A water policy coherence agenda for Nigeria’s agri-food systems transformation

Policy coherence is required to bridge the gap between policy intent and implementation. 

Taking a look at what is required to bridge the gap between policy intent and implementation. 

By Charity Osei-Amponsah, Maimouna Tall and Sarah Appiah

A man cuts a drain to provide irrigation for his crops. Frank Rijsberman / IWMI
A man cuts a drain to provide irrigation for his crops. Frank Rijsberman / IWMI

Imagine a world without water. It’s nearly impossible, isn’t it? Water is the lifeblood of our planet, and in Nigeria, it’s no different. Water is critical for the transformation of agri-food systems and if the resource does not receive the needed attention, many more Nigerians will be food insecure. The National Water Resources Policy (2016) of Nigeria, says, ‘water is undoubtedly the most important natural resource the country has’. Yet, paradoxically, it remains one of the most “undervalued and neglected” resources.

The stakes? A burgeoning food crisis could leave millions hungry, impoverished and poor. The World Bank’s Outlook for Nigeria in April 2023 estimates that 13 million people will fall below the national poverty line by 2025. With a Global Hunger Index ranking of 103 out of 121 countries in 2022 and 63% of the population living in multidimensional poverty, Nigeria is at a crossroads.

Unraveling the policy web: Where is the gap?

Factors contributing to the challenging situation include water scarcity especially in the northern region of the country, food price inflation, conflicts and insecurity in farming communities partly due to competing claims on water resources.

Despite the interconnected and multi-faceted nature of the challenges, formulating and implementing policies on agrifood systems have mostly been done in silos. This has led to a maze of uncoordinated efforts, underfunding, and narrow scope, thus hampering the achievement of desired agri-food outcomes. There is therefore the need for better policy coherence: an attribute of policy that systematically reduces conflicts and promotes synergies between and within different policy areas to achieve the outcomes associated with jointly agreed policy objectives. However, there is limited research for development on the extent of policy coherence and integrated governance processes in Nigeria’s water-related policies and institutional landscape.

How do we ensure policy coherence for systems transformation?

Ensuring policy coherence requires paying close attention to the following:

Normative Coherence: From policy objective to tangible impact

Normative policy coherence is about how a policy influences critical impact areas such as food security, poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs, and gender equality. Our research findings indicate that the implementation of the National Water Policy of Nigeria (2016) has made available water for crops irrigation, livestock and fish production.

Horizontal Coherence: The art of policy synchronization

Horizontal policy coherence relates to how different policies complement or contradict each other. The National Water Policy complements food, land and other water policies across common goals of poverty reduction, enhanced livelihoods, sustainable development, food and nutrition security and job and wealth creation, increased agricultural yields and productivity, eradication of diseases and sustainable environment. But some institutional incoherencies have been identified. For example, the National Water Policy empowers both the Chief Executive Officers of River Basins and the Ministers of Water Resources and Solid Minerals to license the management of water bodies, causing conflicts in mandates and the management of the water bodies. Also, land clearing using tractors set out in the Land and Agriculture Promotion Policies for large-scale farming contradicts the objective of “improv[ing] the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity” in the biodiversity-related policy.

Vertical Coherence: The Symphony of Governance (and implementation)

Vertical coherence centers on how the policies are aligned across different levels of governance. About 70.4% of key informants perceived that usually, the federal, states and local government administrators responsible for the formulation and implementation of the National Water Policy, coordinate their activities harmoniously. However, in some cases, water projects approved at the federal level and communicated to the states through the River Basin Authorities and then State Water Corporation or Agency, may not get to the Local Government Authorities, due to long bureaucratic processes and conflicting mandates.

Financial Coherence: Where Funding Meets Vision

Financial coherence investigates mainly the financial resource availability and the consistency of administration procedures in line with the implementation of a policy. All the stakeholders interviewed for a study on the ‘policy coherence of Food, Land and Water Systems in Nigeria’ generally perceived that the government has not committed sufficient funding to the implementation of the water and other agri-food-related policies.

The way forward

Water is more than just a resource; it’s a unique central factor to addressing the food value chain challenges. Thus, to achieve the transformation of agri-food systems, it is critical to leverage existing policy coherencies while addressing the incoherencies in the National Water Policy. The water system in Nigeria has high potential for farmer-led irrigation and the development of efficient agricultural supply chains to drive the much-needed transformation.

The CGIAR Initiative on National Policies and Strategies and the International Water Management Institute are joining forces to respond to the contextual policy challenges through knowledge generation on the nature of policy (in)coherencies; pathways to building stronger policy coherencies; and capacity strengthening on integrating policy tools and responding to crisis. With focused research, knowledge generation, and capacity building, this united front aims to lay the groundwork for stronger, and more harmonized governance frameworks.

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