CSIS Brief: Risk & Resilience: Advancing Food and Nutrition Security in Nigeria through Feed the Future

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Feed the Future, the United States’ flagship global hunger and food security program, is beginning its second phase in 12 newly-designated target countries with a newly-added strategic objective: strengthening resilience. The changes reflect the evolving nature of the fight against hunger, which is now centered in countries that are confronting multiple risks—climate change, protracted conflicts, economic stresses and shocks, political disruption, and civil unrest. Nigeria, a new target country, serves as a powerful lens for examining these shifts and for identifying the risks and opportunities related to implementing long-term agriculture and nutrition programming in fragile countries. Feed the Future’s model of technical innovation, private sector partnerships, policy change, and capacity building can strengthen food and nutrition security in climate-affected and insecure environments, but a new and deep integration among development, humanitarian, and peace/security strategies and actions will be required.

Today there are unprecedented levels of risk for millions of people and a rising demand for humanitarian resources. Humanitarian aid is finite, and different assistance models are needed to go beyond the provision of lifesaving support. To effectively counter the impacts of hunger, poverty, and malnutrition, greater attention needs to be directed at addressing the underlying causes that drive them.


Feed the Future, the flagship U.S. global hunger and food security initiative that involves 11 U.S. agencies, was launched in 2010 in response to the global food price crisis of 2007/08. Feed the Future resources helped to reverse the trend of disinvestment in agricultural development for low-income countries. Its approach responded to the critical need for more deliberate interventions to stabilize markets, reduce poverty, and promote inclusive agricultural development. These interventions strengthened private sector-driven, inclusive agricultural markets, scaled access to improved agricultural technologies, and elevated the role of women and nutrition.

Under U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) leadership, Feed the Future developed an effective assistance model focused on the twin objectives of reducing poverty and improving nutrition. This model demonstrated substantial success in areas where the program worked over its first seven years, enabling an estimated 23.4 million more people to live above the poverty line because of increased agricultural productivity, 3.4 million more children to be free of stunting, and 5.2 million more families to escape hunger. The U.S. Congress recognized Feed the Future’s significant progress by passing the Global Food Security Act (GFSA) in July 2016. In October 2018, President Trump signed the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act into law, extending support for the initiative through 2023.

The first phase of Feed the Future focused on 19 relatively stable countries with strong potential for improving agricultural productivity and leadership committed to investing in agriculture. Responding to today’s world, where the combined impacts of climate change, economic instability, and political unrest are fueling an increase in hunger, the second phase of Feed the Future has been reoriented to include more fragile and conflict-affected countries. A new objective, strengthening resilience, has been added to the strategic priorities that drove Feed the Future during Phase I—reducing poverty and malnutrition.

The new resilience objective grows out of Feed the Future’s experience in developing the abilities of people and systems to respond to extreme weather in areas of northern Kenya and Ethiopia affected by recurrent drought. The elevation of resilience will extend this work and add areas that have been affected by conflict, often related to climate change.

Working in fragile and less-stable political environments will be a new and challenging step for Feed the Future. With its expertise in agriculture, agribusiness, and nutrition, Feed the Future has much to contribute in partnership with humanitarian and peace/security efforts aimed at more systematically reducing risk and strengthening resilience. At the same time, Feed the Future and its partners will be challenged to work effectively in areas where institutions and governance are weak, and the flexibility and the capacity to adapt to changing conditions are paramount.


As the most populous country and the largest economy  in Africa, Nigeria is a country of paradoxes, diversity, and possibility. Some of the most agriculturally productive areas of the country also have some of the worst nutrition indicators. Nigeria has vast natural resources and is one of the top 10 oil exporters in the world. It is home of the wealthiest man in Africa, but in 2018, Nigeria overtook India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty.1,2 It has an energetic, youthful population—more than 60 percent of Nigeria’s 190 million people are under the age of 25—but half are un- or under-employed.3

It is a country torn by conflict and threatened by climate change, with a large population in the northeast at risk of famine. The expanding regional conflict in sub-Saharan Africa contributed to a dramatic increase in migration between 2010-2017. More than one million applied for asylum in Europe alone, and Nigeria is the top country of origin for sub-Saharan migrants to both the United States and Europe.


