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The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, says rice importation into Nigeria has dropped by 95 per cent in the last two years.

Ogbeh said this on Thursday in Abuja at the first Annual NACCIMA-NIRSAL Agribusiness and Policy Linkage Conference, which has “Implementing the Agriculture Component of the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP)’’ as its theme.

The conference was organised by the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), in collaboration with the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing system for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL).

The minister said that the country had made a lot of progress in efforts to stop rice importation, adding that the feats were a plus to the national economy.

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“One example of our success is in rice. By September 2015, the country was importing 644,131 tonnes of rice. Exactly two years later, that is Sept 2017, rice importation drops to 20, 000 tonnes.

“The drop is about 95 per cent. However, smugglers have been very busy, trying to sabotage and compromise the country’s efforts to stop rice importation.

“There are 12.2 million people growing rice in the country, producing paddy for the rice mills.

“In Kano State alone, we have 1,421 rice mills. We have large paddy fields in Anambra, Ebonyi, Nasarawa, Jigawa, Kebbi state and more are coming up,’’ he said.

Ogbeh said that the achievement was because of the Federal Government’s policy to stop rice importation.

He said that agriculture was strictly private sector-driven, adding that the government did not have any intention to engage in farming but to initiate policies that would be favourable for private sector investments.

“Government has no farm and cannot attempt to farm. If we try, it will be disastrous. Farming business belongs to the private sector.

“That is why in our new policy called the Green Alternative agriculture production programme, we spelt it out clear that agriculture is private sector-driven.

“All that government can do is to lay out policy and try to ensure that the private sector succeeds when it gets involved in agriculture. We cannot solve all the problems in a year or two but we will certainly make some progress,’’ he said.

He said that the government would also try and make interest rate on agricultural loans a single digit, adding that agriculture could not thrive under loans with high interest rates.

On the challenges and recommendations identified at the conference, Ogbeh pledged that the ministry would follow them up and present them to the National Council on Agriculture and Rural Development for further action.

The Managing Director of NIRSAL, Mr Aliyu Abdulhameed, said that the conference was in line with the Federal Government’s policy on private-public collaboration to make agriculture a business.

Also speaking, the President of NACCIMA, Mrs Alaba Lawson, said that all hands must be on deck to make headway in terms of treating agriculture as a business in the country.

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