Lessons from History: The 1972 National Accelerated Food Production Programme
As seen from the mobile phone saga of a few weeks ago, government policies are received differently by different Nigerians. While for the group of Nigerians in their twenties, the news of a policy which is purported to create 3 million jobs and really transform the agriculture sector represents something new and truly unprecedented, for some who have lived through the 60s and 70s, this is just another policy which is doomed to fail. But perhaps each side deserves some credit: the former group for the optimism and confidence that the nation needs to move forward, and the latter for the caution that effective policymaking requires.
At this juncture, a trip down policy memory lane to discover the mistakes of the past and build on important lessons and foundations is imperative. This trip will continue over a series of articles focusing on past agricultural policies in order to enable us steer a more informed course towards a true agricultural revolution.
Let’s start from the very beginning. The exit of the colonial administrators left the Nigerian nationalists with an independent nation and a viable agricultural economy. In the 60s, Nigeria prospered as a food- and raw material-producing and exporting nation. Indeed, between 1960 and 1975, there was a 27.7 percent rise in the production index of the major food crops with a 6.4 percent increase in the production rate of livestock.
In line with the thinking at the time – of creating a developmental state which will spearhead economic prosperity, alleviate poverty and promote self-sufficiency in food production – the government came up with a number of schemes. Under Yakubu Gowon’s government, the National Accelerated Food Production Programme was launched in 1972. The idea behind this project, as the name implies, was to vastly increase the productivity of farmers and by extension, their incomes and standards of living. This was to be achieved through an innovative combination of research and technological improvement, extension, and agro-service delivery.
This accelerated production was particularly geared towards certain food crops: cassava, maize, rice, sorghum, millet and wheat (compare this with 8 crops targeted for value chain expansion and transformation under the 2012 agenda: rice, cassava, sorghum, cocoa, cotton, maize, oil palm). As part of the 1972 programme package, farmers were to receive improved seed varieties and 24,000ha of land was supposed to be cultivated with the engagement of 324,000 farm families. Knowing that this project would need to be adequately financed to ensure a stable supply of inputs, the policy planners were also aware that farmers themselves needed better access to credit. For this reason, the Nigerian Agricultural and Cooperative Bank was created.
This grand scheme achieved some of its goals. It was reported that thousands of extension workers as well as about 75 specialists in crop production were trained for the programme. With the improved varieties, there was a reported tenfold increase in yield, particularly with the wheat crop whose yield exceeded the international standard of 3 tonnes per hectare. Over 50,000 farmers were beneficiaries of the production packages with improved seed varieties.
However, the government’s performance was less impressive when it came to the disbursement of funds and delivery of services and farm inputs. For example, while N18.7 million was allocated between 1977 and 1978, only 37 percent (N7 million) was released. And between 1979 and 1980 only 48.9 percent of the allocated N28 million was released. This happened because state governments failed to fully adopt the scheme – which was supposed to be a joint endeavour between the federal and state governments – in its entirety, making little or no provision for the delivery centres in their budget. As a result, many agro-service centres (ASCs) did not receive allocations from their state ministries. Furthermore, bureaucracy, corruption and red-tapism hampered the efficiency and effectiveness of these service centres.
On the part of smallholder farmers, there was a reluctance to adopt the new practices touted by the extension workers. In practice, it was easier for farmers with large farms and higher disposable incomes – enjoying economies of scale – to adopt improved practices and purchase input and machinery, as the risks were lower. Furthermore, the extension workers were apparently not adequately supervised and empowered to reach the grassroots in all parts of the country. In the end, a higher proportion of those who really benefitted from the programme were already well to do and the gap between their incomes and the incomes of the poorest farmers widened. As for the goal of self-sufficiency, the reverse aim was accomplished – by 1980, the national food import bill had risen to about N1 billion.
Thus, despite all its good intentions and innovative plans, the NAFPP fell far short of expectations. Forty years later, we are still working our way to keep the dream of self-sufficiency and increased food productivity alive. One key takeaway for the new transformation agenda is that the federal, state and local governments must all work together to implement government policies and there must be transparency at every level. Impact assessments must be done to ensure that policies are not only benefitting the wealthy but also, and especially, the smallholder farmers. As mentioned in my last two articles, agricultural financing must be taken very seriously. The nexus among research and technological innovation, extension and service delivery must be made, tightened and embedded within the realms of entrepreneurship, marketing and finance.
Even though Nigerian agricultural policymaking has been characterised by a series of missteps and false starts, all hope is not lost. The success of the new policy will depend on how well lessons from policies past are used as building blocks for the future. And if the government and other stakeholders take notes and remain committed to action and efficient results, we can really accelerate food production this time.