Nigeria is a country rife with poverty. Between 1980 and 2010, it saw a drastic 153.6% increase in poverty, even though its per capita GDP rose by about 19% during this period. According to a recent World Bank Report, around four in 10 Nigerians were living in poverty as of 2022, many of them in Northern Nigeria.

However, the production of sesame seeds in Northern Nigeria has been providing hope for the region’s poor. The seed is in major demand around the world and, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Nigeria was the world’s sixth-largest exporter of sesame seeds in 2021, making sesame seeds the country’s second most lucrative export after cocoa. With much sesame seed cultivation concentrated in the north and international demand for sesame seeds expected to continue rising, the seeds are playing a key role in reducing poverty in Northern Nigeria and improving the country’s economy as a whole.

Economic Importance of Sesame Seed in Nigeria

The flowering plant that produces sesame seeds can thrive in Northern Nigeria because it is resistant to drought. It is a high-value crop because both the seeds and the oil extracted from them are common food staples around the world, used in sweets, breads and everyday cooking. Additionally, a variety of non-food products, including ulcer and burn medicines and aerosol sprays, incorporate sesame oil. Lower-quality sesame oil can be used in making lubricants, while the shafts from processed seeds can be used as animal feed.

Nigeria exports an estimated 90% of its sesame seeds, with China and Japan being major importers. According to Sheriff Balogun, president of the National Sesame Seed Association of Nigeria, the country generates $700 million from sesame exports yearly, which equates to about $1400 per metric tonne of exported seed.

While several years ago, only a few Nigerian states were cultivating sesame seed, it is now produced in 26 states, with the country’s top producers being in the north. Exports to Japan, especially, have had a positive impact on Nigeria’s economy. Japan imports about 40% of its sesame seeds from Nigeria, and the trade volume between the two countries reached $1 billion in 2022. Between 2020 and 2021, Nigeria’s income from agricultural exports rose by an estimated 57.02%, a boost that sesame exports, which increased from 98.27 billion naira to 113.2 billion naira, played critical roles in propelling.

Efforts To Boost the Nigerian Economy with Sesame Seed

Despite the poverty and food insecurity that many in Northern Nigeria face, there have been ongoing efforts to help farmers in the region thrive so that they can build a better future for themselves and their families. For instance, the FAO and World Food Programme (WFP) have partnered to help farmers in Northeastern Nigeria improve food production, with the goal of ensuring them a secure source of both income and sustenance. By supplying seeds, fertilizer and food to nourish households until a successful harvest, the initiative provided vital support for all 67,000 inhabitants of the town of Rann in 2018.

More recently, the Japanese Government announced plans to invest $30 billion in Nigeria and other African countries in the next three years. Japan hopes to help further boost Nigeria’s economy and strengthen mutually beneficial trade relations between both nations.

Additionally, the Central Bank of Nigeria has allocated 21 billion Naira to expand Nigeria’s production and export of sesame seeds and cocoa. The initiative aims to increase the country’s foreign exchange income through agricultural commodities, in part by providing loans to smallholder farmers.

Looking Ahead

Though many Nigerians, especially in the north, are struggling with poverty and food insecurity, sesame seed cultivation presents hope for the country’s future economic growth. With continued national and international support, Nigeria’s sesame seed industry shows signs of expanding and paving the way for secure livelihoods and a thriving economy for Nigerians.

Chidinma Nwoha

Photo: Flickr