03 October 2007, COTONOU, Benin — The just-concluded 26th session of the Council of Ministers of the Africa Rice Center (WARDA), held in Abuja under the chairmanship of Dr Abba Sayyadi Ruma, Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Federal Republic of Nigeria, signaled a historic change for rice research in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Council formally approved the expansion of the geographic mandate of WARDA, which is primarily based in West Africa, and admitted four Eastern and Central African countries as members.
The new WARDA member States are the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Uganda. With the addition of these countries, the number of WARDA member States has gone up from 17 to 21.
“This is the first time since 1987 that new members have joined WARDA,” stated WARDA Director General Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck. “But what is more important is that the new member States are from Eastern and Central Africa – regions that, unlike West Africa, were not traditionally known for rice cultivation.”
“With the success of WARDA’s technologies, particularly the New Rice for Africa (NERICA), Central and Eastern African countries are seeing for themselves the benefits of investing in rice research and are therefore keen to join WARDA,” Dr Seck said.
WARDA is an intergovernmental rice research and development association of African member States, with a Council of Ministers and a National Experts Committee.
WARDA is also one of the 15 international Centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
WARDA’s unique dual status was highlighted by His Excellency Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in his opening address at the 26th session of the WARDA Council of Ministers. He was represented by the Vice President, Dr Jonathan Goodluck, who delivered the President’s message.
“WARDA is the only CGIAR Center that is owned by African member States. That is one of the main reasons why the technologies developed by WARDA and its partners are so relevant to African conditions,” the President said.
The President mentioned that in addition to the NERICA varieties, a major contribution from WARDA to Nigeria was in the area of rice policy research, which played a central role in the development of the Presidential Rice Initiative.
“I am happy to announce that, as a member State that has benefited so much from WARDA’s research, Nigeria has fulfilled its financial obligations to WARDA to date,” the President said, underlining that the need to invest in rice research and development for Africa was even more urgent than ever before.
The Council of Ministers congratulated the WARDA Director General Dr Seck for his active efforts in this area. “Thanks to Dr Seck’s strong advocacy for rice research and development, tangible improvements in contributions from member States have been made.”
“In fact, the contribution received from member States in 2007 is equivalent to that of the last 10 years,” the Council affirmed, commending those countries that had paid their contributions and urging others to do so.
The Council strongly backed a new pan-African Rice Initiative that will be launched in 2008 by the Benin President Dr Yayi Boni with WARDA, as part of advocacy efforts to support Africa’s rice sector.
The Council also fully endorsed the new vision and strategy of Dr Seck for the emergence of a more competitive, diversified and sustainable Center. It praised particularly the Post-MSc internship program for young educated Africans launched by him to create the next generation of rice researchers in sub-Saharan Africa.
As part of its key resolutions, the Council applauded the recent declaration on the alignment of research activities of three international Centers supported by the CGIAR – WARDA, the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) – to boost rice production in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Council took note of the development of the reform process within the CGIAR and supported all efforts aimed at strengthening WARDA as a Center of Excellence for rice research and development in Africa.
Recognizing the value of information for rice research and development, the Council appreciated CTA’s support to WARDA in this area and encouraged both institutes to reinforce their collaboration.
The Council also urged WARDA to strengthen links with sub-regional and regional bodies (ECOWAS/CEDEAO, CEMAC, UEMOA, CEAC…) in order to benefit from their support and reiterated its commitment to take necessary steps so that WARDA, while remaining an international Center supported by the CGIAR, could be recognized as a Center of Excellence of the African Union.
As the shortage of seed of improved varieties continues to be a major constraint to rice production in sub-Saharan Africa, the Council encouraged WARDA to be involved in the production of breeder’s and foundation seeds in association with national programs and urged it to help in the development and harmonization of seed legislation at the regional level.
One of the highlights of this session was the presence of invitees from the Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organizations of West Africa (ROPPA). The Council resolved to invite farmers’ associations as observers to the WARDA National Experts Committee meetings on a regular basis.
Before concluding its historic session, the Council thanked the Government of Benin for hosting the temporary headquarters of WARDA. It reiterated that Côte d’Ivoire remains WARDA’s permanent headquarters and that WARDA’s return will be assessed in due course by competent and relevant bodies. It encouraged the Ivoirian Government to continue to protect the personnel and the facilities in M’bé.
Conveying its sincere thanks to the President and the Government of Nigeria for their warm hospitality and the excellent organization of the session, the Council approved Togo’s assumption of the Council Chairmanship for the next two years.