Prices of Rice, Other Food Items to Crash Soon, Buhari Assures

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President Muhammadu Buhari has assured Nigerians that prices of food items, especially rice will soon come down.

The president, who gave the assurance yesterday, during the official unveiling of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)/Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) Rice Paddy Pyramids in Abuja, urged Nigerians to exercise some patience, saying the growing food production in the country, especially expansion in rice farming would eventually bring down prices of food, making it more affordable for all.

This was just as the Governor of the CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, revealed that following the successes recorded in the implementation of the CBN-led Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), the country had been able to significantly reduce rice importation from Thailand by over 99.83 per cent within the past seven years.

But reacting to yesterday’s unveiling, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday mocked the APC and its governments, describing it as another shameless media stunt to again beguile Nigerians ahead of 2023 elections.

According to the leading opposition political party, the unveiling of bogus rice pyramids in Abuja, was nothing but, “pyramids of lies.”

However, Buhari’s assurance to Nigerians on cheaper food items came on a day he personally presented awards to Emefiele and five other state governors for their contributions to the development of agriculture in the country.

The state chief executives included Governors of Ekiti, Mr. Kayode Fayemi; Kebbi, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu; Cross River, Prof. Ben Ayade; Ebonyi, Mr. David Umahi, and Jigawa, Alhaji Abubakar Badaru.

The president said: “Today 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 lead 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.

“Fellow Nigerians, our gathering here today, is no doubt a testament to the fact that the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme is working. Indeed, these sky-high pyramids which we are gathered here to commission are part of our commitment at achieving national food security and economic diversification through home-grown policies targeted at securing food for all Nigerians.

“As a critical policy of the government, the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme 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 5 metric 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.

President Buhari 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, adding: “It is my desired hope and expectation that other agricultural commodity associations that are yet to participate under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme will emulate the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria 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 again, unveiled.

President Buhari said in May 2021, the CBN unveiled the first rice pyramids in the South-west in Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State.

“Those events were historic as first, they remind us of our yester-year’s agricultural commodity pyramids, such as the groundnut pyramids in Kano and secondly, they symbolize 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 Anchor Borrowers’ Programme as an essential policy instrument for achieving economic diversification through agriculture.

“To achieve this, the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme 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 Anchor Borrowers’ Programme 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.

Buhari commended the CBN over its efforts at resuscitating the Nigerian Commodity Exchange following approval to do so.

This, he said, had been done in the hope that farmers could have ready buyers of their produce, thereby resolving the current logistical challenge of moving their produce from farm to markets.

“Let me also commend the Governor and staff of the Central Bank of Nigeria, as well as the leadership of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria for the successful delivery of these pyramids, which hopefully is just the first of many that will be unveiled this year across Nigeria,’’ the President added.

Speaking further, Emefiele, at the unveiling of the mega rice pyramids, said rice importation from Thailand alone was valued at 1.3 million metric tons as at 2014, adding that by 2016, importation from same country had fallen to only 58,000 metric tons.

The CBN governor further disclosed that as of the end of 2021, Thailand only exported 2,160 metric tons to Nigeria, thereby saving the country foreign exchange and helping preserve local jobs.

He said the ABP was launched in 2015 to curtail excessive imports, adding that, “we have seen incremental reductions in rice imports from Thailand.”

Emefiele, pointed out that as at the end of December 2021, the CBN had financed 4.48 million farmers who cultivated 5.30 million hectares across 21 commodities through 23 Participating Financial Institutions (PFIs) in the 36 States of the Federation and Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

He said, “We are delighted that these efforts have yielded fruits in not just increasing the availability of rice, but also in moderating prices, reducing imports and increasing job creation in the country.”

Emefiele, nonetheless, said beyond increasing national output from about 5.4 million metric tons in 2015 to over nine million metric tons in 2021, there had also been significant improvement in the productivity per hectare of the smallholder farmer from about 2.4 metric tons per ha in 2015 to about 5 metric tons per ha in 2021.

He noted that these expansions have not only made Nigeria the largest rice producer in Africa, but had also unlocked enormous private sector investment in the rice value chain.

He said the number of Integrated Rice Mills grew astronomically from six in 2015 to over 50 in 2021 with many more in various stages of completion.

The CBN governor added that today, Nigeria’s milled rice matches the foreign competition in quality.

He added that taking a cue from the success in the rice value chain, the apex bank had also commenced the “Brown Revolution” last year in line with its mantra for the transformation of the wheat value chain in the country.

According to him, wheat remained the third most consumed grain in the country after maize and rice, stressing that the country only produce about one per cent (63,000mt) of the 5-6 million metric tonnes of wheat consumed annually in Nigeria.

He said, “This enormous demand-supply gap is bridged with over $2 billion annual importation of wheat. As a result, wheat accounts for the second highest food import bill in Nigeria, thereby putting pressure on the nation’s foreign exchange reserves.

“We have concluded the first major wet season wheat farming in Plateau State and planted over 100,000 hectares of wheat across 15 States in the 2021 dry season. This strategic intervention will herald progressive reduction in our wheat import bills over the coming years.”

