In a bid to bring down the price of rice, the federal government has approved N60 billion to support the industry.
This was disclosed by the minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, after the National Food Security meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa, Abuja.
Ogbe stated that the subsidy would be different from the petroleum subsidy regime, explaining that the government will loan the money to the millers, farmers and distributors at a very low interest rate.
He said, “There is a subsidy programme coming up. Government has approved some money, N60 billion, to support the rice industry to bring down prices. But we are going to handle it differently. We don’t want to get into petroleum subsidy problem. So, a committee is looking at it with the Ministry of Finance.
“We think that it is better for us to loan money to the millers, farmers and distributors at a very low interest rate, so that the capital doesn’t disappear. So, they have cheaper credit to do their business. That should impact on the price of rice in the market. When we are ready, we will let you know.”
The Agric minister also stated that the council called for the ban of fertilizer NPK 151515, which has been in use in the country for many years, after recent research revealed that it was not good for crop and soil.
He said, “Soils differ and so do crops; to believe there is one uniform fertilizer you can spread for every crop is a fallacy. And it’s because we have done soil test and change the formulations of fertilizers.
“Local blenders say that some of the yields we are getting now are rising from two tonnes per hectare to five and six. So, the president is looking into that to see how we can deal with it.”
Ogbeh further explained that the Bureau of Public Enterprises was about to restructure the Bank of Agriculture after which farmers would be able to buy shares in the bank so that, eventually, it would become the farmers’ bank.
The minister expressed hope that it would bring down interest rates to 5 percent or a little higher so that agriculture will become attractive and people can raise capital to invest.
On herdsmen/farmers clashes, Ogbe said the government was putting in place a programme to aggregate all the wastes from harvest – from maize stock, rice stock, sorghum, millet and beans – process them, add molasses and feed the cows instead of letting them roam about in order to avoid conflict with the farmers.
He continued: “We also announced a decline in foreign exchange expenditure on food items in the last five years. The items are sugar, milk, rice, tomato and wheat. In 2013, we spent $1,424,968.1 billion importing these five good items; the figure dropped to $1.280 billion in 2014.
“These are figures from the CBN as far Monday this week. In 2015 the figure dropped further to $971 million and to $780.792 million and in 2017 the figure was $628,643 million. The figure for the 2018 will be ready next year. You can see the decline in our importation of food”.
During his briefing, Kebbi State governor, Atiku Bagudu said they drew the attention of the council to a report by the US Department for Agriculture, which suggested that Nigeria had been importing rice to the tune of about three million tonnes.
According to him, they informed the council that contact had been made with the US agency to provide the basis for the report because it was not consistent with the report available to the government. .
He said the only official importation in Nigeria is about 4,000 metric tonnes of rice.
Bagudu stated: “Secondly, the biggest exporter of rice, Thailand, exported 1.1 million metric tonnes of rice to West Africa between January to October this year, and India exported 402 million metric tonnes of rice to West Africa between January and end of July this year.
“That is a total of 1.5 million metric tonnes. Even if all was smuggled into Nigeria, that was the total amount of importation one could attribute to Nigeria.
“So, the US authorities responded by saying that their assessment was based on satellite imaging of flooded areas, and consideration that we are about to enter electioneering period and that demand for rice by politicians or for political purposes will increase.
“Thirdly, that most West African countries depend on Nigeria so because of the flooding, so they concluded based on those assumptions that Nigeria will import more”.
Governor Bagaudu described the US report as erroneous, adding that even in spite of the flooding in parts of the country the upland rice production has been quite strong this year.
“Even though prices have increased in response to flooding, we still have adequate paddy rice in Nigeria,” he stated.