The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh has said that the federal government’s ban on the importation of rice into the country was having severe effects on rice production in Thailand.
Thailand used to be the largest exporter of the food staple to Nigeria, until government imposed a moratorium on the importation of rice at the inception of the current administration.
Ogbeh, who revealed this yesterday at the 10th mid-term town hall meeting held in Abuja, stated that increased production of rice in Nigeria has led to the closure of seven factories in Thailand.
The affected mills are considered to be among the biggest producing rice in the South-east Asian country, he said.
Ogbeh said as of 2014, Nigeria was importing 580,000 tonnes of rice from both Thailand and India but the volume dropped drastically by almost 50 per cent to 280,000 tonnes in 2016, thus allowing government to save foreign exchange that would have otherwise gone into importing the commodity.
“We have no reason to be importing everything. The Thai rice is of low-grade because it is stored in silos for many years before it is exported. The Thais don’t eat parboiled rice; they eat white rice,” Ogbeh said.
He lauded the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in Kebbi State involving 400,000 farmers, asking all Nigerians to emulate the state by growing and eating locally grown rice.
Ogbeh, who also unfolded government’s desire to plant 10 million cocoa trees annually in 28 states, added that the Nigerian authorities were on the alert following report of an attempt to import eight shiploads of low quality rice to Benin Republic for onward smuggling into Nigeria.
He also proffered reasons why imported rice is cheaper than local rice.
According to him, rice cultivation is subsidised in Vietnam, India and Thailand to earn foreign exchange, while Nigerian farmers sell at higher prices because they borrow at higher interest rates from banks.
Variable costs incurred on diesel to power Mills and transport expenses, also combine to make Nigerian rice put at between N15,000-N17,000 per 50kg bag, costlier in the market, he said.
Rice from South-east Asian countries sell for about N13,000 a bag.
Ogbeh further informed the gathering that President Mohammed Buhari had given approval for government to table the issue of the killing spree by herdsmen in several communities at the next African Union (AU) summit as a mark of protest against the herdsmen alleged to be infiltrators from other African countries.
At the town hall meeting, the Minister of Defence, Col. Dan Mansur Ali (rtd) also said government, which has restored security in the North-east by degrading Boko- Haram, would deploy a crack team of 3,000 fighters to be known as agro-rangers to communities.
The battalion will be trained by the Nigerian Army to confront the herdsmen.
Ali said the military has also tabled a proposal for the army brigade headquarters to be located in all state capitals of the federation, in addition to the establishment of a Special Operation Command to provide protection of military bases.
In his remarks, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi said there was an ongoing collaboration between the Nigerian Customs Service and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to facilitate a 48-hour clearance of all goods at the ports.
Amaechi said the China Ex-Im Bank has provided $1.2 billion for the construction of the Lagos- Ibadan rail line, while the government has also released its own counterpart fund.
He said the National Assembly removed the N60 billion allocated for the Itakpe-Warri rail project after an agreement had been reached with the contractor.
He said government would also embark on the construction of Lagos-Kano-Maiduguri rail line before 2018 and would acquire 20 locomotives and 500 wagons to run the route.
Minister of Finance Mrs. Kemi Adeosun said the country would come out of recession stronger before the end of the year.
She, however, said the recovered loot from various sources was not enough to fund government projects and finance the budget, stressing that it was still necessary for government to borrow.
Anti-open Grazing Law for Benue
In a related development, the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom yesterday disclosed that he would sign an Anti-open grazing Bill into law in his state, as part of measures to put paid to the incessant killings and violence perpetrated by herdsmen in Benue state.
Making this known while fielding questions from State House correspondent, after a meeting with acting President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Ortom said the state government was not leaving any stone unturned to end the threat posed by herdsmen.
According to him, there is no land for grazing in Benue State because the entire land in the state is meant for cultivation, pointing out, however, that in recent times, there has been a measure of co-operation between farmers and herdsmen.
Ortom, who said the federal government and security agencies had been very supportive in assisting the state with its security crisis, added that his visit to the Villa was meant to brief the acting president on the security situation in the state.
“I’m here to also brief him on the security situation in my state. We are on top of the situation and things are calming down. The herdsmen and the farmers are now co-operating.
“The understanding is that no one should encroach into anyone’s farm, whether for cattle breeding or farming activities. And those ones that cannot live within the community, except they do open grazing, are already moving to other places where there is land.
“Like we keep saying in Benue State, almost all the land is for cultivation. So, it’s difficult to talk about grazing. And the herdsmen too are quite understanding about this.
“We’ll soon sign the Anti-open Grazing Bill into law and we are looking forward to receiving the same cooperation from farmers and herdsmen so that we can live together as brothers and sisters.
“We can do it. It is achievable, living without strife and fighting and killings; we can live together.
“Human life is very precious to some of us and we’ll do everything to protect lives and property in the state,” he said.