Africa’s Rice Productivity Faces Severe Outcomes

  • Experts say continent’s rice fields losing 4.4 million MT of Nitrogen yearly
  • Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda to begin next phase of trials for Nitrogen efficient rice variety 

By Onche Odeh

Africa is currently battling a combination of factors that are preventing countries from meeting their local rice consumption demands and from making the best of the export potential of the crop which is one of the most widely consumed grains in the world, experts meeting in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital have said.

Although average yield has increased in countries like Nigeria in the last five years, the experts say farmlands across the continent are losing not less than 4.4 million tons of Nitrogen yearly due to reliance on rain-fed farming and other conventional farming methods. This, according to them has left the continent with a huge local needs deficits.

The scientists, including farmers and leaders of some African agricultural and scientific organisations listed some of the threats to rice production and productivity in Africa during the annual review meeting of African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF)’s rice project. They also disclosed that insufficient and improper use of fertilizers by rice farmers is hurting the climate and at the same time holding back the continent from maximizing and accelerating its rice production capacity.

“One of the limitations to increased rice productivity in Africa is that the continent loses 4.4 million tons of Nitrogen from its soils yearly, making over 80% of agricultural land Nitrogen deficient,” AATF’s Rice Project Manager, Dr Kayode Sanni, stated during the meeting.

Dr Kayode Sanni, AATF’s Rice Project Manager

Director General of Nigeria’s biotechnology agency, the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, who raised similar concerns, said drought is also responsible for Africa’s inability to meet up with local rice demands.

He said, with majority of farmers unable to buy and apply the required rate of fertiliser for optimal yield, Nitrogen deficiency would continue to be a major concern.

“In lowland areas which accounts for 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,” Professor Mustapha said in his address to the meeting.

Nitrogen deficiency is predominant in rainfed (both upland and lowland) areas. It is mostly acute in the highly weathered upland areas which make up about 38% of the cultivated rice area. Current average yield is only one ton per hectare, just about 25 percent of yield potential.

Speaking on the associated effect of over reliance on chemical fertilizers, Prof. Mustapha said, “It has been ascertained that the production of Rice alone is responsible for more than 15% of fertilizer usage worldwide. We all know that the deadly gas, Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is principally sourced from the application of fertilizer globally. Greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere much like the roof of a greenhouse traps heat to protect the plants growing in it from cold weather and frost are one of the main factors accelerating global warming.”

He said Nitrous oxide has a warming potential 300 times greater than the most mentioned greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2).

Meanwhile, the AATF may have opened the path to solving the problems, as it has commenced the process of the dossier it compiled from series of trials carried out on an improved version of the NERICA-4 rice (New Rice for Africa) developed by African scientists.

“Africa can increase local rice productivity with rice varieties that can make the best of every little Nitrogen in the soil. That is what we are hoping to get in the Nitrogen Use Efficient (NUE) and Nitrogen Efficient, Water Efficient Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) rice,” AATF’s Dr. Sanni said.

He disclosed that the dossier detailing the safety of the new rice variety to humans and the environment has been submitted to the Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).

“Confined field trials of NUE-12 have been carried out in two locations in Nigeria led by the National Crop Research Institute in Badeggi, Niger State and one each in Kumasi, Ghana and another location in Uganda. So far we have proved that the crop is not harmful to humans and the environment. The dossier is being submitted to the National Biosafety Management Agency of Nigeria and Ghana,” Dr. Sanni said.

He said the approval is expected to be granted by early 2022 to allow farmers access to the seeds for national performance trial before further verification and its commercial release anticipated for 2023 at the latest.









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