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Africa: Rice Congress

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Oct 15, 2006 (061015)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Rice development will be one of the key testing grounds of whether Africa's new "Green Revolution" can avoid some of the failures of earlier Green Revolution efforts, and reduce African rice imports. Enthusiasts point to the Participatory Varietal Selection methods used by the Africa Rice Centre to disseminate new rice varieties, and to growth in small-farmer income as well as yields.

Skeptics, however, fear that the primary emphasis on yields, dependence on imported inputs such as fertilizer, and neglect of environmental impacts will disadvantage small farmers and make the "Revolution" unsustainable. .

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains two articles from the Africa Rice Centre, on the occasion of the Africa Rice Congress held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from July 31 - August 4. Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today includes questions raised following the September 12 announcement from the Gates Foundation that it will add $100 million to the Rockefeller Foundation initiative for a new "Green Revolution in Africa."

For additional background on African rice development, see

and additional links in articles below.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Experts Underline Four Prerequisites for Rice-Based Green Revolution in Africa: Policy, Capacity Building, Technologies and Infrastructure

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

04 August 2006

Africa Rice Center

Leading policy analysts and researchers attending the Africa Rice Congress - a groundbreaking meeting taking place in Tanzania to chart the way forward for rice research and development in sub-Saharan Africa - have emphasized that to bring about a rice-based Green Revolution in the region, equal attention should be urgently given to four areas: policy; capacity building; technology development and transfer; and infrastructure.


Explaining the important lessons that Africa can draw from the Asian Green Revolution, World Food Prize Laureate Dr G S Khush gave the example of India and said that the development of high-yielding varieties could not have alone boosted India's rice production in the 1960s that led to its Green Revolution.

"It was a combination of success factors that included the Government's decision to support its rice farmers by providing fertilizer subsidy, price support, a ready market, in addition to facilities such as irrigation, roads, and machinery."

The Congress participants urged African governments to support their rice farmers, instead of becoming increasingly dependant on external supply for rice. Sub-Saharan Africa's rice imports cover about 40-45% of its total rice supply and represent a third of worldwide imports.

Prof. E Tollens, an expert in agricultural policy research, highlighted that the world rice stocks were at present at their lowest level (about 100 million tonnes) of which China accounts for 58%. He said that one positive sign was that locally produced rice was becoming more competitive as the international rice prices have been rising since 2002.

Capacity Building

The need to strengthen the capacity of human resources along the rice research and development continuum was underscored throughout the Congress meetings. The capacity of the whole range of rice stakeholders - from rice researchers to extension workers, farmers and processors - need to be strengthened to improve the rice sector in African countries.

Participants thanked the Rockefeller Foundation for funding the capacity building project for breeding and biotechnology being conducted in Eastern Africa. They strongly recommended that such projects be also made available in West Africa. Dr S McCouch from Cornell University who has been one of the foremost champions of capacity building of African researchers suggested that a coordinated proposal for capacity building for rice breeding and biotechnology could be submitted for financial support.

Dr P Seck, Director General of ISRA, in Senegal and the Director General Designate of WARDA, said, "Capacity building of Africans is essential. But, all our efforts will fail if we cannot give to our trained personnel the right working conditions and incentives in order to prevent the brain drain."

Technology Development and Dissemination

The Congress offered a great opportunity to the national and international rice researchers to plan for the development of improved rice varieties for the future, especially the next generation of New Rice for Africa (NERICAs). Both Upland and Lowland NERICAs are making a big difference in many African countries.

NERICA refers to the successful crossing by researchers from the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) of the two species of cultivated rice to produce plants (known as interspecifics) that outperform both parents, with an emphasis on high yields from the Asian parent and the ability to thrive in harsh environments from the African parent.

The main focus on the next generation NERICAs will be to increase their resistance to environmental stresses, particularly drought, as well as diseases and pests, while increasing their yield potential and nutrient and water use efficiency, using advanced scientific tools.

Dr McCouch pointed out that rice researchers are especially fortunate, because rice is the first crop, whose genome has been fully sequenced and since this achievement was made through public-funded research, this priceless genomic information is in the public domain, unlike that for wheat or maize.

"Today rice researchers have new opportunities using the tools of modern genetics," Dr McCouch said. African rice research will also benefit greatly from the new collaboration between WARDA and IRRI as well as from the collaboration with African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).

A key success factor of the NERICAs was the unlocking of the genes from the African cultivated rice species O. glaberrima, accessions of which were collected and conserved in the WARDA genebank. Similarly wild and weedy rice species harbor many genes capable of enhancing the performance of the Asian rice. The value of collecting and conserving genetic resources of all these rice species was emphasized by the Congress.

The participants stressed that varieties should be considered as part of an integrated crop management system and that biotechnology and ecotechnology should be given equal priority.

Innovative and appropriate water management systems, including the "Sawah" system, should be explored to maximize the high potential of Africa's lowlands. "However, priority should be given to improve existing crop and water management systems, before introducing new systems from outside," said Dr O Niangado, Delegate from Syngenta Foundation.

It was acknowledged that Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Natural Resource Management (NRM) technologies are more difficult and expensive to disseminate to farmers. Given that the Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS) approach had been highly successful for NERICA dissemination, participants recommended that it would be worthwhile to extrapolate this approach for IPM and NRM technologies,


"There cannot be large-scale rice production without the use of agricultural machinery," said Dr Khush. The participants endorsed the view that appropriate, low-cost small machinery for rice cultivation has to be developed or introduced and adapted to African conditions, such as the ASI rice thresher, developed through partnership between international (WARDA, IRRI), national (ISRA and SAED) and NGOs and the private sector in Senegal.

Referring to the policy studies carried out by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) on the Nigeria rice sector, where it was found that the relatively poor quality of Nigerian rice is the primary constraint to further development of the sector, Prof. Tollens said, "It is important to recognize that milling, cleaning, and branding are important for the marketing of the local rice. Otherwise, consumers will continue to view local rice as an inferior product, and it will be of no use if we continue to increase rice production."

Go All the Way

The essence of the Congress deliberations was well captured by Dr T Berhe from Sasakawa Global 2000. "Go all the way from rice research to dissemination, production and consumption, following the value chain, and put equal importance on all the stages," he said.

Africa Rice Center (WARDA) is an autonomous inter-governmental research association of African member states. WARDA is also one of the 15 international agricultural research Centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

The 'New Rice for Africa' (NERICA), which is bringing hope to millions of poor people in Africa, was developed by WARDA and its partners. The success of the NERICAs has helped shape the Center's future direction, extending its horizon beyond West and Central Africa into Eastern and Southern Africa.

Since January 2005, the Center has been working from Cotonou, Benin, having relocated from its headquarters in Bouak‚, C“te d'Ivoire, because of the civil conflicts in the country. It has regional research stations near St Louis, Senegal and at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Transforming Sub-Saharan Africa's Rice Production through Rice Research

Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)

Africa Rice Center (WARDA)

September 2006

Following the Africa Rice Congress hosted by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) on July 31- August 4, 2006 in Dar es Salaam Tanzania, we invited WARDA to contribute a story highlighting the importance of rice research to improve the livelihoods of poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Although most of the world's rice is produced and consumed in Asia, demand for it is soaring in Africa. Rice has become a major source of calories not only for the affluent, but also for the urban and rural poor in many parts of the continent. Its availability and price have become major determinants of the welfare of the poorest African consumers.

Rice production in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), though rising from 8.6 million tonnes of paddy (unhulled) rice in 1980 to 12.6 million tonnes in 2005, has not kept pace with demand. As a result, the quantity imported yearly by the region increased from 2.5 million tonnes in 1980 to 7.2 million tonnes in 2005. SSA spends more than US$1.5 billion in foreign exchange every year for its rice imports.

In the short term, rice imports may serve to bridge the gap in rice supply. But their increasing market share (40-45 percent of the total rice supply) reveals the region's high dependency on external supplies for one of its staple foods. More than 30 percent of the internationally traded rice goes to Africa.

There is growing concern about the foreign currency drain resulting from massive rice imports, the marginalization of the local rice sector, and the food security implications of dependency on fluctuating world market prices and supply chains for this staple food. The situation is particularly worrying because the international rice market is relatively small, accounting for only 4-6 percent of the total rice produced globally.

Can SSA Substantially Reduce its Rice Imports?

Rice production in SSA is dominated by subsistence, smallholder farmers who have limited access to markets, no equipment other than hand-held tools and limited use of inputs. The average rice yield in the sub-continent is the lowest in the world - 1.4 tonnes per hectare compared to Asia's average of 4 tonnes (more than 6 tonnes in China).

However, rice is successfully and economically produced in a wide range of agroecologies in SSA. In Mali, for example, rice yields have increased steadily in the Office du Niger Project. In Madagascar, where per capita rice consumption is among the highest in the world, most of the rice consumed is homegrown. Nigeria, which has all the agro-ecological zones suitable for rice cultivation, has the potential to become a major rice granary.

