Diversification of farm and forests to restore livelihoods and landscapes


Agriculture is the base of the Nigerian economy, providing the main source of livelihood for most Nigerians as well as employment for about 35% of the population as of 2020 (FAO 2021, World Bank 2020).

The sector faces many challenges, with a land tenure system constraining access to land with only about 2 ha per farming household, high cost of farm inputs, poor access to credit, inadequate storage facilities, high postharvest losses and poor access to markets with an overall low agricultural productivity (FAO 2021). Most of the farmers also use primitive farm implements as they lack access to mechanised farming and processing.

In Nigeria, human activities and land use have resulted in dramatic changes in the country’s landscape, in terms of deforestation, desertification, and agricultural intensification.

Disappearing species and livelihoods

Figure 1: Afang – Gnetum africanum
© Marco Schmidt

Cross River State (CRS) is a coastal state southeast Nigeria, situated within the tropical rainforest zone, with a quickly growing rural population (Ushie et al. 2020).

In the Obudu municipality, most farmers have access to less than one hectare of land, on which they struggle to produce sufficient food to meet their livelihood needs. Besides the constraint of land access, farmers face irregular and unpredictable rainfall, flooding, and land degradation (Eni et al. 2010).

These conditions have undermined agricultural productivity and, to supplement insufficient food and income generated from farming, residents harvest forest products.

However, this livelihood practice has intensified, leading to deforestation and the disappearance of indigenous plants. One locally endangered species is afang (Gnetum africanum), a wild vine whose leaves are consumed by over 5 million people in Nigeria, but which is likely to disappear due to over-exploitation. National populations of the plant are so depleted that Nigeria now imports afang from neighbouring Cameroon.

The disappearance of this important source of income combined with the problem of low agricultural productivity, has threatened farmers’ ability to make a living in Obudu

Agroecological management for farm and forest productivity

Since the overexploitation of forest species like afang was linked to farming’s failure to support residents’ livelihoods, the GEF Small Grants Programme in supported a project which was implemented with the aim to increase agricultural productivity and profitability, and at the same time rehabilitate nearby forests. To restore ecosystem services fundamental to agricultural productivity and diversity in Obudu, the NGO, Rural Infrastructure Services for Under-Served Population (RISEUP), promoted agroecological management of both agricultural and forested areas. Specifically, the programme disseminated practices of crop rotation and sequencing, mulching and composting, the use of simple irrigation technologies, reforestation with fruit trees, and diversification with ten different vegetable species.

Farmers were also supported with farming tools and improved vegetable seeds and seedling of indigenous plants, including the threatened afang crop and bush mango species.

The NGO also trained community members for the special skills required to propagate Afang and to transplant into the forest.

Farmer-to-farmer trainings and demonstration farms encouraged over 380 farmers in 19 different communities to implement organic vegetable production and drip irrigation. More than 4,000 afang vine and bush mango seedlings were planted in farmland and forested areas. Farmers also planted garlic and ginger as medicinal products for improved health and for new income.


The agroecological farming approaches, applied in combination with improved seed varieties and drip irrigation technology, successfully increased vegetable production, and reforestation efforts with indigenous species improved the local availability of forest products.

Figure 2: Drying pepper with solar-driers (UNDP 2017)
Figure 3: Drying pepper with solar-dryers © GEF SGP, UNDP 2017

Higher income through productivity and diversity

The implementation of this programme had significant positive contributions to farmers’ income for the Obudu communities. Drip irrigation technology extended the growing season, enabling farmers to cultivate tomato three times in a year and maize twice, in comparison to once a year under rain-fed conditions. When combined with agroecological soil management practices such as composting and mulching, farmers were able to harvest more from the same amount of land. For instance, tomato production increased from 40 to 60-80 t/ha. Propagation and planting of afang vines and bush mangos have made these species more available as sources of food and income. Consequently, farmer’s income significantly increased from 1-2 to 6-12 US$ a day, resulting in about 4,000 US$ of income in a year.

Increased productivity across communities flooded the market with vegetables, driving down market prices. As a response, the project provided farmers with solar driers to dry and store the vegetable surplus so that they could sell them later in the season after prices rose, and through partnership with RISEUP, farmers’ solar-dried pepper packaged for sale at local and international markets (Figure 2). The adoption of solar dryers to preserve food that would have gone to waste enabled each household to make 10-12 US$ daily, generating about 3,650 US$ additional income per year.

To improve the value chain and increase market value of the products, the GEF SGP through additional grant supported RISEUP to obtain certificate from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to enable the farmers to sell their farm products to bigger markets, including supermarkets and restaurants in the cities.

Sustainable land management through reforestation

Forest conservation on over 220 ha was improved through trainings on sustainable management and propagation of bush mango and afang seedlings (Figure 3). Reforestation efforts with these seedlings on degraded farmland further reduced pressure on wild bush mango and afang populations, by making these forest products more locally available. In addition, reforestation with fruit and nut trees helped to restore previous degraded land by reducing topsoil erosion and renewing soil organic matter. The drip irrigation technology reduced consumption, especially during the dry season, of critical water reserves.

Figure 3: Farmer demonstration of the cultivation, propagation and management of afang (UNEP 2017)
Figure3: Farmer demonstrationof the cultivation, propoagation and management of afang
© GEF SGP, UNDP 2017
Sharing benefits with women and youth

Women were included in marketing of the packaged vegetables, giving them more control of agricultural income and how these earnings were used. For example, through the extra income generated by the dried and package vegetables, women chose to pay school fees and send more children to school. At schools, training programmes taught children about sustainable management of forest crops, enabling 479 secondary students to participate in vegetative propagation of afang from vine cuttings and assist their parents in reforestation (UNDP Nigeria 2021).


Agroecological approaches, combined with NGO-supported access to improved seeds and irrigation technologies, helped farmers to intensify vegetable production. The livelihood benefits of this improved productivity, in tandem with reforestation of forest species valued as food and income sources, reduced pressure on wild populations. Agroecological management of wild and cultivated areas thus increased the social and environmental sustainability of farming and food production in Odubu. After observing the positive outcomes of the new practices, six neighbouring communities also implemented the approach, spreading the benefits to more farmers and landscapes in the area (UNDP 2017).


  • Eni, D.I, Upla, J.I., Oko, C.O., Obiefuna, J.N., Njar, G.N. 2010. Effects of Land Degradation on Soil Productivity in Calabar South Local Government Area, Nigeria. European Journal of Social Sciences 18: 166-171.
  • FAO 2021. Nigeria at a glance. http://www.fao.org/nigeria/fao-in-nigeria/nigeria-at-a-glance/en/
  • UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). 2017. Community Approaches to Sustainable Land Management and Agroecology Practices. UNDP, New York, 61 p.
  • UNDP Nigeria 2021. Reforestation protects the environment, increases food supply and income. United Nations Development Programme. https://www.ng.undp.org/content/nigeria/en/home/ourwork/environmentandenergy/successstories/Reforestation.html
  • Ushie, M.A., Josephat, O.O., Egidi, S.A., Ushie, C.A. 2020. Population Distribution, Density and Development Indicators in Nigeria: The Cross River State Example. IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science 25(5): 1-4. http://www.iosrjournals.org/iosr-jhss/papers/Vol.%2025%20Issue5/Series-2/A2505020104.pdf
  • World Bank 2020. Employment in agriculture – Nigeria. Work Bank Data. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.AGR.EMPL.ZS?locations=NG