Poor governance. Nigeria’s federal system decentralizes considerable authority to states and local governments, but few states have the institutional capacities or resources to meet these needs. There are also regional geopolitical divisions, with power-sharing agreements between the poorer north and the more economically productive south yet to be fully settled. Dominated by elites, elections have also contributed to a corrosive culture of corruption.

The dominance of oil. The extraction and export of oil accounts for as much as 90 percent of Nigeria’s export earnings and 70 to 80 percent of public revenues. When oil prices and revenues fall (e.g., the nearly 50 percent decline in oil prices in 2014/15), so does the capacity of public institutions to carry out their mandates. Economic shocks introduced by volatility in global oil markets easily translate into reduction of welfare across the population, especially among the less resilient groups at the bottom of the income distribution.

The elusive goal of economic diversification. In 2017, Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari launched the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan (EGRP) to reduce the over-dependence on oil and foster economic diversification. Since millions of Nigerians depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, agricultural growth is seen as an important plank in EGRP and a means  to meet the growing demand for food and relieve the heavy reliance on imports. The EGRP echoes the earlier Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), launched in 2010. Despite the ATA’s progress in reforms of the fertilizer system, additional financing mechanisms for agriculture, and in re-energizing the private sector and donors for greater investment in the sector, agriculture sector-based economic diversification remains elusive. Private sector actors encounter familiar barriers: producers are unable to access land, financing, and required inputs; traders have little access to credit and must rely on their own resources to store and transport commodities; processors face significant risks when they invest in new technologies and seek to expand their plants; and distributors and retailers face organizational and information barriers in accessing fresh and processed products demanded by consumers. Public spending on critical agricultural infrastructure, information services, and technology development lags far behind commitments and needs.

The risks of climate change. There is ample evidence that changing climate conditions in Nigeria are affecting crop and livestock production as well as fisheries.4 A recent USAID study concluded that nearly a quarter of Nigeria’s population has high exposure to climate risks, and more than 4.5 million live in areas with very high exposure to storm surges on the coast, inland flooding along the rivers, rainfall anomalies, and chronic aridity in the north. Many of these environmental challenges are not being addressed as a matter of priority, even when risks are strongly linked with food security and conflict.5

Agricultural productivity [in Nigeria] has been growing steadily since 2000, but the states in which the largest share of the population is involved in agriculture are also the states with the highest rates of rural poverty and stunting.

These sources of risk and instability are today manifested in three zones of active conflict across Nigeria, each driven by a unique set of circumstances and each generating specific political, economic, and social instability:

  • In the northeast region of Nigeria, sporadic outbreaks of deadly violence since 2009 by the Boko Haram armed insurgent group have contributed to the displacement of at least two million people from their farms and livelihoods, the destruction of billions of dollars’  worth of property including houses, livestock, and farm equipment, and a severe loss of economic and social resilience.

  • In the north-central region of the country, or Middle Belt, the practice of nomadic or semi-nomadic livestock production systems in Nigeria has been altered by changes in the onset of the rainy season as well as security threats from insurgents. These new patterns are fostering confrontations between cattle owners and farmers who are intent on expanding the use of arable land for crop production. More than 2,000 people are estimated to have been killed in clashes each year between 2011 and 2016, and the violence is escalating.

  • In the oil-producing areas of southern Nigeria, echoes of the Biafran conflict continue to ring out as rights to revenues from oil and recompense for environmental damage linked to oil are disputed, and reports of kidnapping and piracy on commercial shipping in the Gulf of Guinea off the Nigerian coast persist. Whole populations are directly affected by conflict in each region, but youth may be most affected as their opportunities for education, work, and other elements of a normal life are reduced or eliminated.

Food insecurity and hunger are both a result of and contributor to fragility and instability. A great paradox is evident in Nigeria. Agricultural productivity has been growing steadily since 2000, but the states in which the largest share of the population is involved in agriculture are also the states with the highest rates of rural poverty and stunting. 6This picture of widespread food insecurity and malnutrition contributes to the risk that Nigeria’s long- term economic growth will be hampered by the quality of its human capital. Child stunting rates are more than 30 percent at a national level and greater than 50 percent in northwestern states. 7Global data suggest that such high levels signal a loss of the long-term developmental potential, including cognitive potential, for the stunted children—and the nation.8


Evolving food demands can create jobs and increase incomes. Nigeria’s growing urban markets and rising demands for more nutritious, high-quality food suggest that more ambitious efforts to boost on-farm productivity, diversify farming systems, and add more value in the post-farmgate segments of the supply chains could pay off. Currently, this heightened demand is being met largely through imports. Expanding the variety and quality of products in Nigeria’s own food system to meet changing food demand—including in peri-urban9 areas—could provide a pathway to increasing economic diversity and open jobs and income-earning opportunities for emerging small enterprises.

Taking advantage of geographic scale. The size and ecological diversity of Nigeria provide opportunities for growth that few other countries in Africa possess. A recent World Bank report called for federal government leadership in Nigeria to do a better job of “connecting to compete,” that is, spatially integrating domestic markets and encouraging sub-regional specialization to support greater economic diversification and make Nigeria more competitive.10

Capitalizing on visionary leaders at the state level to strengthen governance and drive economic development. The states that are growing most rapidly are making progress
in diversifying sources of economic growth and leveraging greater private sector investment. States promoting agricultural system adaptation to emerging impacts of climate change, as well as to Nigeria’s rising market demands for food and feed, are also leaders in economic resilience. The government of Kaduna State stands out for its vision and support for agricultural development. Several new initiatives signal progress toward realizing the state’s economic ambitions. These include the 2017 opening of the Olam feed mill in Kaduna as well as the investments of companies like Tomato Jos, an ambitious start-up tomato paste processor whose hybrid model will source production from a central, large-scale mechanized irrigated farm and from smallholder outgrowers.

Leveraging the growing and underutilized youth population for good. The burgeoning population of young Nigerians is both an immediate source of fragility and a potential source of massive strength for the country. Successful recruitment of youth into insurgent groups and the rise of migration reflect the lack of opportunities in the Nigerian economy today. Yet entrepreneurial initiative and success are also evident and indicate potential that could be tapped more effectively. For example, agricultural production and agribusiness are areas where youthful energies could usefully be deployed, both on-farm and in other developing segments of the agri-food sector. More broadly, youth may be well positioned to generate and apply new knowledge that will spark widespread adoption of innovations to help transform Nigeria’s food system.


The United States has had a longstanding, significant partnership with Nigeria. The U.S. government continues to support Nigeria’s efforts to build a competitive economy, sustain its commitment to democratic principles and institutions, and serve as a leader in shaping a vibrant and peaceful West Africa. The United States is Nigeria’s largest foreign investor, with investments being led by the oil, gas, and mining sectors, as well as other U.S. companies that are looking ahead to the large and growing consumer market in the country.

Between 2012 and 2017, the United States provided an average of $637 million a year in foreign assistance to Nigeria, including the growing amount of emergency humanitarian assistance provided to conflict-affected zones beginning in 2014.11 Of the average annual budget, the vast majority—nearly 70 percent—was dedicated to critical health programs: HIV/AIDS, malaria, reproductive health, and maternal and child health. By comparison, U.S. investments in reducing poverty and improving the quality of Nigerians’ diets have been modest. Agricultural assistance, the sector most closely allied with Feed the Future programming, has averaged around $20 million annually, or about 4 percent of total U.S. development assistance to Nigeria.

