This came as the government said that the delay in the approval of the 2016 budget had made it impossible to implement the capital expenditure in the agricultural sector.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said this while addressing members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development at the headquarters of the ministry in Abuja.
Ogbeh, who stated that the government could not be involved in the importation of rice as speculated in some quarters, stressed that his ministry would not encourage rice importation because it would be detrimental to local production.
He said the Federal Government was against rice smuggling and noted that the Seme border had become a notorious route for the smuggling of contraband products into the country.
“We will not encourage rice importation and there is no way our ministry or government can be involved in importing rice when we are working hard to be self-sufficient in local production. By November when the full-scale harvest starts, rice prices will fall,” the minister said.
Early last month, the government had warned that the price of rice might hit N40,000 a bag. It is currently being sold around N20,000.
The Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, said that the $22bn annual food import bill had led to the astronomical rise in the price of rice and other commodities.
He stressed that if Nigerians failed to produce some of the items being imported before December, the price of rice could skyrocket to N40,000 a bag.
On why the ministry had yet to start implementing its capital budget, Ogbeh said, “It is about now that the capital expenditure is beginning. One of the reasons why money is not circulating is that we need to follow the due process on issues of procurement, advertisement and others.”
According to him, his ministry has spent just N882.58m, representing four per cent of the N21bn budgeted for it in the 2016 Appropriation Act.
He also said, “You may be surprised to know that only six to seven states in Nigeria are showing enthusiasm in agriculture. Some by nature don’t seem interested, while others just can’t connect with whatever we are doing at the federal level.”
Ogbeh further stated that his ministry inherited N67bn debt when the present administration came on board, but added that N20bn had been paid to agro-dealers and distributed 900 million oil palm seedlings to farmers across the country.