Wonder rice outshines other gains in TICAD process

Tokyo- Japan (PANA) -- A high-yield resistant rice developed through cooperation between African and Asian research institutions has received wide acclaim here as the most spectacular achievement yet within the framework of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD).
"A major outcome of Asia/Africa cooperation has been the development of the New Rice for Africa (NERICA), a high-yield variety that has the potential to address the problems of food security in a number of West African countries," UN under- secretary General and Special Adviser on Africa, Ibrahim Gambari acknowledged at the third session of TICAD underway here.
Earlier on the eve of TICAD III, a UN Development Programme (UNDP) release concerning NERICA said "nothing demonstrates better the degree of collaboration possible between Asia and Africa.
" Equally enthralled was UNDP TICAD Special Unit director Ernest Nzekio, who said NERICA "shows what African research institutes can accomplish if supported by TICAD," urging the authorities to consider replicating the experience on other food crops.
As further affirmed by yet another UNDP official here, Ken Fujimura of the Special Unit of Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (SU/TCDC), NERICA has exceptional traits that make it a big success.
The variety was developed through the tissue and genetic crossing of an African species, O.
Glaberrima and the Asian O.
Sativa, resulting in a hybrid that combines and even improves upon the best traits of the two.
Whereas the African species was sturdier and resistant to plant diseases, its yield was low.
The converse was true of its Asian counterpart, high in yield but prone to diseases.
The research, initiated in 1994 by the West Africa Rice Development Authority (WARDA), involved experts from 17 West African countries as well as the Asian International Institute of Rice Research, the Yunan Agricultural Science Academy and the University of Tokyo.
Also involved was the International Centre for Agricultural Science in Japan, the Latin American International Centre for Tropical Agriculture and Cornell University in the United States.
Support for the project came from the UNDP, the Japanese government, the World Bank, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Food Programme and the Rockefeller Foundation.
"Not only is NERICA 2-percent richer in protein content, but its yield is 50 percent higher than the traditional species even without recourse to fertilisers," Fujimura pointed out.
"It matures in a much shorter time, within 90-110 days, compared to 130-150 days for the latter," he added.
The hybrid, adapted to the rather hard conditions in West Africa, which is hub of the research project, thrives even on the acid and infertile soils that make up 70 percent of rice fields in the subregion.
Furthermore, experts say NERICA's larger grains make harvesting easier.
On-farm trials have been underway since 1997 in Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Togo with prospects of taking the miracle rice to Central Africa and well beyond to Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania further east of the continent.
Observers here maintain that NERICA cuts well into the food security needs of West Africa where demand for rice is increasing at a pace unequalled anywhere else in the world.
Rice imports to the region have grown 8-fold in the past 30 years to reach some 3 million tons per year, with annual costs averaging a million US dollars.
Estimates are that effective cultivation of NERICA would save West Africa up to $88 million yearly on rice imports.
To speed up the process, a consortium of partners including the Japanese government, UNDP, the World Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the FAO and the African Development Bank launched the African Rice Initiative (ARI) in March last year.
ARI targets for the period up to 2006 include raising the cultivated surface across West Africa to 210,000 hectares, mobilising some 120,000 farmers in a participatory seed selection process, introducing NERICA to about 1.
7 million farmers and increasing local rice production to 744,000 tons.

30 septembre 2003 10:54:00

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