By Ruth Tene Natsa, Abuja
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh has said food prices have remained high because the nation’s currency value fell by almost 80 per cent in two years.
The minister who spoke in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP over the Weekend said “our currency fell in value, since we arrived, the naira dropped almost 80 per cent in value, so what do you do?
“The farmer is buying diesel to run the tractor, the price of diesel went from N160 a litre to N300, and it’s just coming down now. The farmer buys pumps, the prices of pumps went up by 65 per cent, the farmer buys chemicals to spray his crops, and he buys seeds” Ogbeh stated.
He however posited that the price of rice had dropped from N19,000 a bag to N17, 000 now and it is still falling. He added that government is about to distribute 200 rice mills nationwide to increase capacity in processing.
Chief Ogbeh said “How can you be self -sufficient in a year and half? It took Brazil 30 years; India 50 years, the problem with us especially the elite is that our analysis of the subject of agriculture with all due respect is extremely shallow. Agric doesn’t happen overnight, it is not by pronouncement, it is by action. How much have you invested in it? What is the budget of my ministry? Why are food prices high?” he queried.
He maintained that “anybody expecting that in two years or really one and half which is the period that we have spent in the ministry that we will solve all the food problems, frankly is to show me where on God’s green earth anybody has achieved it even in ten years, it is not easy.
“We abandoned it for nearly 40 years, since the oil boom came and somewhere along the line, we paid the price but we thank God too, it hasn’t been as bad as the situation in Venezuela. You just have to listen to the news. So prices are going to fall, on the other hand, we can’t force them to fall” he said.
Ogbeh asserted that one of the fastest ways of making it fall is the appreciation of the naira against the dollar, noting that we are earning more foreign exchange than we did when we arrived, more people are responding to agricultural practice and we are bringing more tractors and machines, to make it easier for the farmer.”
Chief Ogbeh maintained that “if the farmer’s inputs are low his prices would be more reasonable. Garri for instance is one thing that people are asking, why is it so expensive? You know why? It is impossible to harvest cassava in the dry season. You can’t pull it from the ground.”
“In the rainy season, you shake it and pull, in the dry season you break your back. You need to mechanise, so farmers can’t harvest their cassava in the dry season and so the supply to the garri maker is low and therefore the price is high, it is all inter connected” he said.