By Abolaji Adebayo
Nigerian agricultural sector has experienced boom especially in the aspect of rice production as country was said to have substituted 95 per cent of locally produced for the imported one in the last two years, leaving the country with option of sourcing just 5 per cent foreign rice.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who disclosed the drastic decline in the rate of rice importation said that the country had made a lot of progress in efforts to stop rice importation, adding that the feats were a plus to the national economy.
Analyzing the trend at the first Annual NACCIMA-NIRSAL Agribusiness and Policy Linkage Conference in Abuja recently, Ogbeh disclosed that by September 2015, the country was importing 644,131 tonnes of rice which was dropped to 20, 000 tonnes in September 2017, exactly two years later.
The minister said that the achievement was aided by the federal government’s policy to stop rice importation.
“The drop is about 95 per cent. However, smugglers have been very busy, trying to sabotage and compromise the country’s efforts to stop rice importation. There are 12.2 million people growing rice in the country, producing paddy for the rice mills.
“In Kano State alone, we have 1,421 rice mills. We have large paddy fields in Anambra, Ebonyi, Nasarawa, Jigawa, Kebbi state and more are coming up,’’ he said.
He explained that agriculture was strictly private sector-driven, adding that the government did not have any intention to engage in farming but to initiate policies that would be favourable for private sector investments.
“Government has no farm and cannot attempt to farm. If we try, it will be disastrous. Farming business belongs to the private sector.
“That is why in our new policy called the Green Alternative agriculture production programme, we spelt it out clear that agriculture is private sector-driven.
“All that government can do is to lay out policy and try to ensure that the private sector succeeds when it gets involved in agriculture. We cannot solve all the problems in a year or two but we will certainly make some progress,’’ he said.
He stated that the government would also try to reduce interest rate on agricultural loans to single digit, adding that agriculture could not thrive under loans with high interest rates.
On the challenges and recommendations identified at the conference, Ogbeh pledged that the ministry would follow them up and present them to the National Council on Agriculture and Rural Development for further action.
The Managing Director of NIRSAL, Aliyu Abdulhameed, said that the conference was in line with the federal government’s policy on private-public collaboration to make agriculture a business.
“What you see today is exactly what the federal government is looking at. How can the private sector lead and how can policy support the leadership of the private sector? What you observed today is the mandate of NIRSAL, as handed to us by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). How do you get actors from the value chain, from primary production, all the way through processes, retailing and domestic markets, to export?
“How do you get the actors financed in a systematic way? NACCIMA represents the private sector here. There are two value chains here too: the finance value chain and agricultural value chain.
“We will all come together, that is NIRSAL and NACCIMA, to operate in the policy space into the public-private partnership (PPP) agenda of the Federal Government to spur progress.
Also speaking, the President of NACCIMA, Alaba Lawson, said that all hands must be on deck to make headway in terms of treating agriculture as a business in the country.
The conference, with the theme: “Implementing the Agriculture Component of the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP)’’, was organised by the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), in collaboration with the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing system for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL).