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AfricaRice invigorates rice breeding programs in Africa with support from Republic of Korea

The Rural Development Administration (RDA) of the Republic of Korea and the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) have entered into a strategic partnership under the Korea-Africa Food and Agriculture Cooperation Initiative (KAFACI) to accelerate the development of a new generation of productive and stress-tolerant rice varieties to meet the pressing needs of rice farmers and consumers in Africa.

KAFACI aims to contribute to food security and enhanced economic growth in Africa through modernized agriculture by drawing on the experience, knowledge and resources of the Republic of Korea.

The partnership will broaden the African rice gene pool with high yield and quality traits from Korean rice germplasm. It will also enhance African rice breeding capacity by training national rice breeders, particularly in the application of anther culture, which has high potential to increase rice yields in Africa. For this, facilities for anther-culture work will be set up at the regional training center of AfricaRice located at its regional station in Saint Louis, Senegal.

The partnership will support seed multiplication and dissemination efforts for newly released improved rice varieties, which will contribute to strengthening national seed systems. It will also help establish a strong research network of African and RDA scientists working on rice breeding for Africa.

The project will be co-coordinated by a Korean rice breeding expert put at the disposal of AfricaRice by RDA and an AfricaRice breeder. It will cover the following 20 African countries: Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique. Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Partnership activities will be carried out in accordance with the terms and conditions set out in a letter of agreement under the framework of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) entitled “The Africa Rice Development Partnership,” which was signed on 19 October 2016 in Jeonju, Republic of Korea.

Signatories to the MoU are Mr Hwang-keun Chung, RDA Administrator; Dr Harold Roy-Macauley, AfricaRice Director General; Dr Joseph De Vries, Head of Agricultural Transformation Program, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) on behalf of Dr Agnes Kalibata, President of AGRA; Dr Craig L. Nessler, Texas A&M AgriLife Research Director and Dr Edwin C. Price, Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University (ConDev) Center Director.

“This is a momentous achievement, which will allow AfricaRice to invigorate its effort to reach the common objectives of improving food security and reducing poverty in Africa, through advances in rice research and training of rice breeders,” stated Dr Roy-Macauley.

The joint initiative comes at an opportune moment as demand for rice is growing at more than 6% per year in Africa – faster than for any other food staple, because of changing consumer preferences and growing urban populations. Rice harvest in Africa is predicted to reach an all-time high of about 29.7 million tons in 2016, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

However, African farmers mainly grow rice under rainfed conditions, obtaining yields of around 2 tons per hectare. This is much lower than average rice yields world-wide at around 4 tons per hectare, with the result that much of the rice consumed in Africa is imported from Asia. Rice self-sufficiency objectives are being pursued by many African countries as a means to achieve food security and reduce the rice import bill.

The Republic of Korea has rich resources of germplasm known as Tongil-type rice that has a yield potential of 6 to 8 tons per hectare of milled rice. The high-yielding Tongil variety, derived from indica-japonica cross, sparked the Green Revolution in the Republic of Korea, transforming the country from a rice importer to a self-sufficient producer in the 1970s. “The Tongil-type rice could be used to develop a new generation of rice varieties for Africa,” stated Dr Roy-Macauley.

The new RDA-AfricaRice initiative will build on the success of a joint pilot project that evaluated Korean rice breeding lines at the AfricaRice regional research station in Saint Louis in Senegal in 2015/2016. Some of the lines have been nominated for multi-environment trials through the Africa-wide Rice Breeding Task Force. Several improved varieties obtained from crosses between elite Korean and African varieties are currently being tested.

The pilot project conducted two training courses for national rice breeders over the period of 2015 and 2016, with support from Korean and AfricaRice scientists. The courses resulted in a total of 34 scientists from 22 African countries trained in modern rice breeding methods and techniques.

The countries that benefitted from this training are as follows: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Over the past two years, several exchange visits by high-level Korean and AfricaRice delegations have taken place to prepare the groundwork for the long-term partnership.

“We strongly believe that this landmark initiative will contribute to boosting the rice sector in Africa and will emerge as an exemplary model of technical development cooperation for improving the lives and livelihoods of smallholder farmers and consumers,” said Dr Roy-Macauley.

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