The Local Food System in Nigeria

Agriculture is one of the most critical aspects of education that I (a UTMartin student from Nigera)  had to learn in school and throughout our communities.  When I spent holidays in the village, my grandmother would have tomatoes, yam, pepper, vegetable leaves, plantains, watermelons, and paw-paws planted everywhere around her house.  With all this fresh food growing around the house, we did not need to purchase as much food. Even in her old age, my grandmother would use a hoe, cutlass (machete), and other farming equipment to clear the weeds or amend the soil.   I was taught about agriculture from middle school to university, but I never became a farmer. Still, what I know is that agriculture is a part of me, thanks to my grandmother who taught me the joys of tasting fresh results from her farming efforts.

Nigeria is at the corner of the Gulf Guinea on the west coast of Africa; it occupies 923,768 sq. km ( 356,669 sq mi). The space occupied by Nigeria is slightly more than twice the size of California or four times the UK’s size. Nigeria has a population of 201 million people (2019); it is ranked at No. 7 as the most populous country in the world; the capital of Nigeria is Abuja which is at the center of the nation, while the largest city in Nigeria is Lagos.

Agriculture is the most important sector of Nigeria’s economy, and it is about 70 % of its labor force.  Agriculture is made up of mostly small-scale farmers. Small farms produce at least 80% of the total food with 76 million acres (33%) of Nigerian lands cultivated.

Agriculture is the largest sector, contributing an average of 24% to the Nigerian GDP measured over the past seven years. Agriculture is divided into four sectors: crop production (87.6%),  livestock (8.1%), fishing (3.2%) and forestry (1.1 %). Major agricultural imports into Nigeria include refined petroleum, wheat, sugar, fish, and milk, while the major exports are sesame seeds, cashew nuts, cocoa beans, ginger, frozen shrimp, and cotton. Wheat dominates agricultural imports. Nigeria is the 48th largest export economy in the world ( 2018).

A man weeds his crop (Source: Nduati Githae, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Agriculture is one of the most critical aspects of education in Nigeria that I had to learn in school and our communities.  When I spent holidays in the village, my grandmother would have tomatoes, yam, pepper, vegetable leaves, plantains, watermelons, and paw-paws planted everywhere around the house.  With all this fresh food growing around the house, we did not need to purchase as much food. Even in her old age, my grandmother would use a hoe, cutlass (machete), and other farming equipment to clear the weeds or amend the soil.   I was taught about agriculture from middle school to university, but I never became a farmer. Still, what I know is that agriculture is a part of me, thanks to my grandmother who taught me the joys of tasting fresh results from her farming efforts.  

Interesting Facts About Nigeria

Nollywood is the nickname for the Nigerian movie industry. It is ranked as the second-largest producer of movies, producing up to 200 every week. Although this is behind Bollywood in India, it’s ahead of Hollywood in production numbers!

There are three significant ethnic groups: Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo, including 250 other ethnics groups. The official language is English. Nigerians have many spoken languages like Yoruba, Igbo, Fula, Hausa, Edo, Ibibio, and Tiv, among others ( we also have Broken English which can be called Pidgin English ). The major religions of the country are Christianity and Islam.

Simple words in some of the languages in Nigeria

  • Yoruba :  Bawo ni? (“baa-wo-knee”)—Hi, how are things?; Daadaa ni (“daadaa knee”)—Fine.
  •  Hausa:  Sannu (“sa-nu”)—Hi; Lafiya? (“la-fee-ya”)— Are you well?
  • Ezigbo ututu (“eh-zig-bu  oo-too-too”)  —Good morning; Kedu ka imere? ( ke-du ki-me-re)—How do you do?; Gini bu aha gi?( gi-ni  bu  a-ha gi)—What is your name?
  • Pidgin or Broken English: How now?“—How are you? or How is it going?; “Which thing you want?“— What do you want?’ “How body?“—How are you health-wise?

