From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has assured that with expansion in rice farming, prices of food would be more affordable for all.
The president, who spoke at the official commissioning ceremony of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)/Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) Rice Paddy Pyramids at the Abuja International Trade Fair Complex, said across Nigeria, more than 4.8 million smallholder farmers had been supported by Anchor Borrowers Programme (APB), with increase in production of 23 agricultural commodities, including maize, rice, oil palm, cocoa, cotton, cassava, tomato and livestock.
According to a statement by Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, Buhari said rice production in Nigeria has increased to over 7.5 million metric tons annually.
“Prior to the introduction of APB, the average production in Nigeria between 1999 to 2015 was less than four metric tons annually. I am aware that the bags of paddy will be moving straight from here to rice milling plants across Nigeria, which led to the release of processed rice to the markets by the rice millers. The measure will aid our efforts at reducing the price of rice in Nigeria.
“Before this administration launched the ABP, there were only 15 standard rice mills in Nigeria. As at today, we have over 50 standard and integrated rice mills creating jobs and reducing unemployment. We expect additional significant output when two new mills are started in Lagos and Katsina,” he said.
The president said the large margins in the business of rice had also encouraged more people to show interest in investing in agribusiness.
“As a critical policy of the government, the ABP is expected to catalyse the agricultural productive base of the nation, which is a major part of our economic plan to uplift the economy, create jobs, reduce reliance on imported food and industrial raw materials, and conserve foreign exchange.
“In the implementation of the programme, adoption of high-yielding seedlings, quality inputs and best farming practices were essential features.
“For instance, the improved rice seedlings have helped to ensure our achievement of rice sufficiency, as they are disease-resistant and have an average yield of about five metric tonnes per hectare, compared with the traditional national average of 1.5 metric tonnes.
“This has resulted in bridging our rice consumption gap, a significant reduction in rice imports, and saved us foreign exchange,” he added.
The president said the commissioning of the rice pyramids was an indication that the country was making steady and assured progress towards self-sufficiency in food production.
“It is my desired hope and expectation that other agricultural commodity associations that are yet to participate under the ABP will emulate RIFAN in supporting our administration’s drive for food self-sufficiency.”
The president noted that about three years ago, the first set of sky-high pyramids of rice harvests were showcased in Argungu, Kebbi State, which was followed by another set in Minna, Niger State about a year ago and barely three months later in Zauro, Kebbi State, rice pyramids were unveiled.
President Buhari said in May 2021, the CBN unveiled the first rice pyramids in the South West of Nigeria in Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State.
“Those events were historic as, first, they remind us of our yesteryears’ agricultural commodity pyramids, such as the groundnut pyramids in Kano and secondly, they symbolise that we can produce what we eat.
“The significance of today’s occasion can be better understood by looking at the various economic strides the administration has achieved through agriculture.
“When we assumed the reins of leadership of this country in 2015, the administration identified the ABP as an essential policy instrument for achieving economic diversification through agriculture.
“To achieve this, the ABP was designed to encourage investments in agriculture and empower smallholder farmers as drivers of transformation in the agricultural sector and as critical enablers of economic growth.
“I am, indeed, delighted that the ABP continues to receive commendations, since its introduction six years ago, as it has become one of the reference points in the administration’s agricultural revolution effort.
“In fact, the programme speaks loudly in its giant strides as it has increased access to finance by our rural farmers, who, before now, were virtually excluded from the financial system,’’ he said.
President Buhari commended the CBN for its efforts at resuscitating the Nigerian Commodity Exchange following approval to do so.
RIFAN President, Aminu Goronyo, said more than 99 percent of the paddy rice for the year was already with farmers across the nation, while the bags in the 13 pyramids would be sold to further ease and augment production.
However, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has accused the Federal Government of using the rice pyramids as media stunt ahead of the 2023 general election.
The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, said there was nothing to celebrate in the rice pyramids as it alleged that the bags of rice displayed were imported.
“Nigerians are already aware and the pictures abound of how the APC and its government ‘create’ fake pyramids of rice with sandbags and re-bagged rice stacked on pyramid shaped wooden structures as busted in an APC-controlled state in the South West in 2018.
“Of course, there is nothing to celebrate in the APC pyramid of lies in Abuja. It is rather shameful that APC leaders are again ridiculing President Muhammadu Buhari by making him unveil pyramids of allegedly imported foreign rice which are re-bagged as locally produced, just to create an impression of a boost in local production under his watch.
“If, indeed, there is a boost in local production of rice as the APC wants Nigerians to believe, how come the price of rice has not come down but continues to soar from about N8,000 per bag which the PDP handed over to the APC in 2015 to about N30,000 per bag today?,” the party queried.