The silver lining in the Covid-19 pandemic dark cloud is the revival of the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA). President Muhammadu Buhari last week gifted the Nigerian farming family with the pleasant news and appointed a tested technocrat, Prince Paul Ikonne, as Executive Secretary, to superintend Nigeria’s vast agricultural asset.
Prince Ikonne’s appointment came about the same time the President pulled another rod from the fire by appointing Professor Ibrahim Gambari as the new Chief of Staff to replace Malam Abba Kyari who died of the Covid-19 pandemic about a month ago.
The agency was established by the administration of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida vide Decree No. 92 of 1992 to execute a National Agricultural Land Development Programme that would address the chronic problem of low levels of utilization of abundant farmland and rural labour resources as well as the high cost of land development. Its goal was the optimal use of the nation’s land and human resources to uplift the quality of rural life.
It had a Directorate in each of the 36 states of the country with its operational headquarters in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
It was strategically positioned as an intervention agency as a development strategy tailored to resolve some major constraints that had militated against the growth and development of small-scale agriculture. This was in addition to addressing issues of land development, extension and input distribution, farmer mobilization, empowerment, rural industrialization and skill development all over the country.
The revival of NALDA probably shows that the National Economic Team is thinking and working in the right direction by possibly advising the President on the need to revive the most critical vehicle required for the nation’s agricultural revolution.
Some of the objectives of NALDA in intervening in the crisis in the Nigerian agricultural sector are to provide income and employment opportunities for people in the rural areas. This is with a view to raising rural incomes and general living standards in rural Nigeria and contributing meaningfully towards the attainment of national food and fibre self-reliance, self-sufficiency and national food security.
For more than two decades, Nigerian policy makers and development planners have been grappling with the ways and means of resolving the crisis in the agricultural sector of the nation’s economy. This crisis became much more pronounced in the early 1970s that ushered in the oil boom when it became clear that neglect and disarray in the disposition of production resources had led to the collapse of peasant export commodity production.
During the period, the international crude oil market witnessed an upswing and the nation’s economic base shifted from agriculture to crude oil. Consequently, agriculture was neglected, so much so that by 1975/76, it only accounted for 24.5 per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as opposed to 65.9 per cent in 1958/59.
By the year 1975, crude oil alone accounted for 92.7 per cent of the nation’s export earnings. Since then, the nation had found it increasingly difficult to feed her teeming population and meet the raw material needs of her growing industries domestically. The nation, therefore, resorted to importation of food and raw materials to meet these needs. For instance, food imports rose from $46m in 1965 to $1bn in 1980 which gave an annual growth rate of about 28.37 per cent. This was the food situation at the close of the 1970s such that, Nigeria which before 1962, was the world’s largest exporter of palm produce, had to import 1,002 tonnes of vegetable oil in 1976 and 178,488 tonnes in 1977.
The NALDA would have made a huge difference and pulled us back from total dependence on oil. But ironically, the agency was scrapped in 2002, 10 years into its existence, by an administration headed by Olusegun Obasanjo, a professed farmer that authored Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) during his military regime between 1976 and 1979.
The return of the agency could not have come at a better time. The post-Covid-19 era calls for proactive measures in view of the massive outputs of harvested foodstuffs being acquired and distributed all over the country as palliatives. The depletion will definitely trigger off food crises which can only be tackled through pragmatic and strategic approach.
The Executive Secretary is coming on board with vast experience as a two-time Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Planning as well as Works and Transport in Abia state. Judging by his pedigree, he comes across as a round peg in a round hole. He is expected to drive Nigeria’s agricultural revolution by stimulating rural farming communities into stronger production and also attract big mechanised agricultural investments.
The revived agency has lost a lot of mileage. Prince Ikonne and his team are expected to hit the ground running if they are to lead the nation towards food sufficiency and security at a time of a near total collapse of earnings from oil export. They also need to justify the return of the NALDA at the time the federal government is purring over scrapping and/or merging ministries, departments and agencies owing to the grim reality of the economic meltdown precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.