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Friday, May 30, 2008

Aid bodies launch initiative to double continent's rice haul


Staff writer

Japanese and African organizations expressed determination Thursday to double the rice harvest in Africa within 10 years, saying it would help the continent in many ways, from alleviating its food crisis to bolstering the economy.

The initiative — Coalition for African Rice Development — aims to increase rice production from 14 million tons to 28 million tons by around 2017.

Kenzo Oshima, senior vice president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which is jointly launching CARD with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, based in Kenya, said attaining the goal will be difficult but not impossible.

"We believe this is a battle that must and can be won," he said at a seminar hosted by the New Partnership for Africa's Development, where the groups launched the CARD initiative on the second day of the TICAD IV aid conference.

Rice consumption in Africa has jumped from 3.14 million tons to 14.60 million tons in the past 50 years.

The jump in the figure is partly due to a new variety rice called New Rice for Africa (NERICA), which started spreading in the late 1990s.

NERICA is a more resilient strain of rice that is more suited for the growing environments prevalent in Africa. It has a higher yield, shorter growing period and good taste.

Monty Jones, executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, is known as the father of NERICA, which is now available in several varieties.

With rice consumption increasing, Africa has had to import more of the grain and now depends on imports for 40 percent of its rice, which cost it $2 billion in 2006.

The amount of NERICA seeds, however, is not keeping up with the high demand in Africa, Jones said.

Skyrocketing food costs have affected rice, and if the continent boosts rice production, it won't have to depend on costly imports, speakers at the seminar said.

Jones said possible challenges to the CARD initiative will likely be the lack of technology for expanding seed availability, poor infrastructure and weak government policy.

Nevertheless, the speakers at the seminar were all optimistic that the goal of increasing rice in Africa will be achievable. Jones said he sees a bright future in rice and its development in Africa.

"Rice will help Africa make a difference," Jones said.



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