The newest variety of rice is not what you might think. Growing up, I heard stories about how rice meals were only enjoyed regularly by some class of Ghanaians. Unfortunately, the majority of Ghanaians who found themselves in the low income class only enjoyed rice meals during festive seasons especially on Christmas.
Over the years rice has become a major staple food crops and the second most consumed cereal crop which can be eaten any time of the day as rice porridge or waakye for breakfast, plain rice, fried rice and jollof rice for lunch as well as rice balls for supper.
Due to challenges such as soil deficient of nitrogen, poor rainfall patterns, lack of irrigation facilities among others there is low rice production resulting in the annual rice importation costing the country approximately a billion dollars.
Scientist at the Crop Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research are conducting field trials of a nitrogen-efficient-water efficient and salt tolerant (NEWEST) rice.
This genetically modified rice is being engineered to require less nitrogen fertilizer, tolerate drought conditions and thrive in salty soils.
This new variety will help reduce the environmental impact of excess nitrogen on water bodies, enable the new variety to thrive in marginal lands and coastal area to increase productivity as well as reduce the cost of importation to boost economic growth.
Interesting, the genes responsible for drought and salt tolerance and nitrogen efficiency are introgressed into NERICA, a popular African rice variety.
Research institutions in Ghana, Uganda and Nigeria are currently evaluating the varieties to introduce the traits into other local rice varieties.