"Green revolution" with new African rice types?

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afrol News, 28 March - New rice varieties developed in West Africa, which can yield up to 50 percent larger crops without fertilizer, and 200 percent larger crops with fertilizer and improved management, might lead to an emerging "Green Revolution" in West Africa. The new varieties are expected to generate rice import savings of US$ 88 million per year for seven West African countries in 2006.

According to a release by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the cultivated area in West Africa, which is currently 3,824 hectares could grow to 210,000 hectares and the overall production would yield about 744,000 tons per year. "The number of subsistence farmers to be exposed to the New Rice for Africa (NERICA) in the pilot countries and other countries in the region is likely to increase from 220,000 to 1.7 million." 

The West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) has spearheaded the development of the new rice varieties, with financial and technical assistance UN agencies, Western states and other organisations.

NERICA is a result of crossing African and Asian rice species. "In addition to the significant gains in production, the new varieties also mature 30-50 days earlier than the currently grown varieties," UNDP reports. "The new rice has a shorter growth cycle of 90 to 110 days from seeding to harvesting in comparison with 130 to 140 days for traditional varieties. It is also substantially richer in protein, tastes good, is more tolerant to disease, drought and acid soils, resists some of the most damaging insect pests in West Africa, and can out-compete weeds."

According to Safiatou Ba-N’Daw, Director of UNDP’s Special Unit for Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries, "NERICA is a good illustration of how scientific research can contribute to poverty alleviation through triangular South-South cooperation, with the participation of institutions from Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America. The new rice is most likely to have a positive impact on improving poor farmers’ income and improving their food security." 

UNDP reports that WARDA conducted a preparatory meeting on 26 March on the new rice variety in Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire’s second largest city. The partners and stakeholders held deliberations on a mechanism to ensure the effective management of the African Rice Initiative (ARI), an action-oriented programme that aims at providing food security and fighting poverty.

- The ARI conforms to the food security, better agricultural systems, and higher nutritional standards for Africans as put forward in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, Madame Ba-N’Daw said, adding, "As a follow-up to the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, the ARI will contribute to achieving some targets set in the Millennium Development Goals." 

As part of the process to help disseminate the new rice varieties, the NERICA Consortium was launched yesterday in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire’s administrative capital. The launching ceremony was attended by Pascal Affi N'Guessan, Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire, high-ranking government officials, Ministers of Agriculture from WARDA member countries and representatives of the diplomatic corps, international organizations and civil society. 

The Consortium, which will initially focus attention on seven pilot countries: Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Togo; will seek ways and means to improve the quality of seed production, maximize the economic benefits of NERICA, and facilitate sharing of lessons learned and best practices among stakeholders. "Other WARDA member countries and indeed any other country in sub-Saharan Africa can have access to NERICA technologies through association with the Consortium," said Ken Fujimura, a senior adviser at UNDP. 

The UN agency reports that the scientific breakthrough culminated three years of trials in which farmers, very often women, selected varieties in the field. Several best practice elements were used to develop NERICA, including biotechnology techniques and gender sensitive procedures to take full advantage of indigenous knowledge and partnerships between institutions, researchers and farmers.

The model for this development of high yields varieties adapted to local conditions origins from the so-calles "Green Revolution" of Asia in the 1970s, which maked the beginning of the end of chronical poverty and the irst step towards industrialisation in several Asian countries. 

In the enormous scientific efforts towards developing high yields and resistent varieties of various agricultural plants, almost all resources are concentrated on plants grown in Europe and North America. The poor financing of scientific development of species for African agriculture is the main reason Africa has still not expereinced the "Green Revolution" almost all other parts of the globe has benifited from. 

Sources: Based on UNDP and afrol archives

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