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Africa Boosts Its Rice Potential

African countries have dramatically increased rice production in the last two years. The improvement is the result of a program put together by the Africa Rice Center, an intergovernmental association of 23 rice-producing African countries.

The center produces a variety of rice technologies, helps member countries accelerate adoption of new technologies and strengthens rice seed production and distribution systems in order to boost output.

For decades, a rapidly urbanizing Africa relied on relatively cheap rice imports to meet 40% of demand. Ranked among the world’s leading rice importers, Nigeria alone consumes over 5% of the global rice exports.

In 2007, international rice prices jumped to record highs, sparking widespread food riots in several African countries dependant on imports.

African Rice Center steps in

Marco Wopereis, deputy director general of the organization, says policy measures it recommended in 2007 to support the rice sector in Africa “contributed to an 18% increase in rice production in 2008.”

The commitment of high level government officials in countries like Nigeria, Senegal, and Mali, allowing farmers to have access to fertilizer and good quality feed, the collaboration of research and development partners in coordinating clear strategies, were contributing factors to the success of our efforts,” says Wopereis.

Burkina Faso was one of the countries rocked by the food riots in 2007. Because of government access to high quality rice seed, including “Nerica” rice varieties developed and certified by the Africa Rice Center, its production in 2008 increased by 24%, according to Wopereis.Senegal, the world’s eighth largest rice importer, also increased its rice production by 90% in 2008.

Other African countries recording double-digit increases in rice production in just one year are Mali, Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Uganda.

Room for improvement

Africa is still consuming more than it produces, says Wopereis. “We need to develop land and water,” he says.

“There are many lowlands in Africa that need simple investment to control water. Without using fertilizer, just by weeding alone, we can produce three tons of rice per hectare. There are 150 million hectares of lowlands in Africa that can be used to cultivate rice.”

A study conducted by the Africa Rice Center projects that the continent can become a net rice exporter, providing more than five million tons to the international market, by increasing the area under cultivation by 15% and by using improved technologies to help Africa produce all the rice it needs.


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