Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire — To reduce the severe food and seed shortage in western Ivory Coast, which has been devastated by the recent Ivoirian crisis, seeds of rice varieties developed by WARDA–The Africa Rice Center and its partners were donated to UN and non-governmental organizations for distribution to farmers as part of WARDA’s ‘Seeds for Life’ project on 8 August 2003.
Although the recent 10-month long civil war in Ivory Coast has affected many parts of the country, its toll has been particularly heavy in western Ivory Coast – the traditional rice belt, bordering Liberia.
Describing the plight of farmers in this area, Mrs Jeanne Kopieu, President of the ‘Actions contre la pauvreté en Côte d’Ivoire’ (ACOPCI), a local NGO that is helping rehabilitate farming communities, remarked, “Thousands of farmers of this region fled from their villages when the conflicts became severe.”
Now that the country is limping back to normalcy, these farmers are returning to their villages. “But their houses have been destroyed and seed stocks looted or burnt. For instance, some of the farmers of this area had painstakingly saved 35 tonnes of seed of the New Rice for Africa (NERICA) and stored them in their village seed bank before the civil war broke out. But once the conflicts began, they lost their complete seed stock of NERICA,” Mrs Kopieu said.
“On behalf of these unfortunate farming communities, we thank WARDA for taking the lead in helping restore their hope through this seed donation,” she announced on receiving the seeds.
FAO, the World Food Program, and NGOs such as ACOPCI have been actively involved in helping the farming communities in the region. But their major obstacle has been the lack of seed of adapted varieties.
“To respond urgently to their needs, we decided to distribute seeds of two rice varieties, WITA 4 and WITA 12, for the lowland systems, in addition to NERICA seeds for upland systems,” said Dr G Guei, Head of WARDA’s Genetic Resource Unit, who has led this initiative.
WITA 4 and WITA 12 are particularly well-suited to this area and have been earlier selected as the best varieties by farmers under the Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS) program. “Both are high-yielding varieties and resistant to iron toxicity, a severe constraint to rice production in lowland systems in this area,” Dr Guei added.
In association with its partners, WARDA will study the use and the impact of the distributed seed in the farming communities in Western Ivory Coast and evaluate the loss of biodiversity in farmers’ fields because of the civil war.
“We had earlier collected traditional rice varieties from this area and those have been preserved in WARDA’s genebank. It is our duty now to restore duplicate samples of those seeds to farmers who have lost their traditional varieties,” observed Dr Guei, mentioning that WARDA had done a similar seed restoration in Sierra Leone after the civil war in that country.
The ‘Seeds for Life’ ceremony was organized under the aegis of the Ministry of Scientific Research, Government of Ivory Coast in partnership with CNRA, ANADER and PNR. In addition to representatives from the host government, the FAO Resident Representative Mr Amadou Moustapha Kamara, WARDA’s Board Chair Prof. Richard Musangi and Board Member Dr Remi Pochat attended.
Wishing the ‘Seeds for Life’ project and the recipients of the seeds great success, Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze, WARDA’s Director General said, “We hope that in 2-3 years, rice-based agriculture in western Ivory Coast will be restored to its full capacity and the granaries of farmers will be filled with rice, ensuring sustainable food security in the country.”