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National research center eyes expanding rice culture
A Japanese expert assisting women rice breeders in Fogera National Rice Center

National research center eyes expanding rice culture

The newly built National Rice Research and Training Center has commenced operations to expand the production and consumption of rice in Ethiopia.

Inaugurated on Thursday, the Fogera Rice Research and Training Center, some 60 kilometers west of Bahir Dar city in northern Ethiopia was built with an investment outlay of some 200 million birr mostly funded by the Government of Japan. The center is tasked to spearhead rice culture across Ethiopia.

Gedu Andargachew, president of the Amhara Regional State said that “currently 80 percent of the 1.5 million quintals of rice produced in the region has capacitated the likes of farmers in Fogera to reap yields from rice fields which once were swampy and simply disregarded as non-utilizable and productive. Out of the 53,000 hectares of rice fields cultivated, 75 percent is the share of the region,” the president said. Yet, according to national agricultural data, some 30 million hectares of land identified as suitable for rice farming and the potential of the country remains untapped.

Kaba Urgessa (PhD), state minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that “Ethiopia has imported some 300,000 tons of rice costing USD 200 million last year.” Rice consumption is steadily growing and local production is yet sluggish to meet the growing demands. For that, Mandefro Nigussie (PhD), director general of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research alerted the need for more expanded local production with a view to substitute ever growing import bills; and by extension, to meet nutritional requirements.

Rice is a highly consumed agricultural commodity globally. It was introduced to Ethiopia as early as 1970s. Yet, it is only recently that rice was recognized at least in the research community. At its 33 hectares expanse (farmers provided the land), Along with the Fogera rice center; 35 verities of rice, nationwide, have been bred suitable for highland, lowland and irrigated farms.

For Kiyoshi Shiratori, a senior extension advisor with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) said that the challenge in rice farming in Ethiopia is going to be market oriented. He sees lack of rice breeders and millers as a critical issue and when added the lack of local rice experts and researchers, it means a lot hindrance to rice cultivation in Ethiopia.

Apart from foodies, rice has already been customized to the customs and traditions of communities as observed in Fogera, a small local town. Households now can ferment and distill alcoholic beverages from rice. Japan is well known for its Sakiaka rice wine. Tela, a local beer made from rice is also among the verities served during the inauguration of Fogera rice center. The most popular in Fogera and perhaps in many parts of the country – rice mixed injera (staple bread, baked from a tiny super grain called teff) is a trending food culture. During a sideline exhibition, demonstration on how the popular Japanese rice popcorn was made with a tiny pressure blowing machine was shown.