Rita’s Favorite Draw Soup Recipe

One of my favorite recipes is Okra soup and Garri or Fufu; Okra soup is a type of soup that is viscous/slimy textured. Draw soup is a term given to certain soups originating from the southeastern and southwestern parts of Nigeria.  My favorite Okra soup is easy to make – after pre-cutting the vegetables you are good to go. You can make it in different ways by adding “Ogbono (botanically known as Irivinga Gabonesis) Ogbono is a species of African wild mango trees that belong to the genus Irvingia.

Ogbono has different names in different parts of the world, but it is hard to find in the States:

  • ogbono –  Igbo people
  • goron – Hausa people
  • ogwi – Benin people
  • mbukpabuyo – Ibibio people and Efik people
  • oro by the Yoruba people
  • manguier by the French people
  • apioro by the Delta people.

It is not necessary to add ogbono to the Okra Soup Recipe, but in Nigeria, if you want the okra to be more viscous/slimy texture, you can add ogbono (the African wild mango seeds) to the soup.

Okra Soup is the choice Nigerian soup when you want to start giving your toddler adult food. This is because not only is Okra Soup very rich in vitamins, it is also very easy for the kids to swallow due to its slimy nature. And it tastes good too!

There is also the classic Okra Soup for grown-ups which has more added ingredients.

Ingredients for Nigerian Okra Soup (modified for Kids)


Before you cook the Kiddies Okra Soup…

Cut the okra fingers into tiny pieces. Grind the crayfish. Wash the pumpkin leaves (or spinach), and cut into tiny pieces. If you will use spinach, defrost and cut into tiny pieces.

Wash, cut and boil the fish. Leave to cool and debone.

Cooking Directions

  1. Pour red palm oil in a clean dry pot and heat to dissolve the oil if it is congealed. Add the diced okra and start frying on medium heat, add some fish stock (or water) from time to time till you notice the okra start to draw. This process should take a maximum of 5 minutes to avoid over-cooking the okra.
  2. Now add the ground crayfish, the remaining fish stock, pumpkin leaves (or spinach), a pinch of salt and the fish and stir well.
  3. Cover the cooking pot and leave to simmer for 5 minutes.

The soup is ready to be served with mashed potatoes, Semolina or Pounded Yam.

( This recipe is from the All Nigerian Recipes; Nigerian Okra Soup | All Nigerian Recipes. You are welcome and free to check out other Nigerian recipes).

What is Bitter Leaf?

Bitter leaf is known as Vernonia amygdalina; it grows mostly in different parts of Subsaharan Africa. The plant can be used in traditional medicinal practice. The leaf can be used to treat malaria, typhoid, diabetes, diarrhea, tuberculosis, gallstones, and kidney disease. Also, it can be used to prevent cancer and lowering hypertension. The leaf has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Bitter leaf can be used to prepare different types of soup, for example, okra soup, ogbono soup, egusi soup, and bitter leaf soup,, etc…

Agriculture is part of the daily life of a Nigerian. It is very important to us. It’s something we had to do to  survive. It is something that has been passed down from generation to generation.

-Rita Nwedo

LFN Team Blogger

Dyer County FFA Welcomes New Baby Goats to School Farm

Dyer County FFA in Newbern, Tenn. welcomed their eighth baby goat on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.

The FFA chapter began their kidding season on Jan. 22, and in only 10 days, they had eight baby goats to care for. In total, the chapter currently has 25 goats on their farm including six does, one buck and now eight kids. The herd of goats are housed in the on-campus barn at Dyer County High School. There is also an additional pasture that is utilized for goats at the old high school location which is now Northview Middle School. The chapter will have its second wave of kids in the middle of March.

Students have the access and opportunity to get the full experience with the chapter’s goat operation, through the showing process or through their agriculture courses. Students receive a hands-on learning experience with the kidding and birthing process, vaccinating, breeding, parasite maintenance and more.

“They (students) help do everything that is needed to maintain the goat herd and the farm,” said Brittany Leitherland, an agriculture instructor and FFA advisor at Dyer County High School.

