News Column

'Local Rice Farmers Can Also Harvest 12 Tonnes From a Hectare If ... ..'

August 28, 2014

Aliyu M. Hamagam

In this interview, Dr. Maji Alhassan, a rice breeder with the National Cereal Research Institute, Badegi, Niger State, who also doubles as the leader of rice research and officer in charge of seed production, speaks on factors militating against high yield of rice by Nigerian farmers. Excerpt:

How many tonnes can a local rice farmer harvest per hectare in the country?

Rice production is not only a Nigerian issue but a global issue that is why now players are coming in from right, left and centre into rice value chain because rice is now a global food. What farmers realised in their farms as per total yield is ecology dependent. We know that our farmers yield capacity is very low due to some certain reasons. Under the upland condition, I think the yield is still at .7 to 1 tonne per hectare. If you come down to the rain fed low land is at the region of 2 to 2.5 per hectare. It is probably when you move to irrigated areas that you will find farmers that are getting 3 to 4 tonnes per hectare. Generally, the yield is still very low and the reasons are obvious. Some farmers in the upland and rain fed lowland are not using improved varieties for one reason or the other, either they are not being exposed to them or they are attached to the one they have been using traditionally and they will give one reason or the other on why they don't want to part with such particular variety for reasons best known to themselves. Two, their input used level is very low.

In fact, most farmers don't apply fertiliser while those that do, apply very little to their crops. Rice is a heavy feeder like agronomist will tell you. It requires a lot of input. Our environment has already been over used. We don't have irrigation facilities, good water supply and sometime draught reduces yield under rain fed condition to very critically low condition, sometimes some harvest virtually nothing. With such kind of low yield, definitely, national rice production average will come down very low. These are some of the reasons why farmers are not realising their full potentials. Extension services to our farmers are also low. We need to put more extension workers so that the technology will get to the farmers easily. Agronomy, fertiliser management issues need to be brought to the door steps of the farmers. These are some of the reasons. Here in the Institute we recommended 20 by 20cm plant spacing but if you go to some farms you will get one meter by 20 cm. This is almost one third of the field being utilised and the remaining two third is not utilised. Such farmer cannot obtain optimum yield.

How can that be improved?

We can improve on this if we can come down to the farmers lands, develop it and provide them with irrigation facilities, provide and encouraged them to use input like hybrid seeds and fertiliser that will be supplied at subsidised rate. They need irrigation technology, they need irrigation facilities and extension service needs to be intensified. They should be encouraged to use input and, more importantly, we need to provide them with water resources to enable them to produce rice under controlled environment.

Do we have enough water for irrigation farming in Nigeria?

We have adequate water resources but how much of it was diverted for agricultural use? Nigerian potential is huge for irrigated ecology in production of crops, particularly rice. But up to date we are only utilising 12.5 percent of our irrigation capacity, indicating that we have over 70 percent lying dormant. Take Niger and Kebbi states, for example, that are seen as states in the fore front of rice production. How many irrigation projects are there functional, very few? In Niger, I think it is Wushishi that I can think is very prominent, there may be others, water is there, the dam is there but they are not developed. Where irrigation facilities exist, you need to develop the farmland. We have so many rivers, so many water bodies that are yet to be exploited. The Dhoko area is under rain fed and after the NCRI we have a large area of rain fed ecology that we can provide with water. The government has to do more in terms of irrigation facilities. We are minimally exploiting our irrigation potentials.

Are the rice seeds produced by your research institute of high yield?

Yes, they are. I can tell you the four rice varieties that are in use in this country today, Faro 44, Faro 52 and Faro 61 can give you, under normal circumstances, up to six tonnes. We have seen in areas where they have good water control and efficient nutrient supply they can get up to 12 tonnes per hectare. I have seen Faro 52 giving me under experimental plot 11 tonnes per hectare. Two major issues are probably limiting farmers from getting seeds: tradition and the low availability of seeds. The quantity of seeds in circulation is not sufficient. The quality of seeds that get to the farmers is another thing. In this case, there are two issues that need to be addressed. Can we produce sufficient quantity of seed to the level of what the farmers require? And if we can, are these seeds of good quality for farmers' utilisation? However, improved varieties are available, even if they are few they can be adopted to most of the ecology we have and they are of high potential because they can give farmers optimal yield to boost our national output. But the questions are: can the seed companies provide the required quantity? If they can, will they be of good quality?

Going by what you are saying, it means there is no availability of good rice seeds for the farmers in the country, right?

The seed issue is a commercial issue. You don't expect the government to continuously supply free seeds to the farmers. We need to develop the seeds market, we must create awareness for our farmers to know that these seeds are better than what they have in their houses and they should also know that it is not free. National Seeds Council has to be on its toes in order to ensure that whatever goes out to the market is the right product. It should also encourage farmers to use improved seeds and let them know that seed is also a farm input like chemicals, tractors and fertiliser. Everything around agriculture is built around the seeds. If the seed is faulty, every other thing will crash.

Why can't Nigeria produce rice that can compete with foreign rice?

We have the methodology that can give us that once we are using the appropriate variety, sucking and par boiling, steaming and drying. Of course, if we can improve the quality, we can compete with the foreign market and the local market will get a boost.

Why are foreign rice farmers cultivating in Nigeria getting better yield than the local farmers?

The farmers are here to make money. They are doing everything they can to get what the land can provide. If we recommend two bags of NPK and four bags of Urea to our local farmers, their foreign counterparts are ready to put more than that. What we are recommending is the minimal so you can go beyond that. Go to Kano even the local farmers are applying more than what we recommended. These guys are here to make money and for them to make money they must heavily invest. They always look for sources of water and, if possible, they create irrigation facilities for themselves.

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Source: AllAfrica

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