Zimbabwe poised to boost rice production

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ZIMBABWE plans to exponentially increase rice production through the assistance of Japan, which has undertaken to facilitate the adoption of hybrid varieties that increase yields.

Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) will help Zimbabwe with rice varieties that thrive under local climatic conditions.

Zimbabwe imports over 95 percent of the commodity despite having vast tracts of fertile land that can produce the cereal, whose demand continues to grow.

Local farmers produce just about a tonne of rice annually, while imports exceed 250 000 tonnes.

JICA rice technical adviser Mr Tatsushi Tsuboi has recommended both lowland and upland rice cultivation, as well as production of the New Rice for Africa (Nerica) variety.

Nerica is a cross-breed of African rice species and is known for its resistance to diseases and drought, as well as high yields.

“There is potential for farmers here (Zimbabwe) to better their yields. The researchers need to be capacitated to impart the knowledge to the extension officers and the farmers. It is about expanding seed production,” he said in a recent interview with ZBC TV.

“Farmers need to breed the seeds, then plant, and after harvesting, that also becomes the seed as well, and farmers can then share the seeds; that way, production will go far.”

Increased rice imports are reportedly being driven by growing local demand.

While a few growers cultivate the cereal adjacent to maize on a commercial scale, communal farmers occasionally plant the crop in wetlands.

The Sunday Mail Business understands the Government is working on interventions to reduce the high rice import bill, which has averaged US$80 million per annum in the past three years.

In 2022 alone, nearly US$100 million was spent on bulk rice imports.

According to Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Deputy Minister Vangelis Haritatos, research is underway on varieties that can give yields of “10 tonnes per hectare”.

Since 2021, Government, together with other partners in agriculture, has been conducting studies and trials designed to increase domestic rice production.

The authorities have previously conducted research, in collaboration with Seed Co, to identify equipment, processes and technologies that can be applied to rice production.

Mr Brian Ruzvidzo — a commercial farmer in Macheke, Mashonaland East — said introducing rice as another staple can be important for the Zimbabwean economy.

“Most of the rice worldwide is cultivated on dry land under irrigation. We must copy such strategies and maximise the benefits. This will reduce our reliance on rice imports,” he said.

In Zimbabwe, JICA is working with Government on various projects in agriculture, road rehabilitation and technical assistance, among many others.

Japan recently extended a grant aid of approximately US$21 million to improve a steep section of the road between Makuti and Chirundu on the North-South Corridor.