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Although rice is a staple food for people in West Africa, most of it is imported. FAO estimated in 2006 that rice imports to the West and Central Africa subregions had reached more than 6 million tonnes, costing over $1 billion. The cost of importing rice is a heavy burden on trade balances in the region. It is important for all West African countries to collaboratively develop and invest in domestic rice production and the development of the regional rice market; otherwise they will remain heavily dependent on Asia and the United States to supply rice to feed their growing populations.
Towards a Solution
In the 1990s, 17 West African countries sought to promote self-reliance in rice production in the region and across Africa in order to reduce the expenditure on rice imports. In 1991, the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA), now named the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), started a programme to develop new rice varieties by crossbreeding African and Asian rice species. In 1994, WARDA breeders succeeded in developing new rice varieties that inherited the best traits of the two species by adopting modern biotechnology and conventional backcrossing technology. In 2000, the varieties were named New Rice for Africa (NERICA).
NERICA is not genetically modified rice. There are two types of NERICA varieties, upland and lowland, adapted to both rain-fed and irrigated lowlands. The upland NERICA varieties are well-adapted to the rain-fed upland ecology in sub-Saharan Africa where smallholder farmers have very limited access to irrigation and fertilizers. Upland NERICAs have brought specific benefits to African rice growers, in particular shorter growth duration and tolerance to specific biotic and abiotic stresses.
Many NERICA varieties have been successfully adopted in 31 sub-Saharan countries. A recent study led by AfricaRice estimates the area under upland NERICA varieties at 1.4 million hectares in 2013 across sub-Saharan Africa. It also showed that the adoption of NERICA varieties had lifted about 8 million people out of poverty in 16 countries in 2013. The adoption has helped adopters to increase significantly their rice yield by 319 kg per ha, leading to an increase of $465 per household. The African Development Bank extended loans of $26.77 million to seven pilot countries (Benin, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Sierra Leone) for NERICA dissemination. Seed production in those seven countries increased steadily from 2,733 tonnes in 2005 to 13,108 tonnes in 2008, and harvesting took place more than once a year. NERICA has had an adoption rate of up to 68 per cent by farmers. Rice imports are reported to have declined in sub-Saharan Africa. Projections by AfricaRice show that a 20-per cent increase in NERICA planting in sub-Saharan African countries could result in a 5-per cent reduction in the rice import bill.
Additionally, NERICA has helped to improve school attendance rates thanks to a less labour-intensive way of farming and the revenues generated. A review of findings from NERICA adoption and impact studies in the target countries showed that NERICA had a positive impact on women. NERICA varieties mature quickly and cope well with drought and other constraints in upland rice farming in West Africa. This feature is a major attraction for women rice farmers who do most of the weeding in rice fields.
A collaborative regional research network was established by the African Rice Initiative. It included national partners and regional and international research centres of excellence, and was supported by donors and multilateral institutions through triangular cooperation arrangements. Triangular cooperation brings technological complementarity between advanced and conventional technologies and connects lab and field. The Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and research institutions from developed countries conducted genetic analysis with advanced technology, while African institutions engaged in applied research to evaluate how new rice varieties adapted to local conditions.
AfricaRice explored a range of partnership models and adapted several participatory approaches among partners and stakeholders in the region and across Africa. For example:
- Participatory variety selection (PVS) introduced a revolutionary relationship of scientist-farmer interaction. PVS has been instrumental in the release of varieties in several African countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Togo.
- Participatory adaptation and diffusion of technologies for rice-based systems (PADS) used the community-based approach to encourage farmers to take the lead in seed supply. Local networks and communication channels were used to promote the improved rice varieties, fertilizer management and the use of bio-pesticides.
- Participatory learning and action research (PLAR) involves farmers, non-governmental organizations and research institutions.
Regular field visits are organized to build farmers’ capacities. Knowledge and information about technologies are shared among farmers on a regular basis. Financial and market risk implications are analysed. Rural knowledge centres are set up to facilitate peer learning among farmers from neighbouring communities with similar land conditions.
The NERICA varieties have been disseminated through the African Rice Initiative with support from Japan, UNOSSC, UNDP, the African Development Bank, the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, the Rockefeller Foundation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the World Bank, the European Union, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States through the United States Agency for International Development. Research and development partners include the International Rice Research Institute, the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences, the Institut de recherche pour le développement, Cornell University, Tokyo University, Yunnan University and the national rice programmes of African countries.
Sustainable Development Goal targets: 1.1, 1.5, 2.1, 2.3, 2.4, 4.1, 4.2, 5.b
Contact: Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) ; AfricaRice@cgiar.org
Countries / territories involved: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda
Supported by: Japan, UNOSSC, UNDP, the African Development Bank, others mentioned above
Implementing entity: African Rice Initiative
Project status: Ongoing
Project period: 1991 to present
URL of the practice: http://www.africarice.org/warda/guide-compend.asp