By James Emejo in Abuja
The Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, has commended the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for supporting the nation’s agricultural value chain development programme with the sum $500 million.
Speaking when he received Ms Ndine Gbossa, the new country representative of the fund in his office, the minister assured Gbossa that the federal government takes the partnership with IFAD, “very seriously because the fund has played critical role in making Nigeria the highest producer of rice and cassava in Africa.”
He said: “We take our partnership with IFAD very seriously and we appreciate the investments and the support that we are getting from you.
“Today, Nigeria is rated as the highest producer of rice and cassava in Africa, courtesy of IFAD intervention and the Anchor Borrowers Programme and Nigerians answering the clarion call of this administration to go back to the farms to produce what we eat and eat what we produce.”
Recounting the success story of the current administration in the area of agriculture, the minister disclosed that an average Nigerian farmer is now a millionaire, noting that in those days, people used to send money from the townships to their relatives in the rural areas, but right now, it is those in the villages that are sending money to their relatives in the townships.
Lokpobiri, said if more people get to see the results the federal government and her partners like IFAD are making in investments, they would be encouraged to go back to the rural areas instead of being in the townships constituting nuisance, committing crimes, going into drugs.
The minister disclosed that the country used to spend a whooping sum of $5 million for the importation of rice every day, but that through new policy programmes by his ministry and the intervention of partners like IFAD the figure has drastically reduced.
Lokpobiri, regretted that federal government’s efforts to reduce the importation of foreign rice into the country was being frustrated by the activities of neighbouring countries such as Benin Republic, through the abuse of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol.
The minister, in a statement issued by his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. George Oji said: “The challenge we have with our neighbours is that because of the extant ECOWAS protocol, people will dump their rice products in their region and re-bag them and bring them into Nigeria.
“The reason is that under the ECOWAS protocol, any goods produced within the sub region can have free access to any market within the region.
“Based on that, those from Thailand would go to Benin Republic with their parboiled rice and then re-bag them as though they were produce in Benin Republic and then smuggled them into Nigeria thereby denying the people of Benin the opportunity to grow rice and then benefit from the Nigerian market. Because of that, we have engaged the government of Benin Republic, up to the presidential level.
“The President had to invite the President of Benin Republic to engage him because we are neighbours; let’s see how we can work together and curb this issue of smuggling.”
The IFAD representatives in her remarks disclosed that the Executive Board of the fund recently approved additional financing for Nigeria in the Value Chain Development programme to the value of $89 million, which brought the total investment in this programme to $228 million, for supporting rice and cassava production.
This, according to her, was in addition to another $60 million for supporting the Niger Delta Youth known as the Alive for Niger Delta fund.