This guest blog was written by Okeke Celestine, Leader Partner of the MSME Advocacy and Support Initiative in Nigeria. 

Agricultural investments in Nigeria are critical to transition our agricultural sector from largely subsistence small holder farming to commercial agriculture enterprises. The sort needed to stimulate local economies and enable Nigeria to reduce its food import bill. While Nigeria’s agricultural sector has seen an unprecedented flow of development aid in the last decade, a great concern has risen with regard to the effectiveness of this aid.

These concerns largely stem from the near absence of a structured mechanism with which donor agencies and the Nigerian government can measure and evaluate aid effectiveness. It is vital that we can track, scrutinise and evaluate the foreign assistance we receive from donor agencies. If we cannot accurately understand who is spending what, where and for whom, then civil society organisations are unable to collaborate with donors, share our assessments and help determine what approaches are needed to overcome the challenges.

Take, for example, the Cassava Bread Initiative, which was launched in 2014 by the Nigerian Federal Government with financial support from a number of donors. The initiative was conceived as a veritable tool to drive import substitution of wheat used in bread production to cassava, which is locally available in Nigeria. Despite receiving a great deal of funding, the programme failed to achieve its stated objective because the most fundamental challenges facing agro-allied enterprises in Nigeria were left unattended.

While the initiative provided huge loans to cassava farmers, or would be cassava farmers, it failed to adequately reduce the risk of lending to farmers, or to help them get the skills needed to ensure maximum yields. Moreover, the initiative failed to enable those without land to access it at little or no cost.

To prevent these sorts of issues, we need structured open data for tracking donor agencies’ financing of agriculture projects in Nigeria. But more importantly, we need forward looking data so that civil society can be involved in the processes, negotiations and meetings to procure foreign assistance.

This has remained a daunting task for us – daunting in that we need collaboration between donors, the Nigerian government and civil society, and daunting in that we also need to build the capacity of civil society organizations to establish such collaboration. If Nigeria’s agriculture sector is to reach its full potential, the effectiveness of aid to the sector must improve. Establishing structures and mechanisms for all stakeholders to effectively track and evaluate foreign assistance for agriculture development in Nigeria is a great place to start.