Dyer County FFA is heavily involved when it comes to showing goats. After their kidding season in the early spring, the chapter hosts livestock meetings to find out which students are interested in showing that season. Those interested students are given two options of either purchasing or leasing a goat from their herd for the show season.

“The purpose is for students to have show animals that can be housed here on campus if they don’t have access to housing them or keeping them at home,” Leitherland explained.

The students then get to work with their chosen goat all summer long in order to prepare for the fall show season. They get to practice walking, halter breaking and other skills with their own quality goat that they are getting at an affordable price. Dyer County FFA even hosts livestock camps and mock livestock shows where they help students practice.

“They (the goats) provide an opportunity for kids to have their own project while being involved in our chapter,” shares Leitherland. “It definitely gives them a sense of responsibility and ownership in having something of their own to care for and work with and dedicate their time to.”

Dyer County FFA began their goat herd in 2008 when six commercial does were purchased to start the goat program and has continued to grow ever since.

-Amber Graves

LFN Team Blogger

Resetting the Table: Solving Inequality and Racism through Food

In many ways, Covid-19 has boiled over long-simmering problems plaguing America’s food system. Labor has always been at the heart of the food system – economically, politically, and ethically. Our country was founded with slavery who supported the demands to produce enough food and commodities for the economic benefit of the few. 

Although chattel slavery no longer exists in our country, our country has never recovered from the impacts of slavery on our nation. Racist policies impacted the planning of our cities and towns creating segregated neighborhoods. These marginalized neighborhoods were kept from quality grocery stores, our children herded into segregated school systems and forced to use separate water fountains & bathrooms, among other issues. These policies divided American citizens based off of skin color. Even after the Civil Rights Movement, when the Jim Crow laws were finally abolished, the problem of accessing quality food is still here to this day.  Access to quality, healthy food is a constant issue for populations in residentially segregated communities (source: “The dynamics between the food environment and residential segregation” by Ferzana Havewala).

The problem of segregated population policy not only affected African Americans, but Native Americans, too. America’s history shows our Native American populations being uprooted from their native hunting lands and then moved to a land unwanted by many. They were provided government issued commodities to survive with food items such as flour and sugar which were not commonly found in their cultural diets.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed further light on existing racial disparities in the U.S. food system and its impact on our overall health and well-being.  “The primary barriers of accessing healthy food is cost,” noted Alison Hope Alkon who co-authored “Foodways of the Urban Poor”.

African, Hispanic and Native American populations in the states have increasing food related health disparities including heart disease, obesity, stroke, and diabetes (source: The health problems many of us have, differential of the color of our skin, is a systems problem. Our health problems are rooted in our national and local food system policies.

Our current agricultural workforce includes those who work as farm laborers, food factory workers, and food service workers – without them we don’t eat; however, most farm laborers, those who hand-pick our fruits and vegetables, process our chickens, and cook our hamburgers earn low wages.

Labor is a critical issue for farmers seeking to scale-up production to supply emerging markets for their products and to meet business and family income goals. But in an environment of diminishing labor, escalating wages and narrow profit margins, finding, managing, training and retaining productive farm crews are proving to be a fluid puzzle with many moving parts. 

Racism and inequality issues in our food system is not new. What is new is the urgency and opportunity in this moment to make transformative progress.

“Solutions need to critically engage political economic structures and cultural traditions while we work on ameliorative measures to improve labor conditions in present time.  However, rather than “making do” with the systems, traditions, and practices we have inherited from the past, we must remake the world of work, valorizing and valuing agrifood labor,” noted Yamashita and Robinson in the edition of Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (4/1/2016), “Labor in the food system, from farm to table.”

Food brings communities together. “Food justice activists based in low-income communities of color have developed community-based solutions, arguing that activities like urban agriculture, nutrition education, and food-related social enterprises can drive systemic social change,” is quoted from GM Broad’s book More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change.

