By Lawrence Olaoye
President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered the Ministry of Agriculture, and Rural Development to engage with state governments, the Central Bank if Nigeria (CBN) and the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) to develop support mechanisms for small scale rice millers in the country.
The President gave this order yesterday while meeting with stakeholders in the rice chain at the Presidential Villa.
Buhari also directed the agriculture, finance ministries and the CBN to further discuss the proposal laid before him by the stakeholders expressing the confidence that they could work out implementable programs that could bring down the price of rice in the country.
The President commended the stakeholders for having confidence in his diversification policy by investing over N300 billion into rice production especially at a time the nation was undergoing economic recession.
According to him, his vision on assumption of power was to return the country to the glorious past when the nation mainstay was agriculture where the nation could feed herself.
Tracing the trajectory of rice production in to the country, Buhari said “When we came in 2015, there were thirteen rice mills in Nigeria. Twelve of these were built between 2009 and 2015. This was an average of two mills per annum.
“But my team and I felt more could be done. And we put in place measures and policies to unlock the potential of this sector and thus, increase the rate of investments.
“You will all recall that in November 2015, I was in Birnin Kebbi to launch the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers program and also kick off the dry season rice farming. Since then, the Vice President and I have commissioned a record number of agricultural projects and programs. From rice, to wheat, to cashew, to animal feed, to fertiliser, to drinks processing and many more.
“And very soon, I will also be commissioning a sugar estate. These projects are all over the country and worth billions of Naira. Clearly, our policies are working.
“From your presentation today, you have shown that between 2016 and 2018, eight new rice mills have come on stream. This is equivalent to four new mills per annum. Our paddy production and productivity has also doubled compared to 2014 levels.
“This achievement just confirms what we all know. That when Nigerians are committed to execute a task, it gets done.”
He expressed satisfaction that Nigerians have now embraced agriculture as a profession stressing that “So when we have the youth, the enabling environment and the entrepreneurs, all coming together with the same vision, Nigeria certainly cannot lose.”
The President applauded the stakeholders for signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the farmers, millers and rice dealers is the natural next step.
He said “The coming together of these three stakeholders is a major step forward. Specially, I want to recognise the wholesalers and distributors who today, by agreeing to promote Nigerian products over imports, have demonstrated a welcome patriotism.
“Your commitment has guaranteed that the 11 million Nigerian farmers will remain employed. And I want to assure all of you that this Government will not let you down. We will also do our bit to ensure you are able to sell quality Nigerian rice at an affordable price.”
He gave the assurance that the government would provide quality inputs at affordable prices adding that he had ordered the CBN and commercials banks to support Afro dealers with affordable funding.
The President also assured the rice stakeholders that his administration was resolute in its resolve to battle rice smugglers at the borders and in the markets just as he added that the government would not relent in its investments into infrastructure to lower the price of the commodity.
On proposals made by the stakeholders, Buhari directed “I want you to meet with the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Minister of Finance and the CBN Governor to discuss your proposal further. I am confident we can work together to develop an implementable program that will bring down the price of Nigerian rice to the consumers.
“I am impressed by the tremendous, but understated contributions of the small scale millers. These entrepreneurs must be supported. I am hereby directing the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to engage with the State Governments, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Bank of Agriculture to develop a support mechanism for these small scale millers.”
Identifying the nexus between national security and food sufficiency, Buhari said “I will be inaugurating a National Food Security Council that I will personally Chair. The council will include Governors, Ministers, Security Agencies and key stakeholders across the entire agricultural segments of farming, fisheries and livestock management.
“Our experiences today of clashes between farmers and herdsmen or the challenges fishermen face due to global warming and other environmental factors clearly demonstrates that our quest for food security has a direct link to our national security objectives. The Food Security Council will ensure alignment and bring efficiencies.”
Briefing newsmen after the meeting, Kebbi state governor, Atiku Bagudu, said the nation’s milling capacity has increased from 17 million metric tons up from 5.7 million obtainable about two and half years ago.
The governor alleged that some countries are waging economic war against Nigeria insisting that the quality of rice imported into the country were of low quality and sometimes not fit for consumption.
Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe, also complained about rice smuggling into the country alleging that some neighbouring countries were sabotaging Nigeria’s efforts to develop her agricultural sector and provide Kobe for her teeming unemployed population.
“We allowed external interests to take over this economy for nearly 40 years. Rice, suger, milk, tomato paste and are not willing to give up,” he lamented.