More rice for Africa, target of new research hub

 Liz Barona-Edna   |  


Burundi has turned its rice research capacity up a notch to improve food security in Eastern and Southern Africa by establishing a regional rice research and development hub with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

In his speech at the official opening of the new Robert S. Zeigler building that will house IRRI’s Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office, First Vice-President of Burundi His Excellency Bernard Busokoza stated that the government strongly supports further collaboration between IRRI and Burundi to improve the region’s rice production and support the fight against food insecurity.

First Vice-President Busokoza said that the Government of Burundi and IRRI share the same vision: to provide sustainable methods of growing rice to improve the well-being of rice producers and consumers, to reduce poverty and preserve the environment.

The new regional office will focus on developing and testing new rice varieties matched to the different rice production ecologies across Eastern and Southern Africa. To support IRRI’s activities, First Vice-President Busokoza also announced that the government has granted IRRI use of a 10 hectare plot of land at Gihanga for its rice research.

Key government, IRRI, and AfricaRice officials attended the inauguration of the regional office that was held on 30 October 2013, as part of the IRRI Board of Trustees meeting in Bujumbura, Burundi.

The new building was named after IRRI’s current director general, Dr. Robert S. Zeigler.

“This is truly an honor for me,” said Dr. Zeigler, during the unveiling of the building plaque.

Zeigler was recognized for his many years of work in development agriculture as a scientist and research leader in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the United States. He also served as a technical adviser in the maize program at Burundi’s Institute of Agronomic Sciences in the 1980s and was instrumental in the arranging the first IRRI-Burundi Memorandum of Understanding that was signed in 2008.

“I’m very optimistic that this new regional hub will substantially contribute to the development of the rice sector in Eastern and Southern Africa, and build our collaboration with our partners in Burundi and the greater region,” Zeigler added.

Interim director general of AfricaRice Dr. Adama Traoré also attended and highlighted the importance of Asia-Africa knowledge exchange that has been made possible by the CGIAR Research Program on Rice, known as the Global Rice Science Partnership.

Dr. Robert Zeigler, Dr. Emerlinda Roman, and  First Vice-President Busokoza

Dr. Robert Zeigler, Dr. Emerlinda Roman, and First Vice-President Busokoza

Also attending were Burundi’s Ministers of Agriculture and Livestock; Higher Education and Scientific Research; Finances and Development Planning; and External Relations and International Cooperation.

IRRI’s deputy director general for research Dr. Achim Dobermann highlighted areas where IRRI can contribute to rice research and development with the substantial support of stakeholders.

“With advances in technology, we can expedite the breeding process to ensure new rice varieties are available every year for the region,” said Dobermann. “It is our vision for Burundi to become a leading regional hub for excellent, high yielding, rice varieties that also have good grain quality.”

IRRI and the Burundian government started collaborating in 2006 through the initiatives of Dr. Joseph Bigirimana, who is now the IRRI Regional Coordinator for Eastern and Southern Africa. The first joint project with CARE Burundi was established in 2010, with support from the Howard Buffett Foundation, to train ex-combatant women in rice production.

In 2011, two IRRI-bred rice varieties, Vuninzara (IR77713) and Gwizumwimbu (IR79511), which were developed especially for Burundi, were released. Farmers rank these varieties higher in grain quality of unmilled, milled, and cooked rice than previously popular varieties. IRRI is also sharing rice breeding lines with Burundi that are being tested at a number of IRRI field sites around the country.

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