Overall, the new Feed the Future country strategy in Nigeria suggests a continuation of programs that have been led by USAID since 2012, when the country was aligned with Feed the Future but was not yet a target country. The future level of resources is not yet defined, but Feed the Future plans to focus on a narrower set of geographies and populations, as well as five commodities: fish, cowpeas, maize, rice, and soybeans.

Portions of 11 states (or zones of influence) will be targeted, including the four states most affected by the Boko Haram conflict. These northeastern states are receiving up to 1 billion dollars in emergency humanitarian assistance from donors, with the United States providing $333 million to date in 2018. Feed the Future will focus 80 percent of its effort on 6 million people in the seven more traditional “breadbasket” states, several of which are highly prone to climate-related events, compared to 1.4 million projected beneficiaries in the four conflict-affected states.

The Nigeria country strategy for Feed the Future is structured around four program components, each aimed at a different objective of the global strategy.

  • Increasing the Productivity and Competitiveness of Selected Value Chains and Market Systems addresses the objective of reducing poverty. It encompasses the production and market-focused activities with which Feed the Future had substantial success in Phase 1 programs in Nigeria and beyond.
  • The new strategic objective of resilience is at the core of the second component, Enhancing the Capacities of Vulnerable Households and Communities to Respond to Shocks and Stresses. While our analysis indicates that populations in most or all of the designated zones of influence are subject to a range of risks, these programs will focus on areas most affected by conflict (northeast) and climate change (rice-growing riverine areas prone to flooding). Potential linkages with humanitarian initiatives and complementary U.S. assistance, including health care and water and sanitation, remain to be delineated.

  • The third component, Improving Access to and Use of Diverse, Safe, Nutritious, and High-Quality Foods, addresses the objective of improving nutrition. This element of the country strategy is the least developed, perhaps the most challenging, and clearly important, given the very high stunting levels observed across northern Nigeria.

  • The final component, Advancing Country Leadership Through Strengthening of Selected Policy Systems, describes an overarching effort to improve selected policies and governance-related sources of fragility and instability.


Feed the Future is at an inflection point. In order to meet the world’s most critical food security needs, the initiative will need to adapt its successful model to work in new and uncertain environments—unstable, fragile regions affected by climate and conflict. The initial Feed the Future objectives remain salient—reducing poverty through interventions that strengthen agricultural production and markets and improving nutrition by increasing the availability and diversity of foods. However, the newly added objective of strengthening resilience to shocks that can lead to famine and political unrest will require some rethinking of the model.

Based on our fieldwork and analysis, we conclude that a much harder pivot towards resilience will be required in Nigeria and other Feed the Future countries. We recommend that Feed the Future in Nigeria and globally consider a more ambitious, widespread effort to strengthen resilience across all zones of influence by identifying and proactively addressing risks that call for an integration of humanitarian, development, and peace/security interventions.

The initiative will face steep operational challenges in revising its model to be successful under these new conditions. In its first phase, as it established its working model, Feed the Future programs operated with an agricultural sector lens, with a tight focus on agricultural productivity and programs to improve food security and livelihoods. Feed the Future’s effectiveness in fragile environments will require a much deeper and intentional integration of planning, programming, and implementation with humanitarian and other development programs.

Feed the Future’s effectiveness in fragile environments will require a much deeper and intentional integration of planning, programming, and implementation with humanitarian and other development programs.

Given the realities of limited Feed the Future resources, and the scale, complexity, and geographic distribution of fragile- country challenges, the initiative will have to focus more on building local capacities and systems to deal with a wide array of risks. Feed the Future will also need to adopt an adaptive management approach that allows implementing partners to grapple with the more fluid conditions of less- stable areas and to proactively respond to opportunities and address problems as they arise.

For Feed the Future to be most effective, we recommend the following:

1. Significantly elevate the priority on resilience in Nigeria and globally in Feed the Future programming.

In Nigeria, the Feed the Future strategy takes a narrow approach to addressing the resilience strategic objective, focusing on four northeastern states currently affected by conflict. However, our analysis found multiple sources of fragility across the country—weak governance, insufficient economic diversification, malnutrition, a growing jobless youth population, and climate-related stresses and conflicts. Efforts to strengthen resilience across Nigeria now could pay off by averting backsliding toward greater poverty, loss of human capacities due to malnutrition, and even destructive outbreaks of violent conflict.

