It was gathered that the Federal Government, yesterday, said it is working hard to flood the country with locally produced rice and crash the price of the item, claiming that seven leading rice factories in Thailand had closed down as a result of the current ban on rice importation from the country to Nigeria.
Government also announced that at least 30,000 families have benefited from its N5,000 conditional cash transfer scheme while 174,176 beneficiaries of the N-Power social safety net programme were duly deployed. It further said that 542 local contractors were empowered in the first two years of the life of the Buhari administration.
These were some of the highlights of the mid-term reports presented by some Ministers at the 10th Town Hall meeting organised by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in Abuja.
According to Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, the plan to crash the price of local rice in the market and make it affordable to Nigerians, was to protect the interest of local rice farmers and prevent importers of foreign rice from pushing them out of business.
“In another month, you will have Nigerian rice flooding the local markets at whatever better price you have. We will not allow foreigners to push our farmers out of business. This will make local rice available in local shops,’’ he said.
With the new policy of the present administration on rice, he said the importation of rice into Nigeria dropped from 580,000 tonnes to 58,000 tonnes in 2016, saving the country about $237.8 million in one year. As part of measures to boost rice production in the country, he said the Ministry would in two weeks distribute 200 rice mills, some with over 100 tonnes daily capacity across the country.
Aside reforming the Bank of Agriculture to bring lending rate down to single digit, the Minister also disclosed that the partnership with Morocco has brought the price of NPK down from N8,000 to N5,500.
On herdsmen rampage, Ogbeh said the Federal Government had so far trained about 3,000 agro rangers in conjunction with the Ministries of Defence and Interior to curb the menace of killer herdsmen across the country with plans to train more.
He added that the Federal Government had concluded plans to engage the African Union and World Bank on how to discourage open grazing among AU member states and encourage them to embrace ranching as the only way to curtail excess movement of cattle, which has adverse effect on their milk product.
Meanwhile, there was a mild drama during the question and answer session, when some participants, led by human rights activists, refused to drop microphone and shouted at the Ministers that ‘‘Nigerians are hungry’’, urging them to stop rhetoric and face the true reality of the economy.
Responding, Minister of Agriculture pleaded for patience and blamed the hardship on failure of past administrations to invest in agriculture.
‘‘We feel your pains as a government. We made terrible mistakes for too long. Nobody funded agriculture. That is why we are suffering today,’’ he stated.
Delivering his own scorecard, Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said the Ministry created 9,000 direct jobs and 60,000 indirect jobs in the power sector during the 2016 budget implementation process. In the Works sector, he said about 17,749 jobs were also created, while 68,000 direct jobs were created and 41,400 indirect jobs in the housing sector.
He acknowledged the impact of economic reforms on the economy, noting that the increase of capital budget to 30 per cent in 2016 had started impacting on the economy with improvement on the number of ongoing road projects, rail lines and other capital projects spread across the country, with the multiplying effect on the economy.
For Minister of Trade and Investment, Mr. Okechukwu Enelamah, the Ministry had created the enabling environment for Nigeria to be part of the global market by enhancing the ease of doing business policy and engaging the private sector to drive the process.
According to him, the sum of $2.5 million had so far been disbursed to SMEs by the IMF in addition to other initiatives being carried out by the Bank of Industry (BoI).