President Goodluck Jonathan has described as unacceptable the N1billion spent daily on the importation of rice, saying the practice must stop by 2015.
Speaking at the maiden meeting of the Agricultural Transformation Implementation Council at the Presidential Villa, the president expressed happiness at the progress so far recorded in getting a favourable response from the private sector to government’s new rice policy which he said had resulted in 13 new private sector rice mills coming on stream with a total capacity of 240,000 metric tonnes.
According to the president, with only 40 per cent of the over 84 million hectares of arable land currently utilised, agriculture remains key in the diversification of our economy.
He said: “As you would recall, this council was set up as the apex platform to chart the way forward for our agricultural sector to ensure that we stay on course on our agricultural transformation agenda.
“With over 84 million hectares of arable land of which only 40 per cent is currently utilised, the development of the agricultural sector remains key in the diversification of our economy. It is also a critical sector for creating job for our youths.
“Our administration is determined to turn these potentials into visible gains for the nation. To actualise this, we are treating agriculture as a business, not just as a development programme.”
Jonathan said it was in recognition of the important role the private sector plays in the development of the value chain, that the “Federal Government is expanding the roles of the sector to include seed production, fertilizer manufacturing, distribution of seeds and fertilizer, storage, transport and logistics, processing and value addition.
“It is unacceptable that Nigeria is still importing rice. This administration is therefore determined to ensure that Nigeria becomes self-sufficient in rice by the year 2015.”
“I am indeed very pleased with the progress made and the response of the private sector to our new rice policy. In the last 12 months, 13 new private sector rice mills have come up with a total capacity of 240,000 metric tonnes.
“Our private sector is increasing, showing capacities to produce international quality grade rice locally. From Ebonyi rice in Ebonyi state, to Kano, Benue, rice of international quality are being produced. The demand for locally produced and milled rice is rising. Dominion Farms has started operation in Taraba State investing $40 million in local production of rice.
“The progress in cassava transformation is also remarkable. Since we launched the policy of cassava flour substitution in bread, an increasing number of bakers have started the inclusion of 20 per cent cassava flour with wheat flour.
Through our Cassava Bread Development Fund, we are providing training and equipment support for corporate and master bakers who are achieving 20 per cent of cassava flour in bread.
“The fund is also helping to expand cassava bread to the bakers in rural areas. More recently, new players in the market such as Park and Shop in Abuja have started commercial production of composite cassava flour bread. I understand that nationwide training of master bakers has also commenced.
“Today, times are promising for many cassava farmers. They have moved into a new season of hope as they grow more cassava due to increasing demand of high quality cassava flour. We are also expanding export market for cassava. This year, Nigeria started exporting cassava chips to China” he said.