Similar sources of fragility are likely to be identified in other Feed the Future target countries. We suggest that a “resilience lens” is needed to examine the opportunities for Feed the Future more broadly. Significantly more resources should be dedicated to vulnerable regions to build the capacities of people and systems to get ahead of situations that could deteriorate into crisis events if not addressed.


2. Adopt three broad principles that focus on strengthening country capacities and systems to guide Feed the Future programming in Nigeria and other fragile and conflict-affected areas.

First, tailor the approach to the realities of the country’s vision and adapt it to local contexts. Nigeria, for example, presents an environment fraught with risks–political, economic, social, and ideological. But it is also a country with a vision for growth; that vision needs to be supplemented with a vision of peace and security. The current humanitarian crisis will not solve itself, but its worst effects can be abated with proactive strategies to address the risks.

Second, amplify the voices of effective local leaders and institutions—public and private sector, civil society and academic—and strengthen their roles and  capacities to conceive and implement innovative solutions. The government is currently underpowered at all levels; adding other sources of leadership and capabilities will improve national resilience.

And third, monitor outcomes of interventions carefully and adapt plans to make the most effective use of resources, facilitate course changes, and ensure that unintended effects do not blunt longer-term efforts to build resilience despite risks.

3. Prioritize programs in six core areas that will strengthen resilience and promote sustainable development in fragile regions.

Feed the Future has considerable experience in six core areas that are highly relevant to fragile populations. In each area, there are opportunities for closer integration of Feed the Future expertise with humanitarian assistance and initiatives in other sectors.


  • Improving public sector effectiveness through strengthening data collection, analysis, policy formulation, transparency, and communication at different levels of government and independent research institutions, while implementing leadership and advocacy training for non-profit and other civil society organizations, particularly for young people;
  • Intensifying agriculture and strengthening markets in peri-urban and rural areas where displaced persons  are living or returning to, with a focus on fostering livelihood options for young men and women;
  • Engaging the private sector as major partners and investors by reducing the risk for investment;
  • Increasing youth employment throughout the value chain;
  • Improving nutrition for children and women of child- bearing age; and
  • Expanding the use of information and communication technologies as a major tool for increasing  information flows and the effectiveness and security of finance, education, and health services.

4. Change the management approach of Feed the Future programs worldwide to support more flexible and adaptive resilience-focused programming that is purposefully integrated with U.S. humanitarian, health, education, and governance programming.

To be effective, Feed the Future will have to transition from being a largely stand-alone initiative to one that is more tightly integrated with complementary humanitarian, development and peace/security programs. Programming that is more focused on strengthening local capacities and mobilizing local resources in fragile contexts will also require Feed the Future to adopt a more flexible management approach to respond to issues and options as they arise, including opportunities for new partnerships that could help to adapt programs and scale the impact of Feed the Future activities faster and more sustainably.

5. Harness U.S. diplomatic resources and leadership to expand global attention, resources, and coordination of effort to strengthen resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries.

In Feed the Future’s initial phase, the U.S. Department of State in Washington and U.S. ambassadors were crucial to elevating the importance of global food security at major international meetings including the G8 and G20 and, at the country level, with prime ministers, presidents, and parliamentarians. They also supported host country efforts to convene and coordinate efforts of bilateral, multilateral, and private sector actors. Feed the Future was a critically important manifestation of U.S. leadership following the 2007/8 global food price crisis at a time when low-income countries were reeling from food shortages, urban rioting, and political instability. At this important turning point for Feed the Future, building on its strengths and the critical convening power of the United States, leadership is again required. It is imperative for the United States to focus scarce development assistance resources on the areas of greatest need and growing concern to U.S. and global security. It has become more challenging to secure international funding to meet expanding humanitarian assistance needs, particularly as conflicts, their aftermaths, and impacts on populations persist for years. U.S. leadership must draw together host country governments, bilateral and multilateral agencies, the private sector, and civil society for an expanded, coordinated effort to pro-actively strengthen resilience to hunger, malnutrition, and poverty in Nigeria and among the world’s most at-risk populations.
This policy brief summarizes key findings and implications of   a CSIS research study, Risk and Resilience: Advancing Food and Nutrition Security in Nigeria through Feed the Future, which is available at www.csis.org/programs/global-food-security-project.

