President Muhammadu Buhari has disclosed that he would be inaugurating a National Food Security Council that he would chair personally.
He said the council would include governors, ministers, security agencies and key stakeholders across the entire agricultural segments of farming, fisheries and livestock management.
Buhari spoke at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja on Tuesday while meeting with the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Rice Millers Association and Rice Distributors.
He said the current incidents of clashes between farmers and herdsmen or the challenges fishermen face due to global warming and other environmental factors clearly demonstrated that the nation’s quest for food security had a direct link to our national security objectives.
President Buhari expressed optimism that the National Food Security Council would ensure alignment and bring efficiencies.
He assured all Nigerians that his administration was committed to Nigeria feeding itself, saying that from what he heard, this could happen in not too distant future.
He said his government’s vision had always been to promote and support programmes that would bring investments to the rural areas.
"Not too long ago, our nation was predominantly driven by the rural economy. Indeed, Nigeria’s backbone was built by the farmers. Somehow, we as a society abandoned the Agriculture sector of our economy. Agriculture became an afterthought and we forced our farmers into poverty," he said.
The president said thankfully, Nigerians had now woken up to the fact that it is an embarrassment "for us as nation, to import most of what we eat, given the great natural gifts of our country. We have the fertile land, we have water and the manpower to feed ourselves. Therefore, we have no reason to import essential foodstuffs.
“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."
The president also disclosed that very soon, he would 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. I am particularly proud of how the narrative has changed. Agriculture is now seen as a financially viable sector."
He expressed delight that many Nigerians, especially the youths, were choosing agriculture as a professional with former governors, ministers, legislators and major entrepreneurs moving into the sector not as a hobby but as a viable business that would generate income.
"So when we have the youth, the enabling environment and the entrepreneurs, all coming together with the same vision, Nigeria certainly cannot lose," he said.
He described the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding today between the farmers, millers and rice dealers as the natural next step.
"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 said.
He said the Federal Government was committed to providing quality inputs at affordable prices.
"Some weeks ago, I met with the Fertiliser Producers Association, during which I urged the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Commercial Banks to support agro dealers with affordable funding that will enable them to provide quality inputs to the farmers at affordable prices, hoping to continue lowering the farmer’s production costs."
Buhari said his administration had been providing enabling environment, which led to the successes achieved to date, and would continue to fight the smugglers at the borders and in the markets.
The president said his government would also continue to invest in infrastructure to further lower the cost of operations.
He asked the stakeholders to meet with the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Minister of Finance and the CBN Governor to discuss their proposal further, expressing confidence that "we can work together to develop an implementable program that will bring down the price of Nigerian rice to the consumers."
The president directed 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 small scale millers.
He thanked the governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Bagudu, for "his unwavering commitment to the rice value chain and indeed, Agriculture as a whole. He has become a true ambassador for rural economic development."
He congratulated the CBN governor for successfully managing the Anchor Borrowers Programme, saying his collaboration and commitment with other agencies for the development of agriculture was a clear example of the alignment between the fiscal and monetary policies.
Acknowledging "the tremendous work done" by the Nigerian governors as well as members of the national and state legislatures in pushing agriculture, Buhari urged them all to continue to push this agenda, saying "This will be our legacy for generations to come."
The president wished all Nigerian farmers a very successful 2018 wet season.
Addressing State House reporters after the meeting, the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe, said smugglers were frustrating efforts towards ending food importation.
He also stated that Nigeria allowed external interests to take over the economy for nearly 40 years as "rice, sugar, milk, tomato paste and are not willing to give up.
"It is one thing to say we are no longer importing all the rice we use to do from Thailand but the Republic of Benin next door with only 11 million people, is importing more rice than China is importing. These are the problems and all of that rice is heading here. So while we are struggling to give our people jobs and improve our economy, the smugglers aided by some of our neighbours are doing their best to make sure we don’t succeed. And the countries of these crops are aware of what they are doing to us.
"So those will be dealt with at a later stage, but I can assure you we want to stop smuggling, we want to grow our own rice and eat it, we want to create jobs and improve our market. This country is not rich enough to spend close to $5 million a day importing rice. The total import bill before now was $1.6 billion a year."
Ogbeh described Nigeria’s borders as huge and porous. "People walk in and out. People on the bothers who are relatives don’t see anything wrong in just walking across. The last consignment ceased by the customs was rice in a petrol tanker. Now when you bring that out, wash it, bag it and sell it, you are poisoning people but they don’t care. They bring in chicken, fish. The chicken is preserved in fomalia which is dangerous to health. But anything goes as long as it is coming to Nigeria. Let me say that they are actually Nigerians actually conniving with smugglers because as far as they are concern it is their profit that is important more than the health of Nigerians."
Bagudu said Buhari received a report that currently, Nigeria was almost producing about 17 million metric tonnes of paddy per annum, up from as little as 5.7 million metric tonnes two and half years ago.
"The milling capacity has increased, eight new mills were commissioned last year alone with the installed milling capacity almost doubling. The Rice Distributors particularly that of Iddo, G-Cappa and Elko market in Lagos, came to show confidence in the programme of the federal government of Mr. President as encapsulated in his statement:’Let’s grow what we eat, and eat what we grow’. The distributors confirmed that Nigerian rice is better, more nutritious than imported rice and they are willing to partner so that Nigerian rice will be the dominate rice in the country and indeed we should be able to be exporting."
Bagudu said other countries were "undertaking economic warfare on us, there is no nation in the world that can produce and sell to Nigeria freshly grown rice equivalent to what is produced in Nigeria at the prices that Nigeria farmers are selling. So, most of the prices of smuggled rice are discounted prices that reflect the age of that rice and in some aliases as identified by NAFDAC not fit for human consumption."