By CHRISTINE MWAABA
RICE has been identified as one of the most profitable cash crops with potential to significantly contribute to the country’s food security.
According to the Zambia Rice Baseline Report, rice is acknowledged as a major food crop besides maize, cassava and wheat.
It is for reason that Government is making strides, through the Agriculture Productivity Program for Southern Africa (APPSA) project to promote the new rice varieties that will increase productivity and production of rice in the country.
Among the new rice varieties that have been developed is Nerica Rice that is grown in the uplands.
The rice needs less water as opposed to the traditional type that is grown in wet areas.
The Nerica Rice matures earlier and has a high yield that is greatly contributing towards the increase of rice productivity.
So far, a number of farmers countrywide are adapting to the rice variety which is paying them off with bountiful harvests.
Some farmers in Kasama describe the new rice varieties as a plus.
They say the new rice variety will go a long way in addressing a number of challenges that farmers are currently facing.
Gift Mwewa, a farmer in Kasama District, is working alongside other farmers in growing upland rice.
He said the new rice variety has changed his life because he can now grow rice together with other crops like beans and maize.
“Before I was introduced to the new rice varieties, I only knew that rice can only be grown where there is a lot of water; but this is not the case now after I was introduced to Nerica.
“I was sceptical at first but when I tried it, it did not give me any problems,” he said.
Mr Mwewa said he has observed that the rice matures early and the yield is high than it was before with traditional rice varieties.
Another farmer identified only as Martha from Muchinga Province, said from the time she started growing the new rice variety, she has managed to increase her income.
“I appreciated the new rice varieties because aside from the usual crops that I grow, I am now able to grow rice as well,” she said.
Mansa District Senior Agricultural Officer Musonda Munshya said more than 120 farmers are growing Nerica Rice seed.
Mr Munshya said the aim of the rice dissemination project is to promote the production of upland rice in the district.
He urged the beneficiary farmers to work hard and increase rice production as it would go a long way in enhancing food security and income at both household and national level.
farmers benfitting from the project are drawn from Mabumba, Chibalashi, Chimfula and
Matumbusa agricultural camps.
Misamfu Senior Agricultural Research Officer Sonwell Mwingalu says upland rice varieties enhance characteristics that have been appreciated by farmers.
He says the can be grown on higher ground, it is high yielding and it has high nutrition value.
Additionally, it is climate resilient, which means the rice variety can enhance food security and promote crop diversification.
Traditionally, Zambian rice is grown in rain-fed low land and flood prone ecologies but the new rice variety can be grown in higher land, making it a popular choice for increased production.
APPSA is promoting upland rice varieties called Nerica varieties which can be grown side by side with other crops.
He said the upland rice will upscale rice production among small scale farmers because of its enhanced characteristics which are high yielding.
The rice also has better quality in terms of grain size.
The new varieties of rice will benefit farmers because they do not need a lot of water as they are grown on higher land.
“The new varieties do not require so much water and they are early maturing. Besides that, they are resistant to pesticides and diseases and they are easier to manage under upland conditions,” he said.
Upland varieties have become a way out for most of the farmers that want to grow rice but were unable to do so because the farmers thought that rice can only be grown in dambo or wet areas.
“With the introduction of the new rice varieties by the APSSA project, there has been a very high response from farmers who have come to source seed from us.
“So far, we have trained at least 10 seed growers per district and we are working with more than 200 farmers per district,” Mr Mwingalu said.
He noted that under the same project, APSSA has trained farmers in seed growing so that the upland rice varieties can be accessed by a number of farmers.
Innovations such as the upland rice is useful in agriculture to explore strategies that that can boost productivity, manage natural resource, improve value chain and adapt to climate changes.
“It is critical to transform agriculture to be the engine or driver for economic growth through innovations such as the upland rice which is an investment that appreciates agriculture as a business,” Mr Mwingalu said.
APPSA is being financed through a loan from the World Bank and is targeting more than 1 million program beneficiaries in Zambia and at least 30 technologies to be made available to farmers by the end of the project period.
The program started in 2013 and it will be run up to 2018 (this year) with participation from three African countries namely Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia with each country receiving US30,000.
In Zambia, the project is being implemented by Ministry of Agriculture through the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI).
According to the Zambia National Rice Development Strategy 2011-2015, rice is also increasingly becoming a cereal of choice for a growing urban population on the African continent.
Over the past two decades, most countries in sub -Saharan Africa, Zambia included, have become net importers of rice.
The World Bank recently noted that the region imports about 40 per cent of its rice supplies, accounting for a third of the rice traded in global markets.
Despite the crop having been traditionally cultivated on the continent of Africa for centuries in 2006, African countries spent an estimated US$2 billion on rice imports.
The importance of rice as a major contributor to food security in Zambia needs to put recognised.
Appropriate investment and innovations in improving rice varieties will increase production of the crop that can create opportunities for farmers.