By Ismaila Chafe
President Muhammadu Buhari says he will soon inaugurate a National Food Security Council aimed at achieving the nation’s quest for food security, and to ensure efficiency in the agricultural sector of the economy.
He said members of the council will include governors, ministers, security agencies and key stakeholders across the entire agricultural segments of farming, fisheries and livestock management.
The President, who made this known when he met with Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Rice Millers Association and Rice Distributors, including the Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefile and Governors of Jigawa and Kebbi, Abubakar Badaru and Atiku Bagudu respectively, said he would chair the Council.
“Our experiences today of clashes between farmers and herdsmen or the challenges fishermen face due to global warming and other environmental factors clearly demonstrate that our quest for food security has a direct link to our national security objectives.
“The Food Security Council will ensure alignment and bring efficiencies.
“I want to assure all Nigerians that this administration is committed to Nigeria feeding itself. And from what I have heard today this can happen in not too distant future,’’ he said.
On rice production, President Buhari disclosed that he took deliberate steps to shore up rice production in the country, surpassing what his predecessor could not achieve in seven straight years.
He revealed that his administration inherited 12 rice mills as at 2015, adding that between 2016 and 2018, eight new rice mills came on stream, an equivalent of four new mills per annum.
He regretted that Nigerians abandoned agriculture for oil despite economic potentials inherent in it.
The President, however, noted that since the inception of his administration the tide had changed for the better.
“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.
“When we came in 2015, there were 13 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,’’ he said.
Gov. Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi, who led the rice stakeholders to the Villa, told State House reporters that “Nigeria currently produces about 17 million metric tons of paddy rice per annum, up from 5.7 million metric tons in 2015.’’
He, however, frowned at the activities of smugglers whom he said had been flooding the country with foreign rice, thereby compromising efforts of government in rice production.
Bagudu described the inaction of those countries allowing smuggled rice into the country as undertaking economic warfare on Nigeria.
He said: “Yesterday (Monday), the Economic Management Team discussed the issue of smuggling and today it was an important feature at this meeting too.
“It has been recognized, everyone who knows Mr President’s commitment to the Nigerian economy will appreciate his annoyance with smuggling and smugglers.
“But it is a collective responsibility and so we want all Nigerians to participate in stopping this menace of importing this commodity, 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 Nigerian 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.”