By Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
The federal government at the weekend warned that unless Nigerians ramp up the production of rice, a major staple in the country, and take advantage of current agricultural policies, the product could sell for as much as N40,000 a bag by December.
The government noted that with over 3.5 million tonnes deficit in the national supply of rice, there was the dire need to put emergency measures in place to curb the rising price of the commodity, disclosing that President Muhammadu Buhari already ordered an unfettered access to his office to discuss the way forward as part of measures to reverse the trend.
The Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, who spoke during a town hall meeting with farmers and other stakeholders in Bayelsa State, maintained that the $22billion spent annually on the importation of food was adversely affecting the economy, given that the dollars to import the product was no longer available.
The minister, who also visited some privately-owned farms in the state, with a view to partnering them in agricultural production, noted that the situation was even scarier with the recent projection that by 2050, Nigeria’s population would have increased to 450 million.
“We were told that our population will be 450 million by the year 2050, that is 34 year from now, that is, our population will be three times this number and if we cannot feed ourselves now, how do we feed ourselves in the next 34 years.
“We have to start today, not just in production but on the entirely value food chain. Those growing the crops will only get 20 per cent of the entire food value, but those in other value chains like processing, marketing get the huge part of the value than those who are actually planting the crops.
“For your information, we spend $22 billion a year importing food into Nigeria. We don’t have any more dollars to import. That is why you see the price of rice going higher. A bag of riwas 12,000 some months ago, but now it’s 26,000 and if we don’t start producing, by December it could be N40,000,” the minister warned.
Lokpobiri disclosed that since rice matures in three months, it was not too late for farmers to take advantage of the scarcity as there still remains a huge market for the product in the Nigerian market.
“The government has four farms in the state in our records. The average land you see in Bayelsa can grow rice, so the colonial masters were not wrong in their assessment when they said Niger Delta could feed not only the Nigerian but also the entire West Africa sub-region.
“Unfortunately, agriculture till today, is not a priority of the Niger Delta as far as the state governments are concerned because of oil,” he lamented.
He said the states in the Niger Delta had yet to give priority to agriculture the way the North-west states such as Kebbi, Jigawa, Kano as well as other states like Lagos, Ebonyi, Anambra, prioritised it, stressing that Anambra State was not owing salaries even without oil.
The minister was at the one-day interactive session with many agric supporting agencies, including the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme, WAAPP, which he said brought along about 3,000 disease-resistant stems of cassava and 8,500 improved yam seedling for Bayelsa State farmers.
He decried the destruction of the region’s resources by militants, noting that agriculture was one sure way of discouraging militancy.
“The only way we can take our people out of militancy is actually through agriculture and this is also an opportunity to tell our people that the most important resources to any man is land and water resources.
“By the time you are blowing up pipelines, you are actually damaging the water resources. Today, people say it will take 20 years to clean up Ogoni and we are blowing up our pipelines.
“We are the people suffering from our own decision, from our own wrong action. So, the time has come for change from blowing up pipelines as a way of drawing attention to constructive engagement.
“There is no point for anybody to blow up pipelines, after all, you are killing the fishes in the river, you are doing more damage to our ecosystem. I want to use the opportunity to appeal to our youths to desist from destroying their own resources.
“The water resources around the environment are not even enough, so if you destroy them, you are destroying your own resources,” he said.
In his comments during the session, the President, Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide (IYC), Mr. Udengs Eradiri, said agriculture remained the sure way of taking Nigeria out of the security and economic challenges confronting her.
He said for the government to be able to woo people into agriculture, the farmers should be given adequate incentives, insisting the real farmers, not portfolio farmers, should be empowered with processing and storage facilities to give value to their produces.
“Give the fishermen, for instance, the right incentive. We have a big problem in the Niger Delta. Agriculture is the sure way to solve the Niger Delta crisis. It is multidimensional. If the Ministry of Agriculture, with all the stakeholders put their machinery together properly, we can use it to solve the Niger Delta crisis.
“Young people are ready, it is just that with politics, blackmail and all that, people are discouraged. But we need to put the right machinery in motion.
“Brass fertiliser is very important to us. Government should look at the project and give the final support necessary so that the agric sector will have a lot of fertiliser from the oil and gas.
“And this will create a lot of jobs and these crises will be minimised. Agriculture is where the world is going now. The richest nations in the world are agro-based nations but they use their brains properly with technological inputs to drive the process,” Eradiri argued.
The Chief Executive Officer, Achievers Farms Limited, Dr. Jonathan Omu, said access to capital remained a critical problem confronting farmers in the country.
Omu added that even when the banks gave loans, they usually gave loans that were grossly inadequate, saying it was high time they started taking banks that refused to give loans to farmers to court.
Other supporting agencies and institutions whose officials attended the event with the minister, aside WAAPP, were the Bank of Industry (BoI), Bank of Agriculture (BoA), Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC) and the Nigerian Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL).