How high-tech agriculture is transforming the fortunes of Nigerian rice farmers

How high-tech agriculture is transforming the fortunes of Nigerian rice farmers:

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 New planting and harvesting techniques have transformed the fortunes of rice farmers in Nigeria’s agricultural belt, turning family-run plots into thriving businesses.  Many have doubled or tripled their profit with higher yields and better-quality rice that gives smallholder farmers access to a wider market.  Three years ago, Mohammed Sani scraped enough to feed his family from a 1.5-hectare plot in Kebbi State. After levelling the land, acquiring superior seeds and changing planting techniques from a scattering style known as broadcasting to transplanting nursery-grown crops in neat rows, his output has increased by more than 50 per cent.  “I’ve realised rice farming is a business,” he says.  Rice is a staple food in Africa but supply falls far short of demand with yields in the sub-Saharan region among the lowest in the world. Pressure is mounting on local agriculture to feed rapidly growing populations and reduce reliance on expensive foreign rice.  In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, productivity has increased but 55 per cent of demand is still met by imports. Government efforts to reach self-sufficiency and improve food security are contingent on the success of small-scale farmers like Sani, who account for more than 80 per cent of cultivation.  But slow mechanisation, insufficient yields and poor quality rice – compounded by a weak market infrastructure – have left them unable to compete with consumer preferences for imported varieties.  In the past, you risked “losing a tooth” on the stones in Nigerian rice but there’s a growing awareness that now it matches up to imported brands says Abubakar Abba Adamu, CEO of Labana, one of the largest rice mills in north-west Nigeria.  Labana provides training and high quality seeds to thousands of farmers in Kebbi State then guarantees purchase of their harvest under the Competitive African Rice Initiative (CARI), a project that supports value chains in African rice farming.  “The mills feel their investment in rice is protected and farmers know they have a market,” explains Dr Kristina Spantig, project manager at CARI, which is implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the German development agency.  More than 90,000 Nigerian farmers have entered into contracts since 2013 and 81,165 have attended CARI’s Farmer Business School, learning to fill in cropping calendars, space seedlings with rope and irrigate fields during wet and dry seasons.  Agents visit the fields with agriculture apps like RiceAdvice and WeedManager, which calculate fertiliser quantities and identify types of weed. At harvest time, farmers beat grain from the husks on metal drums to minimise breakage.  “They are more and more ambitious,” says Adegoke Kazeem Adeniyi, CARI coordinator and value chain advisor at GIZ. The price of local rice is rising as the quality improves. “It’s no longer more attractive to buy imported rice,” he adds.    In Suru Village, where residents a
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