Rice is a staple food in Nigeria. Consumers of rice in the country would be happier to patronize the locally produced variety if it is improved to meet international standards such that it can compete favourably with the foreign brands – Mama Gold and others.
Even farmers in Nigeria who have long cultivated rice with very little income to show for it after each harvest season, would now be certain of making more money by producing a generation of high-yield transformed local rice of export value.
Importers of rice as well would no longer have a tough choice to support the federal government’s transformation agenda which seeks to end the importation of rice as it plans to evolve massive production of the grain to address poverty, unemployment and national food security in a few years.
The possibility of realizing this lofty dream is already in place and here with us following Nigerian scientists’ determination to regenerate the local rice through the application of improved variety seeds made possible by Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).
It is however worthy to note that the mere introduction of high yield rice seeds for Nigerian farmers is not enough to ensure the production of rice of international standard. Other requirements, like farm inputs, capable of enhancing high variety rice, standard commercial rice processing and milling industry are all required to ensure that rice produced locally in the country meet international standard.
Already, some researchers at Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO), Abuja have developed the improved transformation of the local crop and awaiting opportunity to domesticate the idea such that small scale farmers can benefit when it is transferred from laboratory work to the community farms.
Plant scientist, Andrew Ilo said the research was developed by his boss, Dr. Afolabi——————— but was stalled due to the absence of the bio-safety act as it is yet to be signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Ilo believes that if the federal government accedes to the bio-safety law that has been passed by the National Assembly, it will provide a framework to ensure the development and use of GMOs for food productivity and other health purposes for the maximum benefit of the people.
Corroborating the scientist, Rufus Ebegba, Deputy Director, Bio-safety Office, Federal Ministry of Environment, Abuja added that the bio-safety law would open the door to Nigeria’s safe, modern biotechnology activities for national development in all sectors.
He said “The absence of the bio-safety law will mean that Nigerian scientists cannot research and bring out their products for use in Nigeria.”
Ebegba in a lecture entitled, “Status of Bio-safety in Nigeria”, delivered at a workshop organized by Bioscience for Farming in Africa, expressed optimism that the law would enable the safe consumption of GMO products in the country.
If this lofty goal is realized, Benue State for instance, stands a chance of transforming its economy as nearly all the 23 local government areas of the state have arable land for rice growers which is produced in commercial quantity at Naka-Gwer West, Kwande, Oju, Ushongo, Buruku, Kastina-Ala and Agatu local government areas respectively.
It also means that the state would reduce its large unemployed force and its official rating as the 8th poorest in the federation of 37 states including the Federal Capital Territory with the types of rice grown in the area mainly known as swamp, upland, and floating rice.
The generation of this crop would further promote a resistant trait that can wither drought storm and also minimize the application of fertilizer which is usually difficult for farmers to obtain at minimal cost as those of them who cultivate modern transgenic and hybrid seed would harvest high yields as compared to those inclined to conventional farming practices that does not yield much.
To this end, rice specialist and chairman of Rice Farmers Association (RIFAN) in Benue State, Fidelis Iyorumgwa Akosuss admitted that the 2,000 registered farmers of the association have been exposed to this modern technology and need a bit of government’s attention to feed the country and Africa by extension.
Similarly, the Benue chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Aondona Hembe Kule, believed that the federal and state governments should increase funding in the agricultural sector to boost the rice needs of the country.
“The farmers need adequate tools to supplement high quality production. Government has to come up with deliberate policy to encourage more farmers in the production of rice. If government would look into the challenges of providing more tractors to supplement production, provide loans for farmers and construct good roads from the hinterland to available market places, there would be visible improvement not just in production but in income a few years ahead,” added Kule.