According to the latest figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), paddy (unhulled rice) production in Africa has
gone up for the sixth consecutive year, reaching 21.6 million tons in 2006, 6% above the 2005 total.
FAO attributes the record harvest to favorable weather conditions and the positive effects of the adoption of New Rice for Africa (NERICA) varieties developed by the Africa Rice Center (commonly known as WARDA) and its partners.
Rice is successfully and economically produced in a wide range of agroecologies in Africa. Advances have been made in understanding the dynamics of rice production systems and in developing technologies designed for African conditions.
However, many challenges remain, and smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa continue to face a blitz of problems, many of which are compounded by new challenges such as climate change.
Demand for rice is soaring across much of sub-Saharan Africa and 40% of this demand is being met by imports at a staggering cost of about US$1.5 billion per year.
WARDA economists caution that Africa would be ill-advised to rely heavily on rice imports for its growing demand, because only 4% of world rice production is subject to trade, with most rice being consumed in the country where it was grown. Moreover, global rice stocks are declining and some recent predictions have rice prices doubling in the near future.
To effectively address some of these daunting challenges, WARDA is joining forces with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT by its Spanish acronym) as part of a new alliance aimed at creating a strong synergy for rice research in Africa. The three research centers are supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
“This research alignment seems very relevant to us because we work on the same commodity and there are certain areas of collaboration that have not been fully tapped before,” said WARDA Director General Papa Abdoulaye Seck.
Dr. Seck explained that some of the agroecologies in Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa are alike and rice farmers in developing countries face many similar challenges. “Therefore, a research alignment where the comparative advantages of these centers are combined can have a large-scale impact in Africa,” he said.
Taking this into account, five thematic areas have been identified for joint research to boost the development of the African rice sector: genomics, seed systems, policy and markets, postharvest technology, and the commodity chain.