Recently, some food and nutrition experts gathered in Abuja to discuss a historic project, said to have been initiated to boost rice production in Nigeria. CALEB ONWE reports
The gathering had notable food scientists in Nigeria. Some of them are presently working on the project, while others participated virtually from their locations across Africa and the globe. It was a strategic planning meeting for the environmental release of the Nitrogen-Use Efficient (NUE) Water-Use Efficient and Salt-Tolerant (NEWEST) Rice project.
It was also said to be the annual review and planning meeting of the project, which is already on going at the National Cereals Research Institutes, Badeggi in Niger state. NEWEST Rice is one of the biotechnologically backed agricultural revolution believed to be the solution to food insecurity bedevilling the country.
Investigation show that while the project is being piloted at National Cereals Research Institutes (NCRI), African Agricultural Technology Foundation ( AATF ) has provided technical assistance for the project. It was also learnt that agricultural scientists in the country were paying close attention to the project, because of the projected acute food shortage.
They said Nigeria’s population growth had become explosive, and requires improved and modern agricultural practice to guarantee food and nutrition security for the populace.
They were of the opinion that the ancient method of farming with hoes and cutlasses, cannot produce any sustainable result for the country. Even the known crops rotation system which most rural farmers in Nigeria practice, is said to have become less productive, considering the impact of climate change.
Inside Abuja learnt that food and nutrition experts across the globe have been taking advantage of biotechnology to revolutionise food pro duction. Director General, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, said the country was so much endowed with natural resources and cannot continue to deplete its foreign reserve through food importation.
He noted that the huge amount of money that is frittered away through rice importation in the country was an economic waste that must be discouraged. According to him, the impact of climate change was affecting rice production, like many other staple crops in the country.
He said the NEWEST Rice project became necessary, as a measure to boost rice production. “Rice plays a critical role in food security for more than half of the world’s population. In Africa, rice is one of the most cultivated and important food crops.
“Soil nitrogen deficiency, drought and salinity have been cited as key constraints to rice production in Af- rica. Globally, rice production accounts for nearly 16 percent of total fertiliser use”
“It is mostly acute in the highly weathered upland areas (about 38% of the cultivated rice area) where an average yield of only one tonne per hectare, which is about 25 percent of yield potential, has been recorded. “In lowland areas (33% of the cultivated rice area), it is difficult to retain applied nitrogen due to floods and flowing water that characterise such areas.
“On the other hand, 80 percent of rice farms traditionally depend on the unreliable rainfall and are unable to afford irrigation facilities making drought a major concern. “Improving the nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) of rice is one means of overcoming the nitrogen deficiency limitation. Estimates indicate that with 50% less nitrogen fertilizer, yields would go up by 20% more than with conventional rice,” Mustapha said.
Executive Director of National cereals Research Institute (NCRI), Dr Aliyu Umar, said the project had reached an advanced stage, and would soon begin to add value to Nigeria’s food security drive.
Umar disclosed that various experts involved in the development of the new variety of rice, were using the annual review meeting to chart a way forward for the project.
He noted that the project was initiated to enhance rice revolution, with multiple benefits for both farmers and consumers of rice in the country.
The Project Manager, NEWEST Rice, at the African Agricultural Technology foundation (AATF) Dr. Kayode Sanni, who was also present at the meeting, said that required diligence was being applied to ensure environmental and health safety of the rice. Sanni added that the initiative would boost the quality of locally produced rice, and also help Nigeria to become an export hub for rice in Africa.