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Nigeria Approves Emergency Rice Import to Ease Food Crisis


Nigeria, Africa's biggest importer of rice, plans to buy 500,000 tons of rice amid a global grain shortage. Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA from Abuja the purchase was approved during a meeting of President Umaru YarAdua and the governors of Nigeria's 36 states.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says Nigeria will import 4.5 million tons of cereal, mostly wheat and rice, in 2008 to bridge the shortfall caused by poor harvests.

Producer prices of staples such as millet, maize and sorghum have increased 100 to 200 percent during the past year.

After the meeting, the governor of southeastern Akwa-Ibom state, Godswill Akpabio, said the rice imports will ease the unprecedented rise in food prices.

"The rice will arrive at about 5,000 naira [about $41] per bag or even less, and so those who are hoarding and attempting to sell at 10,000 [$82] or 12,000 [$100] will have no option than to bring the rice to the market and ensure that the people get it at a reasonable price," he explained.

Food riots have broken out in more than a dozen African countries in recent months, prompting concern in Nigeria, one of the continent's most volatile countries. Tuesday, police in the northern city of Kano stopped a rally against soaring food prices. The House of Representatives last week summoned the agriculture minister over what was described as "the imminent food crisis".

The governor of Ogun state in the southwest, Segun Agagu, says the meeting also agreed on measures to boost food production and reduce dependence on imports.

"Federal government will work through the ministry of agriculture and water resources and co-ordinate the states and research institutes to ensure that in the medium to long-term, Nigeria produces not only enough food for herself, but should be in a position to export food," he said.

The Nigerian government last month ordered the release of 65,000 tons of food from strategic reserves to help curb rising prices.

Experts predict the food crisis in West Africa could deepen in the coming months as reserve food stocks run out and prices climb.

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