider’s insurer. Central to this approach is that land ownership remains in the hands of the community.

Piloting the Community Block Farm Model in Aviara, Delta State:

SDN partnered with a private sector provider of agricultural management and services, to reduce the risks and barriers to 50 smallholder and unemployed farmers growing rice on a commercial scale. SDN’s partnership with a private sector provider is intended test how the productive potential of the private sector can be harnessed for development gains by incentivising ‘social investment’. In this case, access to credit has been provided by SDN, using funding from the UK Government, to support the company to work with women, men, and young people living in socio-economically disadvantaged communities. As part of SDN’s commitment to promoting the social, political, and economic inclusion of women across the work we do, 30 of the 50 participants were female.

Challenges

Unfortunately, initial progress in growing rice at a commercial scale was wiped out by severe flooding in September 2018. The resulting crop failure underscores the importance of insurance for farmers, but unfortunately the would-be insurer refused cover just as the flooding began, despite receiving the insurance application months in advance.

Despite the crop-loss, the livelihood pilot participants reported that they have been able to gain substantial knowledge in rice farming and that they are eager to use their training to set up their own rice farm.

Some members of the local community had previously been misled by a local cooperative, and suspecting SDN of bad intention, anonymously destroyed the first plant nursery built for the project. However, the nursery was rebuilt, and over time, SDN gained the trust of the local community. This indicates the value of SDN’s existing network of local relationships, partners, and reputation, and the need to constantly develop this.

Next steps

Unfortunately, the flooding and subsequent crop-loss has made it difficult to assess the potential of approaches tested in this pilot, but we will continue to discuss the potential with our private sector partner to re-run the pilot. The Community Block Farm model does appear to have the potential to overcome a number of the challenges constraining growth in commercial farming in the Niger Delta, provided a fair balance of risk and reward can be struck between farmers and the provider of agricultural management services. Additionally, the business environment remains extremely challenging, as demonstrated through the withdrawal of insurance at the time flooding was first forecast.

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