There are strong indications that the Federal Government will halt the importation of rice by 2015 as President Goodluck Jonathan Tuesday kicked against the loss of N1 billion for the importation of the commodity.
The president gave the indication at the maiden meeting of the Agricultural Transformation Implementation Council held at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
He expressed delight with the progress made and the response of the private sector to government's new rice policy, resulting in 13 new private sector rice mills coming on stream with a total capacity of 240,000 metric tonnes.
He also gave kudos to the e-wallet initiative, which has provided over 800,000 farmers with access to fertiliser.
According to him, with only 40 per cent of the over 84 million hectares of arable land currently utilised, the agricultural potentials of the country are yet to be tapped, which is why the sector remains critical in the diversification of the economy.
The President said: "As you will 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.
"We are focused on the development of agriculture value chains for all the major commodities ranging from rice to cassava, sorghum, cotton, oil palm, maize, soya beans, beef, dairy and other agriculture products.
Jonathan said it was in recognition of the important role the private sector play 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 +++ 2015 so as to reduce the current level of N1 billion per day spent on rice importation.
"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. New private sector companies have moved into the production of starch and glucose from cassava. Cassava which is used to be regarded as the poor man's crop is now a cash crop benefitting farmers with assured markets and higher incomes.
"Our bold policy reforms to transform the agriculture sector are yielding dividends. Not only have we eradicated corruption in the procurement and distribution of fertilizer, we have launched the growth enhancement support to help farmers to buy subsidized fertilizers through private sector seeds and fertilizers companies.
"Nigeria is the first country in Africa to launch an electronic wallet system to provide subsidized farm inputs to farmers via mobile phones.
"In the past five months since the programme started, am told that over 800,000 farmers have received seeds and fertilizers. Government will further deepen this programme and provide even more mobile phones to farmers in the 2013 farming season.
"I urge the state governors to work closely with the Federal Government on this programme. In our drive to modernize agriculture, this administration is committed to ensuring that farmers use increased high quality seeds. That was why I directed this year that all improved seeds of cotton, rice, maize, cocoa, oil palm and cassava plants be provided to farmers free of charge.
"The rising interest of major agro business companies in Nigeria are evidence that our drive for increased foreign and local direct investment in our agricultural sector is yielding fruits.
"The agricultural transformation agenda is well on course. I have no doubt that with the kind of passion, policies and programmes that are being put in place, the broken walls of agriculture in Nigeria will be rebuilt and Nigeria will move from being the net food importing country to a net food exporting country. Our focus should be on irrigation, construction of rural roads, provision of power to our stable processing zones and improvement of our researches. We must strengthen farmers' associations. We must also expand access to financing for farmers, agro dealers and processors.
"It is noteworthy that this inaugural meeting is coming up at a time when many parts of our country, including farmlands are being ravaged by unprecedented floodings. There is no doubt that this unfortunate situation will have adverse effects on agricultural production in the affected communities.
"I charge members of this council to make planning for the post impact implication of the ongoing flooding on agricultural production."