Cotonou, Benin — The regional launching of the African Development Bank (AfDB)-funded New Rice for Africa (NERICA) dissemination project took place during an official ceremony on 12 May 2005 in Accra, Ghana. The overall coordination of the project will be carried out by the African Rice Initiative (ARI), which is hosted by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA).
The launching marks the culmination of months of preparatory work by ARI and the project pilot countries in keeping with the pledge made by AfDB in 2003 during the signing of the $35 million grant and loan agreement to support NERICA dissemination in seven West African countries over 5 years.
The grant and loan came into force in February 2005 on fulfilment of the Bank’s conditions by all the pilot countries. The conditions included the establishment of a steering committee, national coordination units and stakeholder platforms and the appointment of national coordinators in the pilot countries.
This regional launching of the project in Accra is not only significant for Ghana, but also for The Gambia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, which comprise the English-speaking pilot countries of this project. The regional launching of the project for the French-speaking pilot countries—Benin, Guinea and Mali—will be done on 19 May 2005 in Conakry, Guinea.
“The launching of the AfDB-ARI project is especially rewarding for WARDA, which developed NERICA, because it testifies to the farsightedness of the Center in creating ARI to serve as a focused channel for coordinated NERICA dissemination efforts across sub-Saharan Africa” stated Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze, WARDA Director General, in his message for the project launching ceremony. He added that the project also dovetails with NEPAD’s endorsement of NERICA as one of the “best practices worth scaling up” across the sub-continent.
Dr Nwanze thanked all the partners, including the governments of the pilot countries and the ARI Regional and National Coordination Units for their efforts to make the project launching possible. “AfDB’s support to the project demonstrates its strong commitment to food security and poverty reduction in the most impoverished region in the world,” he said.
“We are equally indebted to the Rockefeller Foundation, which has championed the cause of ARI right from the beginning, as well as Japan, UNDP and Sasakawa Global 2000, which have been its staunch supporters and partners.”
The objective of the project is to help small-scale producers in the pilot countries to improve rice production and incomes through the dissemination of NERICA varieties and complementary technology from WARDA. About 80% of the targeted beneficiaries of the project are the rural poor, mostly women.
The project estimates that about 33 000 farm families will be involved in participatory variety selection (PVS) strategy to accelerate NERICA dissemination. About 400 000 ha of additional land is expected to be under NERICA cultivation by the 5th year of the project. The rice import bill of the seven countries is expected to reduce by about US$100 million.
According to WARDA economists, the demand for rice in West and Central Africa (WCA), the rice belt of Africa, is growing at the rate of 6% per annum—faster than anywhere else in the world. The growth is largely the result of urbanization, which is growing at the rate of 3.5% per year in Africa—again the fastest in the world—and changing consumer preferences. As domestic rice production cannot meet this rising demand, rice imports in the sub-region have increased eight-fold to 4 million t per year since the 1960s, at an annual cost of over US$1 billion.
“The launching of the AfDB-ARI NERICA project is thus very timely,” commented Dr Inoussa Akintayo, ARI Coordinator. The NERICA advantage consists in its combined characteristics of: higher yields, earlier maturity, resistance to local stresses and good taste.
Under farmers’ conditions, NERICA varieties raise the yield of upland rice from less than 1.0 to more than 1.5 t per ha. With minimal application of fertilizer, the yield levels can go up to 3 t per ha. NERICA matures 30 to 50 days earlier than other rice varieties grown in the region—a trait, which is particularly valuable for rural women to bridge the gap of the ‘hungry season’, when food stocks from the previous harvest have been exhausted and the current season’s crop is not yet mature.
Thus, NERICA varieties offer opportunities for sustainable intensification of upland rice production systems, increased household incomes for farmers and increased market share of locally grown rice. In recognition of the immense potential of NERICA for food security and poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa, Dr Monty Jones, popularly called The Father of NERICA, was selected as the co-laureate of the 2004 World Food Prize.
Upland NERICAs are planted on more than 100 000 ha across Africa, including about 70 000 ha in Guinea and more than 10 000 ha in Uganda. “NERICA dissemination can be more effectively accelerated through the AfDB-ARI NERICA project,” Dr Akintayo explained. The project will build on the success of the World Bank-funded partnership-based NERICA project that was initiated in Guinea in the late 90s.
It will adopt participatory approaches adapted to Africa such as PVS and community-based seed production systems (CBSS) that were central to the success of the World Bank-funded NERICA project. It will have four major components: technology transfer, production support, capacity building, and project coordination.
Since seed shortage is the biggest bottleneck in NERICA dissemination, the project plans to mount a major effort on seed production. The project will also address the lack of rice processing technology in the region.
The launching of the AfDB-ARI project thus sets the stage for large-scale coordinated dissemination of the NERICAs in West Africa. Dr Nwanze expressed his hope that similar projects could be launched in Central and Eastern Africa, where the demand for NERICA is growing fast. He announced that WARDA, in close association with its national partners, has recently achieved another scientific breakthrough – the development of NERICAs for lowlands. The new varieties are already gaining popularity among farmers. Four lowland NERICA varieties were released in Burkina Faso and two in Mali in early 2005.
Dr Nwanze cautioned, however, that technologies such as upland and lowland NERICAs, alone cannot bring about an agricultural revolution in sub-Saharan Africa. These should be complemented by political and social stability; favorable and consistent agricultural policies; removal of unfair subsidies; better infrastructure; active involvement of the private sector; price incentives for quality products; access of farmers, particularly women, to credit; massive promotion of local products; competitive local and regional markets; and political commitment at the highest level.
“Only then will we be able to capture the full benefits of breakthroughs such as upland and lowland NERICAs,” Dr Nwanze concluded.