“Healthy food retailers—grocery stores; farmers’ markets; cooperatives; mobile markets; and other vendors of fresh, affordable, nutritious food—are critical components of healthy, thriving communities,” states in the research paper Access to Health Food and Why it Matters. “Without access to healthy foods, a nutritious diet and good health are out of reach. And without grocery stores and other fresh food retailers, communities are also missing the commercial vitality that makes neighborhoods livable and helps local economies thrive.”

Key questions for policy improvements include 1) how can our communities reverse the alarming rise in food insecurity as a result of COVID-19 and, 2) how can our policies contribute to eliminating the systemic racism in our food system (that leaves Black and indigenous people and other people of color with higher rates of diet-related disease, more food insecurity, less land ownership, and poorer paying and more unsafe food jobs), and 3)how can we address a way to ensure that our food policy can benefit rather than harm our country’s farmers and immigrant work force.

We need to build an inclusive, united front with a new vocabulary – one that engrains dignity, improved health outcomes, economic justice, racial equity, universal school meals, and respecting workers and educators through collective action into all that we do.

The Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network (LFN) has a very simple solution – grow, share, sell and eat real food. Growing your own food is a way to break this cycle of poverty, break down the barriers of racism, improve community economic conditions, and empower all to take better care of themselves, their neighbors, and their land.

The LFN is a small nonprofit based out of Martin, Tennessee, whose mission is to serve as a catalyst for a thriving and equitable local food system that is accessible to ALL. We envision a sustainable regional food system that utilizes locally grown and produced foods to promote healthy individuals, equitable communities and thriving local economies. Will you join us to work towards developing answers to the key questions posed as we strengthen our local food system together? We have information, volunteer opportunities, and educational resources on our website at and Facebook page @NWTNLFN.

Co-written by:
Samantha Goyret, Executive Director, Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network and
Joyce Washington, President, Weakley County Reconciliation Project, and Social Justice Advocate

Additional Resources and Information:

Got Local Food?

Do you grow food? Do you make artisan foods? Do you have chickens with eggs for sale? Are you a beekeeper? Do you own a food truck or restaurant? Do you sell plants? Do you raise or process freezer beef/pork? Are you involved in agri-tourism or have a u- pick farm? Does your organization provide food relief? Are you interested in providing fresh local food to our county schools? Would you like to support your local food system? 

If you are currently involved in any of the above practices or are looking to get involved but don’t know where to start, the NWTN Local Food Network (LFN) is here to help. We are a diverse network of local individuals who want to see our community thrive and flourish in the coming years. With all of us working together and bringing our unique skills and talents to be shared we can ensure that healthy meals are easily available to all of our neighbors in need. 

The NWTN Local Food Network’s Local Food Guide is a FREE directory of locally produced foods and family farms in Northwest Tennessee. Whether you are a backyard gardener, small-scale farmer, or large scale farmer – all are invited to register for FREE. Residents throughout the region use the guide to find family farms, farmers markets, wineries/distilleries, restaurants, food artisans and bakers, farm stores and stands, pumpkin patches, u-pick farms, CSAs, animal products, beekeepers, processors, food trucks, locally featured food in restaurants, locally owned plant vendors, and food relief organizations. 

This year the LFN is working to establish and expand our farm to school program which will increase locally grown food in schools for our children to enjoy a fresh healthy meal straight from the source. Through community partnerships, the LFN is also working to engage our community through local and sustainable food practices and how anybody can grow, harvest and prepare delicious meals from their own hands. 

Any business or organization mentioned in the categories above are invited to fill out the FREE registration form on the upcoming Northwest Tennessee Local Food Guide 2021 by Friday, February 26, 2021 online at: (please note: personal addresses will not show on the listing, but it is needed to mark your business on the regional map).

For more information or to purchase an ad to support the printing costs, please message call Lynette Wagster, General Manager of the Weakley County Press at 731-587-3144  or email

The Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network is a local nonprofit organization based out of Martin, TN serving as a catalyst for a thriving and equitable local food system that is accessible to ALL. This year’s 2021 NWTN Local Food Guide will be distributed throughout the 9-county region of Northwest Tennessee starting in May 2021. Registration is due by February 26th. 

-William King

LFN Team Blogger