The CBN governor also commended smallholder farmers in the country and the leadership of the various commodities associations, “for the diligence, bravery, patriotism and adaptability.”

“The past few years have been quite challenges for these farmers as they have battled with insurgency, banditry, lockdown and other related setbacks. Indeed, we lost some of our farmers to attacks by insurgents nationwide, while some could not assess their farms for several months.

“Yet, the kept faith, they did not give up and the persevered. They did not abandon our fight for food self-sufficiency. Today’s event therefore is a celebration of their doggedness and appreciation of their commitment to food security in Nigeria.

“The ABP has catalysed the rural economy and has built a sustainable framework for financing small holder farmers in Nigeria.”

Emefiele also added that the CBN established a Strategic Maize Reserve with the stock of maize submitted as loan repayment by farmers, pointing out that this will provide a buffer for price modulation for the poultry and feed mills nationwide.

He said, “A total of 241,656.76 MT was aggregated in the 2020 wet and dry seasons, out of which 217,218.53 MT has been disposed to 18 millers and poultry farmers through the Poultry Association of Nigeria.

“The programme was able to stabilise the poultry and livestock sectors during the pandemic and saved the industry and consumers over N10 billion in raw material costs.”

He said, “Our experience over the years has been transformed to operational efficiency of the programme. We have added several layers of controls to improve on transparency and accountability among all stakeholders and what you are witnessing today is a demonstration of our growth and a strong indication of the enormous potential in the country’s agricultural space.

Emefiele, however, noted that the current progress was still a far cry from the desired goal, pointing out that the “growth processes reaffirm our belief in the potential inherent in our agricultural space and we can hopefully harness them to lead the diversification agenda of the economy.”

He said, “The mega pyramids being launched today represents aggregated paddy rice submitted as repayment of loans by RIFAN farmers under the 2020 dry season and 2021 wet seasons.

“Beyond the event, it also symbolizes the efforts made by our farmers to commit to loan repayment through produce submission and ultimately ensure the sustainability of the programme.

“To further create value and transfer these gains along the value chain, we have mapped millers to off-take these paddies and we will track the release of their outputs to the market as we strive to manage inflation and grow the rice value chain in Nigeria.”

He also stated that the resuscitation of the Nigeria Commodity Exchange (NCX) was another strategic initiative to enhance the food security drive of your administration.

He said a vibrant commodity exchange will significantly enhance post-harvest handling, reduce wastage and guarantee effective pricing for farmers and minimise the adverse effects of the activities of middlemen, commodity hoarders and ultimately transfer the gains from primary production to other nodes of the value chain.

He said this aligns with the CBN’s resolve to take outputs as loan repayment under the ABP while the produce will drive the operations of the commodity exchange going forward.

He said all of the achievements would not have been possible without the leadership and vision of Buhari adding that these accomplishments also showed that with the right leadership and vision, the country can overcome any challenge.

Emefiele added: “COVID-19 has shown that we cannot rely on imports and hence we must chart our own path to attaining self-sufficiency in our basic needs as a nation. And this must become our preeminent preoccupation going forward.

“We have deepened our stakeholders’ engagement to increase the arable land under cultivation and improve the productivity per hectare using improved seeds and agronomic practices.

“We are currently exploring a new rice seed variety with RIFAN that has potential to deliver over 8 tons per ha. The pilot programme should commence in the 2022 dry season, and it has the potential of being the game changer for the rice sector in Nigeria.

“We will work with the various seed certification authorities and explore the possibility of patenting it for RIFAN as part of their legacies under the programme.”

Meanwhile, the PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, alleged that Nigerians were already aware and pictures were available 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.”

The PDP added: “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 continued 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 PDP asked.

According to the main opposition party, “It is on record that the PDP turned the water land of various states of our nation into huge rice production hubs with farms and mills springing up across the country, leading to a boost in local production, drastic drop in imports and the celebrated affordable prices of food products under the PDP administration.”

The PDP further alleged that, “painfully, the APC, with its incompetence, counter-productive policies and incurable corruption reversed all the gains made by the PDP in the agricultural sector and triggered a decline in production which resulted in the high cost of food in our country today.”

Ologunagba said Nigerians could recall how the APC-led administration failed to protect the farmers and particularly how it blamed over 40 rice farmers killed by terrorists in Borno state instead of going after their assailants.

It maintained that the rice pyramid was, “APC pyramids,” stressing that it was nothing, “but huge signposts of their failures and irredeemable proclivity for lies, deception, beguilement and fake performance claims even in the face of unbearable high costs of food, 22.95 percent food inflation rate and our nation’s ranking as 98th out of 107 in Global Hunger Index.

“It is clear that with the 2023 elections in sight, the APC is desperate in pushing its stock-in-trade, pyramid of lies, propaganda, deceit and bogus claims with which they stole power in 2015. What the APC has not realised is that 2023 is not 2015. Nigerians have seen through APC deceits and not even these “pyramids of lies” can help the APC in 2023”, the main opposition party stated.”

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