James Emejo and Folalumi Alaran in Abuja
The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) working with relevant research institutions in Nigeria, said it has developed a new rice variety which could increase yield by 20 per cent and significantly boost the food security agenda of the federal government.
Partnering the National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI) and the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) among others, the foundation said the Nitrogen Efficient Water Efficient Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) rice type, achieved through genetic engineering, will be a game changer in the production of the grain, helping to significantly reduce importation.
Speaking during the 2021 annual review and planning meeting of the NEWEST rice project in Abuja, the Rice Project Manager for AATF, Dr. Kayode Sanni, explained that unlike the conventional rice which has low yield per hectare, the new variety could utilise low nitrogen in the soil to produce good yields.
He the innovation will lower production costs which had impacted price in Nigeria as well as bridge rice supply gaps.
Sanni said: “Though the land area for rice has increased but there is a need for increase in the yield so that farmers will have better yield on their farms, and it has to be done using technology.
“And what we have done is that we have developed rice that can actually grow under low nitrogen and still give a very good yield.”
He said: “From the observation and what has been happening in Nigeria, the production of rice has gone up a bit. As at 2015, we are about 3.9 million metric tons, and by 2019, we moved to about 4.5 million metric tons.
“However, we still have a deficit of about 1.2 million metric tons which our production have not been able to meet, and in order to meet that, we will we import.
“The productivity or the yield is low compared to what the global average is, the average yield is about 2.2 tons per hectare, but that does not say there are no area where you have yield up to five tons per hectare, but when you take the average across it’s about 2.2 ton per hectare compared to the global average yield which is about 4.3 tons per hectare.”
Sanni, who is also an instructor for the Alliance for Hybrid Rice in Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya said one of the ways to enhance crop yields particularly rice was to have, “crops that can make the best of every little nitrogen that is available in the soil and that is what we are doing.”
He said: “We have to also be conversant with the fact that the excess use of fertilizer lead to green house gas emission, which leads to the release of nitrogen oxide into the environment, which leads to environmental pollution.
“So the reduction of the quantity of fertilizer that the crop needed helps us to become environmental friendly even as we produce our rice.”
He added that the new crop variety will serve as security for farmers when they plant in a land that had no nitrogen or where they are unable to have timely access to fertilizer as the innovation will still provide them with appreciable yields.
He however, pointed out that the review engagement with stakeholders was preparatory to seeking relevant approval from the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) which is committed to ensuring proper regulation of modern biotechnology.
The Director General, NBMA, Prof. Abdullah Mustapha, said the country had lost billions of naira on annual basis to rice importation, adding that the nitrogen remained a key compound in production of the commodity.
He said the majority of farmers are unable to buy and apply the required rate of fertiliser for optimal yield, stressing that nitrogen deficiency remains a key concern particularly in rain- fed areas.
But he said estimates had shown that with less than 50 per cent of nitrogen fertiliser, yields would go up by 20 per cent more than with conventional rice.