6 August 2007, COTONOU, Benin — With rising international rice prices threatening to double their US$2 billion annual rice import bill, the rice-consuming nations of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have finally received some good news.
Three of the world’s leading international agricultural research institutes have announced plans to combine their activities in Africa and so create a powerful new force focused on boosting African rice production and saving the region millions of dollars in lost foreign exchange.
The three centers are the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) based in Benin, the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) based in Colombia and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in the Philippines. With only 13% of the world’s population, Africa accounts for 32% of world rice imports, which makes it a big player in the international rice trade.
In 2006, SSA imported more than 9 million tonnes of rice worth an estimated US$2 billion. With world rice reserves at the lowest level since 1983-84, international rice prices are expected to double in the next couple of years. This is especially alarming for SSA nations, which need to import about 40 per cent of their rice to satisfy local demand.
In a joint declaration announcing a major programmatic alignment, the three centers – all of whom are supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) – affirmed their commitment to bring the best of science and their experience in Asia, Latin America and Africa to address the major challenges facing Africa’s rice sector.
“To me this is the best way to reach a consensus on rice research in Africa,” said Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck, Director General of the Africa Rice Center (WARDA). “By harmonizing our activities we can cover the whole continent, have critical mass, address most of the problems facing rice, and at the end of the day we can have a very high impact.”
Among their initial proposals is the establishment of a sub-Saharan Africa Rice Consortium (SARC), which will consolidate the two existing regional rice networks – the West and Central Africa Rice Research and Development Network (ROCARIZ) and the Eastern and Central Africa Rice Research Network (ECARRN). The new combined entity will also cover other parts of SSA that are not members of the existing regional rice networks.
The three Centers have also agreed that SARC will provide a platform for collective action by the three CGIAR centers and collaboration withnational agricultural research and extension systems (NARES). The Consortium will provide a united front for promoting rice and rice research in SSA and a common conduit for channeling technology and information from international research to NARES and farmers in the region.
Outlining SARC’s objectives, they said they wanted to maximize the level of coordination among the three Centers and their interaction with NARES. They also hoped to provide better farmer access to improved seeds and technologies; and, develop a critical mass of trained scientists, thereby enhancing Africa’s capacity in rice research.
Other objectives include improving knowledge sharing and training; increased economies of scale through reduced transactions costs in rice research in Africa and globally; and better coordination of research and development activities in the rice sector in Africa with spillover to Asia and Latin America in terms of germplasm use.