Abuja – Nigeria’s rice consumption is projected to reach 35 million tonnes by 2050, from five million tonnes currently, rising at the rate of 7 per cent yearly, due to population growth.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, who gave these statistics on Sunday in Abuja also said that 500,000 tonnes of rice was being imported into the country annually.
He said that conscientious efforts were being made under the Agricultural Transformation Action plan (ATAP) to reduce rice importation to zero by 2013 and achieve 2.1 million tonnes local production over the next 12 months.
The minister said: “the country imports today 500,000 tonnes of brown rice which is imported into the country from other countries.
“Now our plan is by 2013 to reduce that down to zero; which means the 500,000 metric tonnes of rice would be produced by Nigeria.
“But our strategy is between now and 2015, that Nigeria would have totally replaced the 2.1 million tonnes of rice that we are currently importing.’’
He expressed regret that past efforts by the Federal Government to put the local rice industry on a sound footing had not yielded the desired results.
He blamed the situation on the exploitative behaviour of foreign companies that got government funding to build rice milling plants, but instead engaged in importation.
Adesina said that the N10 billion rice Intervention Fund was intended to build 17 rice mills which never happened and neither did the MOU the ministry signed with the Stallion Group of Thailand achieve the desired results.
“The fact of the matter is that a lot of these companies have been making quite a lot of money importing brown rice into this country and with the impression that over time, they would build the rice mills and therefore process the rice locally.
“Unfortunately, that has not been happening, so the country continues to import a lot of rice from other countries.
“And I have said that I will not let that continue; as minister of agriculture, my job is to put farmers in Nigeria to work; it’s to create jobs, it’s to reduce foreign exchange on rice import.
“And to make sure whatever rice we are eating in Nigeria, is produced here; we have great rice, we have Ofada rice; we have Abakaliki rice; we have all kinds of rice in this country.
“So basically what am saying is that, Nigeria cannot just depend on foreign companies to mill its rice for it, Nigerian businessmen and businesswomen and business entrepreneurs are the ones that have to get into the business of rice.
“The government set aside N10 billion as rice Intervention Fund and it was supposed to have completed our 17 rice mills with that particular fund.
“Some of the same companies were the ones that got the money but they didn’t do it; why should they? They are making a kill importing rice into Nigeria; they will not invest in the rice mills so they didn’t’’.
Adesina told NAN that since his assumption of office, three rice mills had been completed, including the Ebonyi Rice Mill with the capacity to process 35,000 tonnes of rice, which would soon be commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan.
The minister said the balance of N9.8 billion of the rice fund domiciled in the Bank of Industry would be re-advertised to attract serious private sector operators to participate in the development of the local rice industry.
“ I’m happy to say that since I have been made minister, we have now completed three of those, the most recent which is going to be commissioned soon by Mr President is the Ebonyi Rice Mill.
“The Ebonyi Rice Mills capacity is 35,000 metric tonnes of paddy, and the rice is fantastic I have tasted this rice, it’s fantastic rice there’s no way that rice from Thailand can beat this rice, it is very, very nutritious rice as well.
“We are going to re-advertise the utilisation of the balance of money; we still have about close to N9.8 billion or so in the Bank Of Industry, to get the private sector that are serious about rice to come into rice business in Nigeria.
“In addition to that, we are working right now in Nigeria to give Nigeria the capacity to have milling capacity for 2.1 million metric tonnes.
‘’Bear in mind that is the total amount we import every year; so not only are we in the ministry in our rice transformation plan increasing production of rice; we are bringing in new areas into cultivation.’’
Adesina said that the ministry was also collaborating with the Ministry of Water Resources to complete some dams and irrigation facilities to raise rice production level by expanding the use of new variety of rice. (NAN)