The Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, has said that Nigeria spends about $22bn a year on food importation.
Lokpobiri made this known on Saturday at a town hall meeting with stakeholders in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
Before the town hall meeting which took place at the auditorium of Achievers Farms Limited, the minister and his entourage had visited many farms in the state.
He said the development had led to the astronomical rise in prices of rice and other products, stressing that if Nigerians failed to produce some of the items being imported before December, the price of rice would skyrocket to N40,000.
He said there was a projection that by 2050, Nigeria’s population would be 450 million, wondering what would happen then if the people could not feed themselves now.
Lokpobiri said, “For your information, we spend about $22bn a year importing food into Nigeria. We know how many more dollars they bought and that is why you see the price of rice going up.
“Price of rice was N12,000 some months ago, but it is now about N26,000 and if we don’t start producing, by December, it could be N40,000.
“Rice matures in three months. So, this is a wake-up call for Bayelsa people to take the four farms we have seriously. The Federal Government has four farms in the state. The average land you see in Bayelsa can grow rice, so the colonial masters were not wrong in their assessment when they said Niger Delta could feed not only Nigerians but also the entire people of West African sub-region.
“Unfortunately, agriculture till today is not a priority of the Niger Delta as far as the state governments are concerned because of oil.”
He said the states in the Niger Delta had yet to give priority to agriculture the way the states in the North-West such as Kebbi, Jigawa, Kano as well as other states like Lagos, Ebonyi, Anambra, prioritised it.
He said Anambra State, for instance, was not owing salaries despite the fact that it does not have oil but was raking in money by merely exporting vegetables.
The minister, who decried the destruction of the region’s resources by militants, said agriculture was one sure way of discouraging militancy.
Lokpobiri said, “And the only way we can take our people out of militancy is actually through agriculture and this is also an opportunity to tell our people that the most important resources to any man are land and water resources.
“By the time you are blowing up pipelines, you are actually damaging the water resources. Today, people say it will take 20 years to clean up Ogoni and we are blowing up our pipelines. We are the people suffering from our own decision, from our own wrong action. So, the time has come for change from blowing up pipelines as a way of drawing attention to constructive engagement.”