Smallholder rice farmers in Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda are still faced with a number of challenges including relying on rain-fed farming, use of farmer-saved seeds for subsequent production, lack of machinery to support commercialisation of rice production and low use of fertilizers, a survey reveals.
This is according to a survey conducted by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) on the state of farming in Africa.
The study found that the climate change challenge has led to the abandonment of many rice farms due to the high accumulation of salt leading to salinity and consequently environmental degradation.
The survey shows that despite innovation, increased productivity and progress across these countries, climate change, as well as a surge of new pests and diseases threaten these gains.
‘‘Abiotic constraints associated with soil nutrient depletion and imbalances (salinity, nutrient deficiencies and toxicities) and water availability (drought and excess water) contributes significantly to low rice productivity in Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and many more African countries’’.
The survey shows that only 9 per cent and 10 per cent of sampled rice producing communities in Nigeria and Uganda respectively practiced exclusive irrigated rice farming. All the three countries are affected by droughts since most of the farmers practice rainfed agriculture leading to low yields.
‘‘More than half of the sampled farmers in Ghana (52%), Nigeria (78%) and 83% in Uganda used farmer-saved seeds for subsequent production. The high use of saved seeds has been linked to low yields in crops. Other reasons include lack of money to procure other inputs (fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides) to guarantee yields.
In addition, the report indicates that only 20 per cent of sampled farmers in Uganda applied some form of fertilizer to their rice farm and the quantities are as low as 15kgs per hectare. The use of fertilizer, the report shows, is very low among farmers in Uganda because most farmers in the country believe that their soils are fertile and there is no need to use chemical fertilizers as these are suspected to destroy the soils.
However, there is an emerging trend of youth increasingly taking up roles in rice farming in the three countries. According to the survey, a good representation of youth (Ghana 46%, Nigeria 52%, Uganda 47%) are involved in rice farming –an indication of labour availability and signals the sustained future of rice farming.
“For Africa to achieve desired growth in its agriculture sector and to create jobs for the youth and achieve food security there is a need to put in place reforms necessary to unlock agriculture’s potential. These reforms include access to land, improvement of infrastructure, enhancement of extension services and farmer education, access to markets, finance and good quality seeds and adoption of new technologies,” says Dr. Kayode Sanni, Rice Project Manager at AATF.
According to Dr. Sanni, there is potential for increasing the yields of rice in SSA through the development of improved rice varieties with the ability to do well and produce more grains per hectare under the different adverse environmental and soil conditions of SSA.