Developments in rice aim to improve food security


The Nigerian federal government has taken steps to stop the humongous capital flight associated with rice importation and ensure food security for the populace through the introduction of a nitrogen-use efficient and salt tolerant (NEWEST) rice.

The NEWEST rice project, being coordinated by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in collaboration with Arcadia Biosciences, CIAT, the Public Intellectual Property Resources for Agriculture (PIPRA) and National Agricultural Research Systems in Africa, with support from the United States International Development (USAID) is a cutting edge technology that employs the tool of biotechnology to genetically improve African rice variety, NERICA.

Speaking at the formal commissioning ceremony of the Confined Field Trials (CFTs) facility donated by AATF to the National Cereal Research Institute (NCRI), Badeggi, Niger State, the executive director of the foundation, Dr Denis Kyetere, said NEWEST rice aimed to provide solutions to the big challenge of meeting the growing demand of rice of the Nigerian populace.

“Presently, the average grain yield of rice in Africa (2.2 t/ ha) is below the world average (3.4 t/ha) by 49 percent, yet rice consumption has continuously increased in the last two decades, with its growing demand posing a big challenge to the food security and economy of the continent. This calls for an urgent need to ameliorate the constraints of rice production and its productivity in Nigeria and NEWEST rice promised to be part of this solution,” he said.

According to Kyetere: “NEWEST rice is a smart technology which focuses on ameliorating the perennial constraints of nitrogen deficiency, drought and salinity in rice production.”

Nigeria, he pointed out, had benefited from over $25 million AATF investment in cowpea improvement, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Cassava Mechanization and Agro Processing (CAMAP); Aflatoxin Project and NEWEST rice so far and was expected to benefit more in direct and indirect expenditure in the coming years.

The acting executive director of NCRI, Dr Samuel Agbore, in his welcome address, listed the major constraints to rice production to include inadequate nutrient resource to rice plant especially nitrogen, draught and salt tolerant in addition to some biotic factor.

He added that the main goal of the NEWEST rice project was to develop and disseminate to farmers preferred and locally adapted rice varieties with enhanced nitrogen-use efficiency, water-use efficiency and salt tolerance. He added the technology would lead to increase in smaller holder rice productivity and food security.

Delivering a paper on the role of science and technology in Nigerian agriculture, the head of service of the federation, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita, lamented that while much of the world had moved forward, Nigeria and Africa had moved backward, noting that Nigeria had been stagnant or in decline in agricultural productivity over the past three decades because of years of under-investment, particularly in modern agricultural science.

Oyo-Ita, who until her new appointment was the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Science and Technology, however, said government was making efforts to reverse the trend and return Nigeria to the much talked about golden age, stressing that the passage of the national biosafety bill was a firm commitment to that effect as it would allow the safe application of modern agricultural biotechnology in the country.

“The current government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari has promised significant investment in agricultural science to boost food and industrial production and also encourage the private sector to do same. It is also making efforts through policy frameworks that will bring about synergy between research and industry needs,” she further stated.

Represented by a director in the ministry, Prof. Abayomi Oguntunde, she said the main role of science in agriculture had been “to help us generate novelties that allow us to produce more with less land and less effort.”

Earlier, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Arch. S.T. Echono, expressed optimism that the shortfall in rice production in Nigeria would be tackled through the NEWEST rice project.

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