Wednesday, 27 March 2002, Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire — A new African Rice Initiative, to bring renewed hope to millions of peasant farmers who grow rice throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, was launched by Pascal Affi N’Guéssan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, on 27 March 2002.N’Guéssan represented Côte d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo at the ceremony, held at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Foundation for Peace in Yamoussoukro.
The historic launching ceremony was attended by more than 100 persons, including ministers, ambassadors and representatives of international organizations and the donor community, directors general of national agricultural research systems, farmers, the private sector, NGOs and other stakeholders.
The African Rice Initiative, or ARI, proposes to step up the dissemination of the New Rices for Africa, or NERICAs, developed by the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA), based near Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire. The ARI will also promote complementary technologies to improve soil fertility and make rice farming more sustainable in the fragile uplands and other ecologies of Sub-Saharan Africa. NERICA has been steadily gaining a reputation for itself and its developers both in the region of West and Central Africa, and internationally. In 2000, WARDA won the prestigious King Baudouin Award of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) for the development of NERICA. In April 2001, at an international workshop at WARDA’s headquarters, the decision was made to launch the work onto a higher plain and create the NERICA Consortium for Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa, which will be the implementing body of the ARI. Since then, an increasing number of supporters have encouraged WARDA and its partners to develop the ARI, and the launching ceremony was sponsored by the Government of Japan, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the African Development Bank (AfDB), and WARDA.
The Mayor of Yamoussoukro welcomed participants and thanked all those involved in the development and dissemination of NERICA for bringing hope in the fight against hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa. The welcome was followed by a statement of thanks to the donors who have supported WARDA and the NERICA work over the past 11 years by the Chairman of WARDA’s Board of Trustees Prof. N. Lindsay Innes, who also highlighted the importance of partnerships in the work to date and the future success of the new Initiative. He emphasized the need for these partnerships to go beyond those normally associated with international agricultural research, and to encompass relevant research institutions world-wide, national research and extension services in the target countries, NGOs, farmers’ organizations, and policy-makers in the target countries.
Sery Bailly, Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research in Côte d’Ivoire, expressed his pride in being associated with WARDA’s work, and that WARDA is headquartered in his country.
Theophile Nata, Minister for Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries in the Republic of Benin and Chairman of the WARDA Council of Ministers, said that after 30 years, WARDA had finally “matured,” and looked forward to rice self-sufficiency in his country by 2005. He noted that NERICAs are high-yielding rices with the prospect of saving the West and Central Africa region some US$ 80 million per year within five years. He expressed his personal thanks to the donors of the launch.
The Director General of WARDA, Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze, gave a historical overview of the development and spread of the NERICAs, highlighting the success achieved in Guinea through the support of the Guinean Government and international NGO Sasakawa Global 2000. He said that in 2001, the increased rice production saved Guinea about $ 10 million from its rice import bill.
Representatives of the major sponsors of the launch — the UNDP and Japan, who put up a combined $ 3 million towards the first phase of ARI — both expressed their congratulations and encouragement to all those working on the NERICAs. They emphasized that the Tokyo Conference on African Development (TICAD) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) place ARI firmly in the global context of agricultural development in Africa.
Mr Olisemeka, Nigerian Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire, thanked the organizers for their invitation to the Launch and expressed President Olusegun Aremu Obasango’s regrets that he could not attend the launch because of prior commitment to a NEPAD meeting. The Nigerian President and Government are committed to agricultural development through the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) currently being implemented in their country. For Nigeria, the NERICAs offer the prospect of expanding rice cultivation by 35% in the sub-humid and humid savanna zone, said Olisemeka. They will catalyze Nigerian food security, especially with the prospect of reduced availability of cheap rice on the world market for import. The Ambassador also stressed the need for WARDA’s member states to fully support the Initiative, both politically and financially.
On the platform of these comments, Prime Minister N’Guéssan officially launched the African Rice Initiative.
The significance of the ARI Launch was demonstrated by the fact that it was widely covered by local and international media, including Radio France Internationale (RFI) in both French and English, the Agence France Presse, and a live interview with the WARDA Director General on the BBC on 28 March. The UNDP issued its own press release to Reuters and other news agencies.