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Research Indicates Rice Boom

By Affine Ugwuadu, Vanguard (Lagos), 13 July 2001

There are strong indications of a possible rice boom in Nigeria as West Africa Rice Development Association's (WARDA)) sponsored projects has discovered that over 50 per cent of the country's rice area are compatible with its NERICA technology.

New Rice for Africa (NERICA) is a technological breakthrough in rice farming pioneered by African scientists in partnership with other experts from specialised agencies around the world, to suit the ecology in the West African sub-region.

With over half of the region rice area estimated at 837,000 hectres of farmland in Nigeria, the project report wondered why the country cannot produce enough rice to feed its population.

This discovery was contained in a paper WARDA and the role of Rice in West Africa presented by its Nigerian Director-General (DG), Dr. Kanayo Nwanze to newsmen weekend. He stated that WARDA's mission was to respond to challenges of food security and create opportunities for competition among rice farmers.

The most cheering revelation made by the associations boss was that over a 5-year application of seeding and its technology, Nigeria may be reducing its half-billion dollars annual expenditure on rice importation to about 50 percent if it applied to the technology.

Nigeria has a great diversity of ecologies suitable for rice farming, from the humid coastal forest, through the savanahs to the Sahel In addition, there is plentiful supply of water for irrigation purposes, the Nwanze disclosed.

What is lacking, according to Nwanze is the appropriate policy framework to enable the technology to be implemented in the country. He, therefore, wants government to evolve the right policies in order to benefit from NERICA.

Already, Dr. Nwanze stated, WARDA is working with Nigeria research and extension partners on Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS) trials in six states including Abia and Niger. The project is funded by the Rockefeller and Gatsby Foundations, he disclosed.

Apart from seed priming aimed at increasing seed germination in Niger State, WARDA's soil team are resting NERICAs in combination with rock-phosphate fertilizer in acid upland soils in southeast Nigeria, the D-G further hinted. In addition, research projects are going on in several universities and national research institutes with a total outlay US$ 7000 for the National Coordination Unit (NCU).

At the moment WARDA's Task Forces are providing funds for small collaborative projects. This in aside 13 studies which are receiving a total $11,800 from 'general pot' funded by USAID and other numerous projects.

Nerica was a result of an ambitious cross breeding of indigenous Africa rice (Oryza glaberrima) with high yielding 'Asian' rice (oryza saliva).'The interspecific hybridization process has led to a successful fixing of lines to fertile progenies which has reduced the time required to develop new varieties from 5-7 years using conventional method to 18-24 months using another cultures stated Nwanze.

Moreover, the new technology upon which NERICA thrives is permitted on the need to preserve the ecology of the rice areas. Instead of destroying the ecology to suit the technology as obtained in many countries, the NERICA miracle is adapted to the environment.

Due to its breeding, it combines the characteristics of he two hybrids which include;