Lifestyle & Culture
Harnessing the power of Nigeria’s diverse food cultures to drive economic growth.

Harnessing the power of Nigeria’s diverse food cultures to drive economic growth.

Author: Samuel Ejekukor.

Growing up as a child of a baker and caterer, i had always been fascinated by the aroma, flavours and preparation of Nigerian food. Curious as to what spices and herbs my mother put into the pot that filled the house with so much aroma and how passionately my dad kneaded the bread dough to complement the steaming pot of Agoin Beans. The joy of watching my parents cook up indigenous meals like the Urohobo Banga soup made from the yellowish-brown liquid extracted from Palm kernel to the Starchy yellow swallow, Usi, painted the perfect blend of dark and light shades of yellow.These childhood memories run wild in my mind as i constantly marvel at how our local food illuminated my home.

Nigeria, home to a broad variety of cultures and ethnic groups, is blessed with a rich and diverse food culture drawn from the different regions of the country. The abundance of staple crops like yams, plantain, rice, millet, Incorporated with local spices and herbs to make indigenous meals reflect the culinary customs of the people. From the popular Northern rice dishes like Tuwon Shinkafa and Masa to the East, Pounded yam and Egusi, the West, Ewa riro, Amala and Ewedu to the Southern Banga soup with Catfish. Beyond these meals, the country has foods that have transcended regional and ethnic confines to become National Meals. These foods include the Jollof and Fried rice, Akara, Moin Moin, Suya, Goat meat pepper soup and the versatile White rice and tomato stew to mention a few.

Despite its rich culinary heritage, Nigeria is struggling with severe economic and social issues, making it known as the “Poverty Capital of the World”. In recent years, the country has faced challenges such as unemployment, unreliable power supply, and insurgency by terrorist groups. While Nigeria experienced significant economic growth between 2000 and 2014, with an average annual growth rate of over 7%, this growth has since declined. Factors contributing to this decline include policy distortions, fiscal deficits, trade protectionism, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, Nigeria’s inflation rate reached a 17-year high of 25.8% in August 2023, pushing millions of Nigerians into poverty.

In this worsening situation it is necessary to look inward and identify new and potential sectors of the Nigerian society that can improve the economy. One of these aspects is in the tourism sector, identified as “gastro economy” which aligns with global tourism trends. By promoting domestic tourism through indigenous cuisine and transforming these food products into internationally sold goods, Nigeria can drive cultural diplomacy, economic growth, and gastronomic understanding. South Korea’s kimchi snack, Peru’s cuisine, the Basque region of Spain, and Denmark serve as successful examples. If Nigeria invests in domestic gastronomy for exports and tourism, it can grow culturally and economically while fostering entrepreneurship and innovation.

Now, Cultural exchange programs are another viable means for promoting cultural interactions and economic growth in Nigeria. Through the creation of platforms such as internships, culinary scholarships and food festivals, by educational institutions, government departments and third party organization, there is room for students and culinary experts to immerse themselves in the unique regional flavours. Through this exchange, knowledge on local ingredients, recipes, and cooking techniques can be shared, enabling fusions that foster innovation and economic growth. These partnerships can lead to the creation of new culinary experiences, enabling Nigerian food entrepreneurs to be globally recognized.

Agro-tourism is also an innovative way for tourists to experience indigenous farming practices and familiarize themselves with the local culture. It involves visiting farms or ranches for educational, transactional, or excursion purposes. The benefits include increased tourist spending, exchange of ideas with farmers and researchers, international exposure, job creation, and promotion of local products. By showcasing the authentic Nigerian farming experience, visitors not only gain a deeper understanding of indigenous food production but also contribute to the local economy.

Finally, just as local food practices illuminated my home, likewise harnessing the power of  Nigeria’s diverse food cultures can strengthen the nation’s economy. By embracing and promoting these diverse food cultures through modern and innovative mediums, Nigeria can effectively foster economic growth, create jobs, encourage regional development, and boost the country’s global image. It is pivotal for policymakers, private institutions, local communities and us as Nigerians to join hands and invest in this untapped potential to ensure Nigeria’s food cultures becomes the destination for economic empowerment and sustainable development.


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