Nitrogen-Use Efficient, Water-Use Efficient and Salt-Tolerant Rice Project

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Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has for the last two decades been experiencing a continuous increase in rice consumption driven mostly by a shift in consumer preferences, urbanisation and rapid population growth. Rice has therefore become a staple of considerable strategic importance, of which its growing demand poses an economic challenge for the continent.

Annual rice consumption in SSA stands at 24.3 million tonnes while production is estimated at 12.5 million tonnes (MT) of milled rice, most of which is produced by smallholder farmers. With the exception of a few countries which have attained self-sufficiency, rice demand exceeds production in most of SSA and large quantities of the grain continue to be imported to meet domestic demand. Overall, imported rice accounts for about 40 percent of SSA local rice consumption. This translated to about 12.0 million metric tonnes in 2012 valued at over US$ 5billion. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), forecasts that the world’s largest increase in rice consumption over the next 10 years will occur in Africa.

The current insufficient rice production affects the well-being of over 20 million smallholder farmers who depend on rice as a staple. SSA countries are spending more than US$ 5 billion annually on rice imports. The rice production deficit along with the subsequent large outflow of foreign exchange presents a great development challenge to governments and development agencies in SSA.

Low yields experienced by farmers are responsible for the rice imports in SSA where over 40 percent of the rice consumed today is imported. The average grain yield in Africa (2.2 t/ ha) is below the world average (3.4 t/ha) by 49 percent and several factors account for this low yield. Soil nitrogen deficiency has been cited as a major constraint to rice production. Nitrogen deficiency is mostly acute in the highly weathered upland areas where an average yield of only one tonne per hectare, which is about 25 percent of yield potential, has been recorded. Also, nitrogen is difficult to retain when applied in lowland areas due to floods and flowing water that characterise such areas. A major concern that constraints rice production in nitrogen deficient soils is the inability of farmers to buy fertilisers to address this constraint, and when they buy, they can hardly afford the required rate for optimal yield. Improving the nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) of rice is one means of overcoming these limitations.

Similarly, drought has been identified as a major limiting factor in rice production in SSA where about 80 percent of rice farms traditionally depend on rainfall. The farmers are often resource constrained, and cannot afford irrigation systems. With the utilisation and application of water use efficient (WUE) component, the rice will require less water and this will offer an appreciable coping mechanism against drought.

Also, high salinity is increasingly becoming a major problem in rice growing areas of the coastal lowlands and mangrove swamps of Africa.

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) is working with partners to develop and disseminate farmer preferred and locally adapted rice varieties with enhanced nitrogen-use efficiency, water-use efficiency and salt tolerance (NEWEST).

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