Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Govt pins hope on super rice

DHAKA: The government has imported five tones of seed of a high-yield rice variety in efforts to nearly triple rice production in the neglected Aus season. The country now reaps only 1.5 million tones of rice in the Aus season that has long been overshadowed by the rain-fed Aman and chemical fertilizer-driven Boro production. Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury told The Daily Star that she has high hopes on Nerica, a high-yield rice variety, imported from Uganda for utilizing the Aus season's potentials for a bumper harvest. "We will go for adaptive trials and produce 100 tones of seed out of the five tones, and popularize it among the growers to have significant gains in Aus output," said Matia. "I will not be surprised if we manage to reap up to four million tones of rice in the Aus season by sowing Nerica," she said. If the minister is right, Bangladesh can increase rice production by at least 2.5 million tones annually, which is more than double this year's import target. The good news comes at a time when people are struggling to cope with soaring rice prices in Bangladesh as well as many other nations in Asia. Rice prices that reached a record high during the global financial meltdown have never stabilized thereafter and popular coarse varieties in Bangladesh saw 30 to 35 percent rise in their prices in the last one year. Matia said only half a kilogram of Nerica seed was first brought to Bangladesh in 2009 and trials were done to see how it works in Bangladesh conditions. "We have imported five tones [of Nerica seed] recently. The most positive aspects of Nerica are that it is drought-tolerant and requires less water to grow. Besides, it has got no lodging or shattering problems and its grains have better protein values. It is a short-duration variety that grows in less than 100 days," explained the agriculture minister. Officials at Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation said they have started implementing the Nerica Seed Enhancement Project to distribute the seed among farmers. Agricultural Research and Development Centre of Brac, a non-governmental organisation, has been assessing the performance of short-duration rice varieties such as Nerica and a few Vietnamese varieties at its Gazipur farm. Matia said vertical growth in crop production remains within a limit unless new technology and scientific methods are applied to sustain the growth. "We are reaping more than three crops a year from our farmland putting strain on soil fertility. Moreover, repeated use of chemical fertilizers is making the soil acidic." She pointed out that there is a scope for "lateral expansion" of Aus production. "We must tap the potentials of Aus season by helping farmers grow more short-duration rice between the Boro and Aman seasons." The minister said it is a major challenge to feed a growing population while the country's farmland continues to shrink. She hoped the census next month after a decade will give a clear picture of the size of the population. In search of a high-yield rice variety suitable for the Sub-Saharan region, Africa Rice Centre, previously known as the West Africa Rice Development Association, developed Nerica in 1996 by crossing some of the best rice varieties in Africa and Asia. In recognition of this achievement, Dr Monty Jones, the man behind the Nerica breeding, was awarded the World Food Prize in 2004. Agriculture officials said the introduction of Nerica has increased rice production in Uganda and helped the landlocked East African country bring down its rice import.