By Muhammad Bashir
Rice is gradually becoming a global crop, and one of the leading food staples in most Africa countries with political and economic implications for nations of the world. In Nigeria, it is termed as a food security and cash crop due to volume of production and economic values it holds in the domestic and external food supply space.
Rice is an economically important food security crop, cultivated in almost all of Nigeria’s 36 States. Nigeria spends more than N356 billion ($2.24 billion) annually on rice import. In the last few years, Nigeria was importing rice worth over a billion naria on daily basis.
Nigeria is the continent’s leading consumer of rice, one of the largest producers of rice in Africa and simultaneously one of the largest rice importers in the world. As well as an important food security crop, it is an essential cash crop for it is mainly small-scale producers who commonly sell 80 per cent of total production and consume only 20 per cent. Rice generates more income for Nigerian farmers than any other cash crop in the country.
In 2008, Nigeria produced approximately two million MT of milled rice and imported roughly three million metric tonnes, including the estimated 800,000 metric tonnes that is suspected to enter the country illegally on an annual basis.
Researchers have studied the situation and concluded that the central factors limiting or militating against Nigeria’s quest for sufficiency in rice production include low productivity and poor return on investment, which had continued overtimes in spite of government policies and programs intervention.
It is on that basis that a newspaper article published recently with the screaming headline, ‘’ the federal government’s bid to ensure self-sufficiency in rice production is under threat……’’ becomes very worrisome.
A careful analysis has shown that the nation is aiming at achieving eight million metric tonnes of rice to meet the domestic demand while the production volume still stands at 6.5 million tonnes in 2019-2020. Obviously, the country is running a deficit of 1.5 million tonnes of rice; however, there is the urgent need to bridge the demand and supply gap because it is astronomically huge and scarily wide.
Some observers have suggested the adoption of biotechnology to drive research and development in rice crop. With necessary biotechnology activities on rice crop, productivity will be increased leading to self-sufficiency in rice.
Nigeria has employed biotechnology to address challenges faced by other crops in the past and the result speaks for itself hence the call to also deploy it in rice production.
Unknown to many, scientists and researchers in the country have been working in the last five years to improve rice production using genetically modified techniques.
The research to introduce transgenic rice variety called Nitrogen Use Efficient (NUE) rice to Nigerian rice farmers being carried out by the National Cereal Research Institute, Badeggi has greatly advanced with lines identified for environmental release.
The project of developing the NUE rice is a tripod arrangement between the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Federal Government of Nigeria and National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI), Badeggi being the cereals research based institute with the national mandate for rice genetic improvement and production.
Improving the nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) of rice is one means of overcoming the nitrogen deficiency limitation. Estimates indicate that with 50 percent less nitrogen fertiliser, yields would go up by 20 percent more than with conventional rice. Building water use efficiency (WUE) will help address the drought concerns as the rice will require less water offering an appreciable coping
– Bashir, Ph.D, is principal investigator, NEWEST rice project, National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI), Badeggi, Niger State
The AATF is championing the rice project in Nigeria to remove threats to agricultural potential by providing practical solution for farmers by confronting specific problems threatening the most vital food crop, especially rice.
As you may be aware, it has been cited from many sources that one of the leading abiotic constraints to achieving optimum rice productivity by the smallholder farmer in Nigeria is nitrogen deficiency in soil.
Depletion of N-element in our agricultural soil is adversely affectingyield potential of rice crop despite the management practices.
\It is distraught to note that as result of poor technology application, as well as inefficient use of nitrogen element by the rice plant, the yield is still averaged at 2.2 – 2.5 tonnes per hectare.
This output is far no near to actualising household food security as well as the nation’s self-sufficiency in rice production. The NEWEST rice project ongoing in the country has embarked on developing transgenic rice variety called ’’NUE rice’’ that will efficiently make use of nitrogen in the soil. The NUE is Nitrogen Use Efficient transgenic product, high yielding with proven efficacy at advanced research level outperforming its comparative existing commercial variety so far. The crop is an upland material that can thrive well under both rainfed condition.
Bridging the Gap:
The drive to achieve sufficiency in rice production in Nigeria hatched a narrative of three production cycles in a year. Yet, the nation’s rice production capacity is under utilized for lack of appropriate technology The benefits of the NUE rice include: it reduces cost of rice production thereby translates into decent margin by reducing number of bags of chemical fertilizer farmers would used; abandoned croplands will be reclaimed reducing land shortages; improved crop yields, resulting in enhanced household food security and production of marketable rice surplus; and lastly, food self-sufficiency in rice will redirect limited foreign exchange used in import rice.
With this development Nigeria will be able to harness the power of technology to increase production by a sufficient quota. Knowing that cultivating the NUE will require little production input, farmers all over Nigeria will see it as an opportunity to scale up production and with quality yield assured, Nigeria will be the winner.
In the last five years, all activities of the NUE rice research has been squarely monitored by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) charged with the responsibility of regulating modern biotechnology products in the country. The product has undergone confined field trials, and was certified by the NBMA having complied with biosafety protocols.
A deep and hard truth is that the COVID-19 pandemic and insecurity have put rice production in Nigeria under threat. The situation is ravaging health and life of smallholder rice farmers, therefore efficiency is no more than a deficiency, while attainment of self-sufficiency has ever become more elusive. Conversely, perhaps normalcy is resumed with a zero pandemic and insecurity, that alone would not guarantee self-sufficiency in rice production, unless appropriate technology such as NUE rice is utilize in rice production system.