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Rice is quickly replacing the traditional food crops in many Africa countries as the food of choice. But the concern is that, as the demand for rice grows so will the impact on the local climate. Draining wetlands may also destroy local biodiversity, and have negative impacts on water management and soil quality, as well as producing greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change.
In Uganda most rice is grown in the lowlands, and a total of 70,000 hectares of wetland have been drained for rice production.
In this script Joshua Kyalimpa of Opsett Media/Africa Farm Radio Bureau finds how a local initiative in Uganda is ensuring that rice lovers can have their delicacy without destroying the environment. In the script we speak to the experts developing a new upland rice variety called the New Rice for Africa or NERICA. We also speak to the consumers.
Rice has become the most common dish in Uganda. But as the consumption of the cereal grows, so does its negative impact on the environment. On today’s Farming World we explore how a local initiative is ensuring that rice not only remains on your menu, but that farmers increase their earnings without encroaching on vital wetlands.
At least 70,000 hectares of wetland have been drained in Uganda for the purpose of growing rice. According to Dr. Justus Imanyuma, a rice breeder and consultant, if this is not stopped, the country is headed for a major environmental catastrophe. He says that wetlands are drying up, floods are becoming more regular, and that draining wetlands has negative effects on soil quality and local biodiversity. Rice may become food for the rich. Draining wetlands also causes emissions of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming.
He tells Farming World that an urgent solution is required to mitigate the environmental impact of rice growing or the delicacy is on its way out. But what does the consumer think of rice?
SFX: Sounds from the kitchen as someone prepares a rice meal. Fade into narration.
Richard Olwenyi is 27 years old, he is single, and rice is his regular meal if he is not out with friends.
SFX: Sounds from rice dish being prepared. Fade under narration.
Wow, it tastes sweet! Why rice this evening?
You know rice is very easy to prepare. I can just fry it, add a bit of onion, curry powder and salt, and you have a meal. Plus of course a bottle of soda and you are done.
You mean you only eat rice?
Of course I eat some other foods when I go to the restaurant. But rice is convenient for me to prepare when I am home, because it takes so little time.
Richard is not alone. In Uganda, rice has become the food of choice for most people, especially in urban centres. I talked to some rice shoppers at a food store in Kamwokya, a suburb of Kampala, about why rice is their choice. Here’s what they had to say.
1: Man, I come home late and I have not time to prepare other foods. 2: Electricity bills! Rice takes little time to prepare and saves power. 3: I normally take it without sauce but for other foods like matooke I need sauce. 4: You can keep rice and even eat it the following day. It doesn’t go bad.
That is rice for you and this isFarming World
. I am your host, Joshua Kyalimpa. Here are some questions to think about:
- Have you ever imagined that your favorite meal is also one of the biggest enemies of the environment?
- Did you know that, at the current rate of environmental degradation attributed to the growing of rice, your grandchildren may never taste locally grown rice?
- Did you know that 60,000 tons of the rice we consume in Uganda is imported?
- Did you know that Uganda spends between 90-120 million dollars importing rice from Pakistan, Vietnam, India and other rice-growing countries?
- Did you know that, of the 110,000 tons of rice consumed in Uganda, less than half is produced locally?
With me in the studio to discuss these and other issues about rice is Doctor Godfrey Asea, the team leader of cereal programs at the National Crops Resources Research Institute. Welcome to the program.
Thank you for inviting me.
Rice has become the meal of choice for many Ugandans. Yet we know that it is contributing to environmental degradation as farmers reclaim wetlands to grow the crop. What are you doing about this?
You are right, Joshua. But you have no reason to worry.
Our team at the National Crops Resources Research Institute has developed three upland rice varieties. With the new rice varieties, the government is implementing a ban on farming in the wetlands. The rice varieties are called New Rice for Africa or NERICA. There are now up to 10 varieties and the result is that you can both grow rice and preserve the wetland.
You say that the situation has been arrested. And yet we see swamps being reclaimed every day!
Lowland rice is still being grown. For example, seventy thousand hectares of land are under lowland rice cultivation – call them reclaimed swamps. The majority of people joining rice growing are planting upland rice, which is good news. As we speak, forty-eight thousand hectares of land are under upland rice. And the acreage is growing by the day. We expect that at some point lowland rice cultivation will stop.
Why bother? Why can’t we just import rice and save our environment?
Importing rice is not sustainable because we lose millions of dollars by importing rice. The current trend shows that the price of rice is going up for all sorts of reasons, including the price of fuel as well as the demand for biofuels. We need a local solution and upland rice is the answer.
Are you sure upland rice can solve our food needs?
Why not? First of all, the upland rice varieties we have today mature early, they can withstand dry weather and they encourage larger acreage cultivation, since cultivating a swamp is normally hard compared to cultivating uplands.
But some of the rice varieties such as Super which is grown in the lowlands have a special aroma that the upland varieties don’t have. How are you going to encourage consumers who are used to the addictive aroma of Super to go for these new varieties?
Yes, we are aware of the attachment some consumers have for some varieties. Our next upland rice variety should have more aroma and should be able to compete.
(Pause) Dear listener, we must end here for this week, but let’s meet again next week. I am your host, Joshua Kyalimpa, and this has been Farming World. Good evening.
Contributed by: Joshua Kyalimpa, Opsett Media/African Farm Radio Bureau, Kampala, Uganda.
Reviewed by: John Stone, visiting fellow, International Development Research Centre (IDRC).