Julie Howard and Emmy Simmons are non-resident senior advisers for the Global Food Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Kimberly Flowers is the director of the Global Food Security Project and the Humanitarian Agenda at CSIS.

The authors would like to thank research intern Eilish Zembilci, former research intern Hailey Dougherty, and program manager Gillian Locke for their contributions to developing this policy brief and support for the research project.

This brief was made possible through the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


1John Campbell, “Nigeria's Dangote, Africa's Richest Person, Became Rich at Home,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 23, 2018, https://www.cfr.org/ blog/nigerias-dangote-africas-richest-person-became-rich-home.
2Bukola Adebayo, “Nigeria overtakes India in extreme poverty ranking,” CNN, June 26, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/26/africa/nigeria-over- takes-india-extreme-poverty-intl/index.html.
3National Bureau of Statistics, Unemployment/Underemployment Report, Q4 2016 (Washington, DC: National Bureau of Statistics, 2016) cited in A.O. Adelaja et al., Expanding Employment and Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Young Women and Men in Nigeria’s Agrifood Sector: Prospects and Challenges, Research Report No. 2, Global Center for Food Systems Innovation, (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University, 2018), https://gcfsi.isp.msu.edu/ files/6515/3306/8943/YEE_Series_NG_report_FINAL.pdf.
4For example, O. E.Ayinde, M. Muchie, and G. B. Olatunji, “Effect of Climate Change on Agricultural Productivity in Nigeria: A Co-integration Model Approach,” Journal of Human Ecology 35, no.3 (June 2011):189-194, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263227672_Effect_of_Climate_ Change_on_Agricultural_Productivity_in_Nigeria_A_Co-integration_Mod- el_Approach.
5Ashley Moran et al., Fragility and Climate Risks in Nigeria (Washington, DC: USAID, September 2018), https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00TBFK.pdf.
6Chemonics, Inc., Maximizing Agricultural Revenue and Key Enterprises In Targeted Sites II (USAID, 2017), https://www.chemonics.com/wp-content/ uploads/2017/10/MARKETS_II_Final_Report_revised-submission_8Dec2017. pdf.
7USAID, Nigeria Nutrition Profile (Washington, DC: USAID, 2018), https:// www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1864/Nigeria-Nutrition-Pro- file-Mar2018-508.pdf; and UNICEF, Multiple Indicators Clusters Survey, 34-35.
8Sally Grantham-McGregor, Yin Bun Cheung, Santiago Cueto, Paul Glew- we, Linda Richter, Barbara Strupp, and the International Child Development Steering Group, “Developmental potential in the first 5 years for children in developing countries,” Lancet, January 6, 2007; 369(9555): 60–70, https:// www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2270351/.
9Peri-urban is defined as the area immediately adjacent to an urban envi- ronment.
10World Bank Group, Nigeria Biannual Economic Update: Connecting to Compete (World Bank Group, 2018), 37, http://documents.worldbank.org/ curated/en/769551524576691390/pdf/WP-NigeriaBiannualEconomicUp- dateAprilFinalVersion-PUBLIC.pdf.
11See https://explorer.usaid.gov/data.html for more information.

Julie Howard
Senior Adviser (Non-resident), Global Food and Water Security Program
Emmy Simmons
Senior Adviser (Non-resident), Global Food and Water Security Program
Kimberly Flowers
Senior Associate (Non-resident), Humanitarian Agenda and Global Food and Water Security Program