By Joseph Chibueze
There was a time when agriculture was the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. Then it was cocoa in the West, Groundnuts in the North and Palm oil in the East. The regions then competed amongst themselves economically.
The magic of those days which today could be referred to as the golden era of agriculture in Nigeria was not wrought by peasant farmers doing their subsistent farming, there was a deliberate and strategic plan by the regional governments of the day to develop the agricultural sector.
The farm settlement scheme which they ran in those days was actually an intervention of the government to promote efficient utilisation of land resources and dignify farming by the provision of basic social needs to attract young and educated persons to farming. The outcome was phenomenal and till tomorrow, Nigerians still remember the groundnut pyramids.
That was the situation long before Nigeria’s Independence in 1960.
Nigerians are still having nostalgic feelings about those good old days and almost all the time wishing they could set the hand of the clock back. But it appears the country is on the match again to glory.
The recent inauguration of the first of six planned integrated farm estates by the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA), shows that the country has not forgotten where it started its aborted journey to glory.
When in June 2020, the President, Muhammadu Buhari resuscitated the moribund NALDA, he gave the agency a mandate to ensure Nigeria achieves self-sufficiency in food production and mass youth employment.
One year after its reactivation, NALDA has shown that with the right support, Nigeria can actually rule the world in terms of agriculture.
The integrated farm estate that was inaugurated sits on a 100-hectare land donated by the Katsina State government. The estate has the capacity to engage over 1,500 youths and women productively and to generate over N1.7 billion within the first year of its operation.
The inauguration was performed by the President himself who attested to the fact that with the speed NALDA is going, the journey to pulling 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in less than 10 years was well in progress.
Buhari commended NALDA for being resolute in the effort to ensure Nigeria achieves food security for the citizens.
Executive Secretary/Chief Executive of NALDA, Prince Paul Ikonne gives details of facilities available in the estate which he said comprises 40 poultry pens with a capacity of over 400,000 birds, Fish ponds with a capacity of 200,000 fish, Cow and Goat pens with a capacity of 500 animals, rabbit pens with a capacity of 3,000 rabbits, bee apiary with a capacity of 540 litres of honey per harvest, crop farming, packaging and processing zones.
He said that the 100 hectares Integrated Farm Estate has a school, clinic and a residential area, with 120 units of one-bedroom apartments for the farmers and their families to live and work on the farm.
That is not all, according to him, “The integrated farm has a processing and packaging zone for fish, chicken and pepper, he added that farmers from outside the estate will also have their products, especially pepper processed and packaged so they can get more value.
“The farmers would be trained on best agricultural practices in crop farming, livestock, poultry, rabbits and fish farming. Sustainable development is the only way to promote rational utilisation of resources and environmental protection,” Ikonne said.
This was exactly what it was in the 50s with the farm settlement scheme, the plots of land which vary from 2, 000 to 8, 000 acres are made available in economic holdings on a leasehold basis to selected young men. Each settler was provided with supervised credit and there were common services for the processing of crops, drying, storage, marketing, purchase of fertilisers, insecticides, fungicides, tools and equipment.
It is interesting that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has taken special interest in the activities of NALDA as the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele promised at the inauguration of the estate that the apex Bank would work with NALDA to explore the potential of providing affordable and accessible finance to the beneficiaries under the agricultural scheme to scale up productivity.
So far, the Authority has identified and recovered NALDA farm estates in Gombe, Borno, Adamawa, Taraba, Niger, Kebbi, Oyo, Imo, Katsina, Lagos, Ekiti, Delta, Bauchi, Yobe, Kaduna, Benue, Kogi, Osun, Anambra, Akwa Ibom and Abia States.
Applauding the reactivation of the farm estate system in Nigeria, National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) Arc. Kabir Ibrahim said agriculture in Nigeria is once again getting a boost.
While encouraging the leadership of NALDA to remain focused and not be distracted, he also advised that it should always seek advice from stakeholders to avoid mistakes. He also advised that the management of the estates must not be left to government but be handed over to the private sector, but supervised by government.
Also reacting to the new drive by NALDA, President, Rice Millers Association of Nigeria (RIMAN) Mr Peter Dama, said it is a welcome development that NALDA is back. He advised that NALDA should also support farmers by hiring equipment for them at subsidised rates.