Economic diversification has become the hottest topic of discourse in recent times. It is common knowledge that over-reliance on waning oil receipts has left us in an economic muddle.
Blessed with arable landmass throughout the country, the prospect of a comprehensive agricultural upgrade provides a canvass for effective augmentation through farming.
Hitherto, many important stakeholders of different allegiances have been vocal, calling on the leadership of past and present regimes to realign their focus to the expansion of the agricultural sector. It is clear that, if adequately invested upon, its potential to serve as a reliable revenue conduit is undeniable. And with the country’s rising debt profile, another major channel of cash returns would prove invaluable.
Luckily, a renewed sense of optimism towards actualising this life-long goal has come in the form of the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA). Formed in 1992 under the military rule of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, the agency suffered an initial identity blip 20 years ago, during the fusion of agencies in the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration (2000).
Nevertheless, the agency has since made a full comeback after it was revived in 2016 by President Muhammadu Buhari. Four years on, the institution’s renaissance to achieve greater heights has been inspired by the zest and glowing invigoration of the newly-appointed executive secretary, Prince Paul Ikonne. His plans to establish an agricultural backbone as a means to provide job opportunities for the youth has received state and federal backing alike.
The agency aims at guaranteeing food security through the acquisition and development of uncultivated land for agricultural purposes. A key part involves the optimum utilisation of Nigeria’s rural land resources.
Beneficial short-term programmes have spear-headed contemporary farming inputs in the form of improved machinery, fertilizers, seeds, crop protection agents and growth enhancers. Farmers will be educated on the latest technologies, skill-set to improve yield this farming season.
Also, the agency, led by Ikonne, supports economy-size farm holdings while consolidating failing farm businesses with bailout funds to generate net income from farming through exportation.
All these initiatives open doors for massive youth employment in the country, further enriching the nation’s cash reserves and sustaining living standards above the poverty line. It also offers a chance to level income inequalities between rural and urban regions. NALDA will work to facilitate appropriate cost-effective agricultural mechanisation, instituting strategic land use planning schemes to deal with major allocation problems, including the location and creation of forest and grazing reserves and other areas with restricted use, if need be.
According to Section 3 of the NALDA act, power to acquire tracts of rural land can only be vetoed on the grounds of community ownership and development right. Lands acquired in rural settlements would also be used to promote peasant farming to help struggling villagers.
Secondly, land for development by the authority shall be donated by the local and state governments or the participating community and such land shall be free of any encumbrances, devoid of any payment or compensation of any kind.
Another aspect set to gain from NALDA objectives is livestock farming. An establishment of vast poultry, cattle, horse ranching installments and so on are heavy on its to-do list.
President Buhari has shown willingness to invest in the agricultural sector since his election in 2015. He made his stance clear when he stated that “we must produce what we eat.” This is coupled with Ikonne’s tenacious approach in projecting agriculture as a source of wealth creation in the country. It is the President’s vision to use agriculture as poverty alleviation tool to lift destitute Nigerians from the shackles of penury. According to President Buhari in 2019, shutting the land border with Benin was done to curb smuggling and rekindle domestic food production in the country.
In addition, President Buhari, seeking to revolutionise agriculture, recently launched a $1.2 billion programme to create about five million jobs and inject over N10 billion into the economy within 10 years. The programme will be achieved by reactivating six motor assembly plants in the six-geopolitical zones of the country for assembling tractors and other mechanised implements.
The Federal Government, in conjunction with NALDA, has introduced an initiative called the “Buhari Young Farmers Network.” The collaboration is intended to also inject 77,400 young farmers across the nation into the Nigerian farming business, ranging from crop farming to animal husbandry. These young farmers are going to emanate from the 774 local governments with a ratio of 100 youths per local government.
To carry out a project of such magnitude, partnership with government agencies, institutions and even international bodies is imperative and, hopefully, Prince Ikonne ensures this.
His credentials as a former commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Planning in Abia State bring a wealth of experience in the land development industry leaving him in good stead to perform efficiently.
“Our aim is to make agriculture a business and source of wealth for the country, this we intend to do by increasing palm oil and soya bean export, among others.
“ We are speaking with the military and paramilitary organisations, National Assembly members, public and civil servants, journalists, corporate, religious organisations and individuals on how to put various empty lands to useful purposes,” Prince Ikonne concluded.