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December 30, 2010

Tanzania aims to triple rice output in three years

by Bernard Lugongo

The government of Tanzania is working in partnership with a Pan-African research organisation, Rice Africa Centre (AfricaRice), to implement a project that would see rice production triple within the next three years, it was revealed yesterday.The project, according to Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives minister, Prof Jumanne Maghembe, would see farmers produce rice in amounts that would surpass local consumption needs, enabling Tanzania to be a notable exporter of the globally popular cereal.

The partnership, which was sealed in Dar es Salaam yesterday, would involve seeds production, research, cultivation, yielding and post harvest activities. The AfricaRice is a leading research body with a mission to combat poverty by improving food security in Africa through research, development and partnership activities.

Prof Maghembe said the partnership would lead to the realisation of the long-time goal of massive production of rice in Tanzania.

“We are sure that with this project, in the next three years, the country will be producing three times more than current rice production capacity,” the minister said. He said his ministry has put in place strategies to improve rice production and the partnership with AfricaRice was one of the plans to carry out the plan.

Currently, the country produces about 900,000 tonnes of rice every year, which amount to only 70 per cent of the national needs. Should the project be successfully implemented, he said, the country would produce at least 2.7 million tonnes of rice annually, which would give Tanzanian some 1.5 million tonnes of surplus rice.

He said from early next year, the government and AfricaRice Company would start doing research over types of land in various places in the country to establish areas that would be suitable for the implementation of the project. The research is expected to enable the stakeholders to distribute quality rice seeds in accordance to particular land requirements, he said.

Prof Maghembe acknowledged that some of the areas that the ministry had already earmarked to kick start the new programme included Rufiji River basin where big farms are being prepared.

“This is a partnership, and the government and AfricaRice will jointly bear the cost of the implementation of the project,” he said without, however, stating how much the project would cost.

The Director General of the AfricaRice, Dr Papa Seck, confirmed that Tanzania has high potential tracts of lands most suitable for rice farming.

“We are ready to work with the government to enable the country to achieve its goal as far as rice production is concerned,” he said after meeting with the minister to sign the agreement.

Speaking over the challenge the country faces due to its dependence on rainfall for agriculture, Prof Maghembe noted that the new rice growing initiative would put a lot of focus on irrigation and would use rice species that do not require much water.

“We are going to use rice varieties that can also be grown on the mountains slopes, the type that doesn’t require much water like common rice varieties” he said.

The partnership would, among others, make use of genetically modified seeds of rice called new rice for Africa (Nerica) that combines the ruggedness of local African rice species with the high productivity varieties from Asia.

The panicles of Nerica hold up to 400 grains compared to the 75-100 grains of its African parents and can potentially double the production of rice.

Nerica also matures between 30 and 50 days earlier than traditional varieties, allowing farmers to grow extra crops of vegetables or legumes alongside rice. They are taller and grow better on the fertile, acid soils that comprise 70 per cent of the upland rice area in the country.

With this variety, for instance, Guinean farmers have managed to increase their yields by 50 per cent without the use of fertilisers and by more than 200 percent with fertilisers. Cultivating Nerica varieties also has shown a positive effect on schooling rate of children. This effect is partly the result of Nerica’s shorter growth cycle and higher weed competitiveness, alleviating the labour burden put on children, and partly as a result of the higher yields and quality, generating higher revenues.

The Citizen

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