President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday said that his administration has so far presided over the construction of eight new rice mills in the country, an average of four mills per year.
He said this was against the 13 mills supervised by the previous administration from 2009 to 2015, making it an average of two mills per year.
Buhari who spoke at a meeting with key stakeholders in the rice value chain at the presidential villa, Abuja, noted that even though the administration met rice mills, it felt however that more could be done.
According to him, “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.
“And very soon, I will also 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 have also doubled compared to 2014 levels.
“This achievement just confirms what we all know. That when Nigerians are committed to executing a task, it gets done.”
The president congratulated the rice farmers, rice processors and the rice dealers for all the successes you have achieved to date and for believing in his administration and its commitment to economic diversification and inclusive growth.
While noting that a significant part of their investment was made during the recession which he said showed great confidence in the government’s policies and programs, he regretted that the society had abandoned agriculture.
He added: “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.
“Thankfully, Nigerians have now woken up to the fact that it is an embarrassment for us, as a 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.”
He added: “I am particularly proud of how the narrative has changed. Agriculture is now seen as a financially viable sector. Many Nigerians, especially the youth, are choosing agriculture, as a profession.
“We have former Governors, Ministers, legislators and major entrepreneurs moving into agriculture. Not as a hobby. But as a viable business that will generate income.”
He observed that the coming together of the stakeholders at the meeting was a major step forward, noting that by agreeing to promote Nigerian products over imports, wholesalers and distributors 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 stated.
He assured of government’s commitment to providing quality inputs at affordable prices.
While speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting, Governor Atiku Bagudu, said other countries were conducting a warfare against Nigeria through smuggling of rice into the country.
He said they were smuggling low-quality rice into the country at a discounted price, saying that it was the collective duty of all Nigerians to fight the menace.
He said: “But it is a collective responsibility and so we want all Nigerians to participate the menace in importing the commodities, especially in rice.
“The narrative out there is wrong. Other countries are 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 cases as identified by NAFDAC not fit for human consumption.”
He said the meeting presented a report to the president on the progress of rice production in the country indicating that production has risen to 17 million metric tonnes per annum from 5.7 metric tonnes per annum two and half years ago.