Farmers in the Gombe area of northern Nigeria showed remarkable agility in response to market and demographic shifts over the period 1900-2000 (Tiffen 2002). From a low-population density pastoral lifestyle, populations grew rapidly, constraining cattle movements. They adapted by becoming a leading center of groundnut production after World War I, when river navigation made it possible to market their groundnuts to the export outlets of the south.
After World War II, government policy encouraged cotton production and they quickly became leading producers, manufacturing plows and other innovations that apparently doubled yields and quadrupled production over the decade 1951-61. When cotton became economically unattractive post-independence, they shifted into a range of food crops, once again staking out a leadership position.
As fertilizer subsidies were instated in the 1970s/80s, Gombe farmers responded by becoming production leaders with yet another unfamiliar but highly fertilizer-responsive crop: maize.
Recently, as fertilizers have become more difficult to get, improved millet varieties such as SOSAT-C 88 are spreading rapidly in northern Nigeria.
The flexibility and agility of Nigerian dryland farmers contradicts the conventional image of smallholders as resistant to change, risk and innovation.
Return to "Dryland success stories"
Mortimore, M. and Harris, F. 2004. Do small farmers' achievements contradict the nutrient depletion scenarios for Africa? Land Use Policy (in press).