Thursday, 12 April 2001, Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire—Participants at the International Workshop on New Rice for Africa unanimously agreed to form a Consortium to coordinate wide dissemination of NERICA (New Rice for Africa) to millions of poor farmers, many of them women, in Sub-Saharan Africa. The NERICA rice varieties—developed by the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) and its partner institutions—is a scientific breakthrough which will help to reduce poverty and contribute to food security, nutrition and natural-resource management in the region.
“NERICA rice varieties represent genuine new potential for resource-poor farmers throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and should be disseminated widely throughout the Continent,” said Dr Gordon Conway, President of the Rockefeller Foundation. Conway was speaking following visits he made to farmers’ fields in Central Côte d’Ivoire on Sunday, 8 April 2001.
Rice is a major staple food in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the great economic impact on African economies because of the annual growth rate in consumption of over 5% and the relatively limited scale of local rice production. To meet this shortfall, it is estimated that African countries spend US$1 billion in scarce foreign reserves to import 4 million tonnes of rice per year.
The NERICA Consortium for Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa is unique in that it embodies networking institutions and stakeholders. The Consortium is expected to include the participation of a full range of stakeholders—national agricultural research and extension systems; donors, including UNDP, Japan, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, the US Agency for International Development (USAID); non-governmental organizations, including Sasakawa Global 2000; farmers’ organizations and the private sector. The workshop was attended by over 90 participants from African and Asian research institutions, including several Ministers and Vice-Ministers from West and Central African states, the President of the Rockefeller Foundation, senior officials from the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the United Nations system and WARDA.
NERICA, developed by crossing African and Asian rice species, combines the best attributes of both. It can produce over 50% more grain than current varieties when cultivated in traditional rainfed systems without fertilizer. In addition to higher yields, the NERICA varieties mature 30 to 50 days earlier than current varieties. The new rice is substantially richer in protein and is far more disease and drought tolerant than previous varieties. NERICA can resist some of the most damaging insect pests in West Africa and can out-compete weeds.
NERICA is an excellent example of a tangible outcome of South–South cooperation between Asian and African research partners in collaboration with northern and international research institutions. The NERICA Consortium will mobilize political commitment and resources and facilitate operational activities, monitor progress, share information and ensure the participation of all stakeholders. An Action Plan discussed at the workshop will be elaborated as the basis for Consortium activities.
The Consortium intends to push forward with the widespread and rapid dissemination of the NERICA rice varieties to poor farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, leading to increases in their incomes and nutritional needs and to eventually reducing rice imports.