In SSA , the lowland rice ecology consists of 20 50 million hectares. If only 2 million hectares of this area were used to grow rice, producing an average yield of 3 tonnes per hectare, W est Africa could easily stop its costly rice imports. Technologies to achieve this potential are now reaching African farmers.

Impact of Rice Research in SSA

According to recent impact assessment studies, rice research by national and international organizations is making a big difference in Africa, where rice is mostly grown by women.

A study conducted in 2003 by T. J. Dalton and R. G. Guei in seven West African rice-producing countries showed that about 100 improved rice varieties were released from 1980 to 2000, generating sizable gains in rice productivity. A bout 40 percent of the total rice area in SSA is planted with improved varieties, which are concentrated particularly in the irrigated and mangrove rice areas.

Rice variety improvement contributed, on average, US$375 million per year to the region's economy and possibly as much as $850 million. Overall, improved varieties have increased net revenues by $93 per hectare, with the highest gains in irrigated and rainfed lowland ecologies. The returns to investment in rice research now exceed 20 percent annually.

The study also revealed that, without variety improvement, the regional balance-of-payment deficit for rice imports would have been 40 percent higher. And it would have been necessary to bring an additional 658,000 hectares of land under rice cultivation to maintain current levels of consumption.

The International Network for the Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER)-Africa, based at the Africa Rice Center (WARDA), has contributed importantly to this success. INGER-Africa promotes genetic diversity for different ecosystems through the exchange, evaluation and utilization of improved breeding materials originating from worldwide sources.

The New Rice for Africa (NERICA), developed by WARDA and its partners, is a well-known breakthrough. It is considered one of the major recent advances in rice variety improvement.

There are many reports of NERICA's positive impact on farmers' livelihood across SSA, from Guinea to Uganda. According to s ocio-economic impact studies carried out in Benin by WARDA and its national partner, NERICA adoption contributed to the following impacts:

  • Child school enrollment rose by 3 percent in farm families adopting NERICAs
  • School retention rate increased by 3 percent
  • School expenditure per child increased by about 5,000 CFA ($8)
  • Frequency of child sickness declined by 2 percent
  • Frequency of hospital attendance when sick rose by 5 percent
  • Health expenditures per sick child increased by about 7,000 CFA ($12)

When these modest impacts are extrapolated across the region's entire rice sector, then the value of the agricultural research that led to the development of NERICAs becomes very significant.

Impact studies also reveal that rice research contributes effectively to the realization of almost all the Millennium Development Goals, including halving poverty and hunger, promoting education, improving health, reducing child mortality, empowering women and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Pre-requisites for a Rice Revolution in SSA

Improved agricultural technologies, however effective, will not by themselves bring about a rice revolution in SSA. The Africa Rice Congress held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from July 31 to August 4, 2006, underlined that to transform the region's rice sector, governments must institute policies that guarantee prices; create access to credit, inputs and markets; and put in place safety nets and subsidies to support vulnerable groups, particularly women farmers. Such policies will give farmers incentives to adopt improved technologies that can raise their incomes and lift them out of poverty.

Rice in Africa - Fast Facts

  • Rice is a staple food for SSA's rapidly growing population, whose rice consumption increased annually by 4.4 percent from 1961 to 2003.
  • Rice is the region's fourth most important cereal in terms of production (after sorghum, maize and millet).
  • Rice occupies 10 percent of the total land under cereals and contributes 15 percent of total cereal production in SSA.
  • About 20 million farmers in SSA grow rice, and about 100 million people depend on it for their livelihoods.
  • From 1985 to 2003, the region's rice production increased at an annual rate of 4 percent, compared to only 2.4 and 2.5 percent for maize and sorghum, respectively.
  • Rice is grown on 8.5 million hectares in SSA, equal to 5.5 percent of the global rice area. Almost all of the region's 38 countries grow rice, but two, Nigeria and Madagascar, account for 60 percent of the rice land. Nine other countries grow rice on more than 100,000 hectares, including Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire.
  • Africa is the only continent where the two species of cultivated rice - Oryza glaberrima (African rice) and Oryza sativa (Asian rice) - are grown.
  • The most widely grown rice species, Oryza sativa, is originally from Asia and was introduced in Africa only about 450 years ago. It is high-yielding and responds well to inputs but is not well adapted to African conditions.
  • The less well-known rice species, Oryza glaberrima, was domesticated in the Niger River Delta over 3,500 years ago. It is well adapted to African farming conditions but generally has lower yield potential.

Useful Links

WARDA Website

Rice Trends in Sub-Saharan Africa, WARDA Publication

International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) website

FAO Rice Market Monitor, June 2006

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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