Nerica – New Rice for Africa

     Mr. Chitambi’s enthusiasm was contagious. “If farmers want to make money, please grow rice.” – In particular, Nerica (New Rice for Africa). That was a year ago at the ZARI (Zambian Agriculture Research Institute) Mufulira field day. So I was pretty excited when Mr. Mate asked us to go out to the farm with him on Saturday afternoon to see how his Nerica rice was doing.

Robert discusses production methods with Rosario, Godfrey and Mr. Mate at the edge of their rice field.

Robert discusses production methods with Rosario, Godfrey and Mr. Mate at the edge of their rice field.

     He’s the only one I know around here who got any seed. Nerica is a new rice variety, a cross between the very hardy traditional African dry land rice varieties and the more prolific yielding Asian ones. Nerica  inherited the best of both its parents – it’s tough, drought resistant, and a high yielder. Some call it Africa’s miracle rice. http://www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/afrec/vol17no4/174rice.htm

     The problem is, there isn’t enough seed for everyone. The Zambian government included Nerica Rice in its fertilizer subsidy program last October, but only in the traditional rice growing areas. Hailing from Mongu Mr. Mate had access to a pack. He seeded most of it there, but he brought back a little to grow on the land of his farmer friends Rosario and Godfrey.

Can Nerica - New Rice for Africa - help to diminish poverty and hunger as hoped?

Can Nerica - New Rice for Africa - help to diminish poverty and hunger as hoped?

     Dry land rice is grown like wheat.  Wheat isn’t a crop that many small scale farmers have ever grown either though, so this was a trial plot. It was all plowed and planted by hand. It looked a little thin. Robert wondered if the soil had settled enough before seeding. But it could also be the spacing used when seeding by hand. It’s difficult to get accurate coverage.

     Another problem was fertilizing – also done by hand, about a month after seeding. We saw some evidence of burning, and when checking, saw that a small handful of fertilizer ‘kernel’s had been distributed around the plants. Definitely too much, when I think of the spacing on our wheat fields at home in Alberta! So Robert’s experience as a wheat farmer came in handy once again.

     I encouraged Rosario and Godfrey to visit the Mufulira site, and speak to the staff there.

      Rosario is the farmer here (10 hectares, only part under cultivation). Her husband works for British Petroleum. She drives out every morning to supervise the four farm workers. She grew up in a rural area, then became a nurse. Now she’s back to farming. Besides the rice, she has two hectares of bananas under irrigation, a number of Moringa trees that she produces Moringa powder from to sell, and grows onions. At the back of the plot, they’ve planted Eucalyptus trees. These are part of their pension plan. Eucalyptus is sought after for power poles and timber.

     It’s always encouraging to see people profit from information you’ve given them. I’m looking forward to watching this rice field grow. And to seeing Mr. Mate and Rosario become proficient rice farmers!

 

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