Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, has said that the country will be self-sufficient in rice production by November, which he said will force a reduction in the price of the commodity.
He frowned at what he called the people’s unbridled penchant and taste for foreign foods, most of which, he said, were not as healthy and nutritious as those produced locally.
The minister bared his mind while addressing a town hall meeting on sustainable agriculture, which was attended by farmers, youths, women and other stakeholders in agriculture, held at the Oyo State Secretariat, Ibadan, on Tuesday.
The dialogue, which featured question and answer session, was hosted by the Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, and the Commissioner for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development, Prince Oyewole Oyewumi.
The meeting, which was called to chart a new path for agriculture rebirth, climaxed a two-day working visit by the minister to agricultural facilities, including farms, dams, farm settlements and others across the state.
He lamented what he called the culture of wastages and abandonment in the country, which, he said, accounted for decaying facilities and monuments dotting the landscape.
Ogbeh said, “By November we will be self sufficient in rice production. We will no longer need to import rice. And let me tell you, our rice is safer, tastier and healthier than the foreign ones.
“Patronize our farmers, eat healthy. Eat Nigerian rice. Another cheering news is that we will soon bring down the price of rice. Nigerians should embrace local products and stop importation of useless things.
“We are a country that has penchant for importation without exporting anything. In fact, some people will even order for pizza from London for delivery by British Airways. They will tell you London pizza tastes better.
“We import champagnes, cookies, toilet papers and even toothpicks. We have this taste for foreign products. This is killing us, it is killing our economy.”
The minister, who disclosed that Oyo State topped the list of cashew producers in the country, said that a cashew processing plant would be established in the state within the next six months.
While urging the governor to prevail on land owners to surrender them for agricultural purposes, he said that the FG was prepared to join hands with the state government on its agric revolution.
He expressed regret that over dependence of the country on accruals from oil production had robbed it of the development of other sectors, especially agriculture, which he said was once the nation’s cash cow.
Ogbeh said, “For instance, I was almost in tears when I got to Ikere Gorge Dam yesterday (Monday) and saw the magnitude of waste and what Nigeria is losing from its abandonment since 1982. It is pathetic. This dam has the capacity to irrigate 12,000 hectares of farm land.
“I remember that we visited the dam in 1982 and brought the required turbines to complete the project. I almost wept when I met the turbines lying fallow at the dam without being fixed.
“This was a dam that has capacity to generate at least seven megawatts of electricity. Ikere is just one of the 22 dams in Oyo State, which is the second highest in Nigeria next to Kano that has 23 dams.
“We fought the civil war with revenue from agriculture, with at least $1m (today’s N367m) per day. The money came from cocoa, groundnut, soya beans and the rest. But today, the disappearance of oil money has exposed our nakedness.”
In his remarks, Ajimobi commended the FG for its commitment to the survival of the country through initiatives such as the latest agriculture renaissance.
The governor recalled that many monuments located in Ibadan, which were mostly the first of their kind in Africa, such as the Liberty Stadium, Cocoa House, University of Ibadan, the Nigerian Television Authority and others were built with proceeds from agriculture.
He appealed to the people to change their mentality that are inimical to the growth of agriculture, which he said was paramount to the economic survival of the country.
Ajimobi said, “I don’t know why we are shunning agriculture. I want to put it on record here that I’m also a farmer, because the country’s law did not forbid the president, governors and other political office holders from going into farming.
“Oyo must become the food basket of the nation. No agric, no food and when there is no food, there is no life and no living, no nation. To survive and live well you must make money. The money is in agriculture.
“The FG is now providing many incentives for the people to embrace agriculture. We need to start thinking of the future today. Let us think of agriculture today for our survival. Let us all work. Let us all do agriculture.
“The highest employer of labour in an underdeveloped country like Nigeria is agriculture. We are underdeveloped because any nation that cannot feed its people is underdeveloped.”
Ajimobi restated the preparedness of the state to partner the FG to complement its agric projects aimed at enhancing food sufficiency in the country.