Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire — The struggle for food—especially rice—is desperate for the 240 million people of West Africa—one of every three people on the continent, and half of whom are Nigerians. About 20 million in the region—the world’s poorest—are rice farmers. Most are women.
The West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA), formed in 1970 as an autonomous intergovernmental association, now comprises 17 member countries, including Nigeria. WARDA is also one of the 16 international centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), supported by more than 50 donors, including 25 countries world-wide. Nigeria is one of the countries that support the CGIAR.
WARDA’s Headquarters and Main Research Centre are located at M’bé, 25 km north of Bouaké in Côte d’Ivoire. The Association also maintains regional research station in St Louis, Senegal, and at Ibadan, Nigeria, and has on-going research activities in all 17 member states.
Thirty years ago, agriculture was the economic mainstay of Nigeria, contributing 70% of the gross domestic product. By the 1990s, the contribution of agriculture had dropped to 30%. In the same period, rice itself moved from being a luxury to a staple food item, with demand growing at 6% per year. Nigeria moved from self-sufficiency in rice in the 1960s to importing 1 million tonnes of rice in 1999, at a staggering cost of US$ ½ billion!
Meanwhile, Nigerian rice yields are low and decreasing. This is happening in all ecologies from the irrigated lowlands through the rainfed (dryland) lowlands to the uplands, and in the mangrove and deep-water rice ecologies. Yield decreases are blamed on increasing production costs and lack of fertilizers, which were formerly used even in the rainfed ecologies. Meanwhile, irrigation infrastructure has not been maintained, and even recent investments from the 1970s and 1980s now lie idle.
An earlier attempt to improve rice production in the country proved fruitless. It was based on importing the “Green Revolution” from Asia, but the Green Revolution rices (mainly IR8) were adapted to systems with a high level of inputs (especially fertilizer) and excellent water control for irrigation—situations that simply were not available at the farm level in West Africa.
In the early 1990s, WARDA realized that the region needed indigenous technologies to solve indigenous problems. The success in this drive was clearly recognized by an external review of WARDA in 1999/2000, which noted: “WARDA is at the cross road where scientific breakthrough will yield large production increase … where poor rice farmers lag behind the technology curve. A fundamental difference is that WARDA is now developing technologies that are adapted to the African environment, without modifying the environment to fit the technology.”
Flagship among these technologies is the “New Rice for Africa”, or NERICA. NERICAs were developed from crosses between the indigenous rice of Africa (called Oryza glaberrima) and the introduced Asian rice (Oryza sativa). The African rice has been cultivated in the region for over 3500 years. It is adapted to the environment, but has poor yield. Asian rice was introduced less than 500 years ago. It has much higher yields potential, but falls prey to many of Africa’s indigenous problems. NERICAs combine the best of both into a single plant: high yield; vigorous early growth, which helps smother weeds; short growth duration, which reduces the amount of labour required to grow the crop; high protein content; resistance to African diseases and pests; and tolerance of drought.
NERICAs have been extensively used in Guinea, where the Government, national research and extension, an NGO and others have been pushing forward a programme to revitalize the rainfed upland rice sector since 1997. The programme involved political support to develop an appropriate policy environment, but also the active participation of farmers in the selection of appropriate varieties and the production of seed. Before the intervention of civil war in 2001, Guinea was on schedule to become self-sufficient in rice this year. By using NERICAs, Guinean farmers are grossing US$65 per hectare with minimal inputs, and $145 per hectare with a moderate level of inputs.
If NERICA can do this for Guinea, what could it do for Nigeria?
Nigeria has over half of the rice production area of West Africa—about 1.5 million hectares, compared to Guinea’s 0.5 million ha. Over 75% of Nigeria’s rice area is rainfed (upland and lowland), compared to Guinea’s 88%. The potential for immediate NERICA production in Nigeria is about 500,000 ha, compared with 258,000 ha in Guinea.
In March 2002, WARDA and its partners in the national programmes of its member states, launched the African Rice Initiative, or ARI. The ARI is an initiative to scale up the production of NERICAs throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. It is also promoting complementary technologies to improve soil fertility and alleviate other problems associated with rice production. Initially, the ARI is focussing on the upland ecology, for which the original NERICAs were bred, with emphasis on seven “pilot” countries—including Nigeria.
WARDA is already active in Nigeria in the areas of participatory varietal selection, seed priming, soil testing, training, inland-valley development, lowland rice breeding, entomology, participatory technology development, and policy support. All of these activities involve a range of stakeholders from national research and extension, to farmers, NGOs and universities. Nigeria has recently released two WARDA-promoted lowland rice varieties—one (Cisadane, FARO 51) for its tolerance to the devastating African rice gall midge, and one (WITA 4, FARO 52) for its iron-toxicity tolerance.
Through the ARI, NERICAs will be promoted and disseminated through participatory varietal selection, whereby farmers choose varieties that fit their own preferences from a range of materials offered by research and extension. ARI will also promote community-based seed production (CBSS) of those varieties that prove popular with farmers. The CBSS enable farmers to grow rice for seed, achieving “acceptable quality” as opposed to officially certified seed, for themselves and their communities.
Meanwhile, a WARDA rice sector study in Nigeria should provide a strategy proposal for development of the rice sector in the country in 2003. Over the past two decades, Nigerian rice policy has been characterized by inconsistency, shifting between open and protectionist trade policy. Such changes hinder the ability of stakeholders to develop long-term strategies. While trade policy has been viewed as the only option for developing the rice sector, there has been a lack of policy to take advantage of the protection and enhance the domestic sector’s efficiency. In addition, the import ban itself is difficult to enforce, which reduces its efficiency. Key issues for the domestic sector are the availability of inputs and credit, and processing, marketing and quality management. Farmers remain committed to rice, despite the lack of inputs, as it is the best crop for the flood-prone lowlands (fadamas). Meanwhile, local rice has a very bad image in the marketplace—a situation that must be reversed through incentives to improve quality, but also through awareness campaigns on the efforts being made to upgrade local rice quality.
WARDA’s Director General, Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze (himself a Nigerian), met with the Federal Minister, the Horourable Mallam Adamu Bellu and the State Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, His Excellency Chief (Dr) Chris Agbobu on 14 May 2002 to discuss these and other rice-related issues. Dr Nwanze also met with the Special Advisor to the President on Food Security on 15 May. On 16 May, Dr Nwanze was invited to a Breakfast Meeting with the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Olusegun Obasanjo, together with a large contingent of Japanese businessmen visiting Nigeria at the president’s invitation to explore investment opportunities. Dr Nwanze made a 15-minute presentation on WARDA and the NERICAs. Both the President and Dr Nwanze commented on the opportune nature of the coincidence of visits, as Japan is the largest donor to WARDA. The President also stressed his personal commitment to seeing NERICAs grown extensively on Nigeria rice-farmers’ fields.
Dr Nwanze was interviewed by two leading newspapers, and then held a two-hour press conference with upwards of 50 journalists. Some of these events have been covered by the Nigerian media and on the Internet.