By Philomina Attah
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, says rice importation into Nigeria has dropped by 95 per cent in the last two years.
Ogbeh said this on Thursday in Abuja at the first Annual NACCIMA-NIRSAL Agribusiness and Policy Linkage Conference, which has “Implementing the Agriculture Component of the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP)’’ as its theme.
The conference was organised by the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), in collaboration with the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing system for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL).
The minister said that the country had made a lot of progress in efforts to stop rice importation, adding that the feats were a plus to the national economy.
“One example of our success is in rice. By September 2015, the country was importing 644,131 tonnes of rice. Exactly two years later, that is Sept 2017, rice importation drops to 20, 000 tonnes.
“The drop is about 95 per cent. However, smugglers have been very busy, trying to sabotage and compromise the country’s efforts to stop rice importation.
“There are 12.2 million people growing rice in the country, producing paddy for the rice mills.
“In Kano State alone, we have 1,421 rice mills. We have large paddy fields in Anambra, Ebonyi, Nasarawa, Jigawa, Kebbi state and more are coming up,’’ he said.
Ogbeh said that the achievement was because of the Federal Government’s policy to stop rice importation.
He said that agriculture was strictly private sector-driven, adding that the government did not have any intention to engage in farming but to initiate policies that would be favourable for private sector investments.
“Government has no farm and cannot attempt to farm. If we try, it will be disastrous. Farming business belongs to the private sector.
“That is why in our new policy called the Green Alternative agriculture production programme, we spelt it out clear that agriculture is private sector-driven.
“All that government can do is to lay out policy and try to ensure that the private sector succeeds when it gets involved in agriculture. We cannot solve all the problems in a year or two but we will certainly make some progress,’’ he said.
He said that the government would also try and make interest rate on agricultural loans a single digit, adding that agriculture could not thrive under loans with high interest rates.
On the challenges and recommendations identified at the conference, Ogbeh pledged that the ministry would follow them up and present them to the National Council on Agriculture and Rural Development for further action.
The Managing Director of NIRSAL, Mr Aliyu Abdulhameed, said that the conference was in line with the Federal Government’s policy on private-public collaboration to make agriculture a business.
“What you see today is exactly what the Federal Government is looking at. How can the private sector lead and how can policy support the leadership of the private sector?
“What you observed today is the mandate of NIRSAL, as handed to us by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). How do you get actors from the value chain, from primary production, all the way through processes, retailing and domestic markets, to export?
“How do you get the actors financed in a systematic way? NACCIMA represents the private sector here. There are two value chains here too: the finance value chain and agricultural value chain.
“We will all come together, that is NIRSAL and NACCIMA, to operate in the policy space into the public-private partnership (PPP) agenda of the Federal Government to spur progress.
“The only way we can do this is to take up the agricultural component of the ERGP by working with NACCIMA and other actors such as Nigeria Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC), Bank of Agriculture (BOA).
“Others to work with are Bank of Industry (BOI) and other agencies of government so as to start putting projects on the ground within the shortest possible time.
“We are talking of a period between December 2017 and December 2018. There must be results in Nigeria,’’ he said.
Also speaking, the President of NACCIMA, Mrs Alaba Lawson, said that all hands must be on deck to make headway in terms of treating agriculture as a business in the country.
“This is action time, not talking time, and we are all ready. NACCIMA, as the umbrella of the organised private sector, is ready.
“NAIC will do the insurance for us, NIRSAL is derricking, while the Federal Government, through the minister of agriculture, is making sure that all funding will attract a single digit rate; definitely, there must be actions and results.
“In unity lies our strength, everybody must work. NACCIMA, being the umbrella for the organised private sector, will disseminate the outcome of the conference to all our members, chambers round the country,’’ she said.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Ogbeh later inaugurated the members of the conference recommendations implementation task force and charged them to start work immediately.
The conference, which ended on Thursday, was aimed at creating a networking platform for private sector organisations within the agricultural space to interact and come up with recommendations on how to implement the agriculture component of the ERGP. (NAN)