22 November 2007, COTONOU, Benin — West Africa is one of the poorest regions of the world. Yet, thanks to a groundbreaking project, rice farmers in this region are able to make enough profit from their farms to send their children to school and provide them with better health care.
The project worth about USD 35 million is funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB). It supports the dissemination of the New Rice for Africa (NERICA®) varieties in seven West African countries – Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and The Gambia.
“We are now able to send nearly all our children to school,” says Oumar Bojang, Secretary of the farmers’ association Yirima Kafo in Jambur, The Gambia. Yirima Kafo’s membership includes180 women and 20 men farmers, who are growing NERICA with the help of the AfDB project. Oumar said that the association made a profit of about USD 4000 in 2006. The association has also been able to open a bank account.
Some of the progressive farmers who have benefited from the project reported spectacular successes. Bakary Togola, a Malian farmer was able to get a profit of USD 124,000 from the sale of NERICA seed in 2006. Scenting success, Bakary increased his NERICA area from 4 ha in 2004 to 60 ha in 2006. In 2007, he extended it further to 80 ha.
Suleyman Mboob from The Gambia reported that he grew NERICA on 25 ha in 2006 and got about USD 26,300 from the sale of seed, while Alhaji Dembur Jatta, his compatriot, made about USD 1600. Both of them distributed surplus NERICA seed freely to their friends and family members.
In Benin – another pilot country for this project – an impact study carried out by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) and its partners covering 24 villages has shown the positive impacts of NERICA adoption on farmers’ livelihoods. Better harvests with more yield put extra cash in NERICA farmers’ pockets to support schooling, medical care and better diet.
The study showed that with the increase in farmers’ income, the school attendance rate rose by 6% and farming families were able to spend USD 20 more for school expenses per child and USD 12 more for health care expenses per sick child.
Such impacts, although modest, make a difference in the lives of the poor who represent about 80% of the targeted beneficiaries of the AfDB project. The project has developed NERICA-based products which add value to rice and can provide sustainable market opportunities for rural women.
The project aims to involve about 33,000 farm families in participatory approaches to accelerate NERICA dissemination. Many promising new varieties – including new NERICA varieties – have been selected by farmers using these participatory approaches. For example, in Guinea, which has about 83,000 ha under NERICA, about 940 farming households took active part in the selection of improved rice varieties in 2006.
By the fifth year of the AfDB project, about 400 000 ha of land is expected to be under NERICA cultivation in the pilot countries and the annual rice import bill of these countries is expected to reduce by about USD 100 million. The project was launched in 2005 but began its operations only from 2006.
It is coordinated by the African Rice Initiative (ARI), which is hosted by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) and supported by several partners and donors, including AfDB, Rockefeller Foundation, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
AfDB NERICA Project Highlights
Overcoming seed shortage
Since seed shortage is the biggest bottleneck in the NERICA dissemination, the project mounted a major effort on the production and diffusion of quality seed of NERICA.
The African Rice Initiative Regional Coordination Unit produced nearly 200 t of foundation and breeder seed and has facilitated the production of over 4000 t of foundation and certified seed in the project pilot countries between 2005 and 2007.
But it is difficult to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for NERICA seed. For example, in 2007, in response to Nigeria’s request, the Regional Coordination Unit provided that country with 100 t of NERICA foundation seed.
“The African Rice Initiative is exploring with relevant partners, particularly the national systems, how best to put in place sustainable NERICA seed production and delivery strategies,” says Inoussa Akintayo, African Rice Initiative Regional Coordinator.
Building capacity of extension staff and farmers
Building the capacity of all the actors in the rice sector is integral to the project. Apart from the Africa Rice Center, JICA and Sasakawa-Global 2000 are two key partners of the Initiative in capacity building.
As part of a “training of trainers” strategy, the Project has trained about 85 technicians in seed production and participatory approaches and more than 3600 farmers in improved seed production techniques. The project has also contributed to the training of more than 20 impact assessment specialists.
Two JICA rice specialists who are working with the Initiative have been particularly involved ingroup training programs on important aspects of rice cultivation – ranging from quality seed production to agronomic packages.
In addition to these efforts, country-specific capacity building programs are undertaken by each pilot country. For instance, in Nigeria, in 2006, about 850 extension agents were trained in various aspects of rice production and more than 700 farmers in seed production. The AfDB NERICA project in Nigeria is playing an important role in Nigeria’s Presidential Rice Initiative, in which NERICA is a major component.
In Mali, four training modules on rice production, farmers’ organization, cooperative management and seed quality have been developed by the National Coordination Unit. About 165 NERICA seed producers were mobilized in Ghana in 2006 thanks to intensive farmer-training activities.
Capacity building and rice restoration activities are particularly valuable in post-conflict areas of Sierra Leone, where rice is a staple food.
Developing complementary technologies
To increase the productivity of the NERICA varieties, complementary technologies, such as agronomic packages, are currently evaluated in all pilot countries in collaboration with Africa Rice Center scientists and other resource persons.
The Regional Coordination Unit is helping to document relevant information in the NERICA Compendium that is shortly going to be published jointly with FAO and Sasakawa Africa Association.
Involving the private sector and NGOs
The project operates through partnerships and the NERICA stakeholders’ platforms established in each pilot country. Dr Akintayo highlighted the case of Benin, where the AfDB project has set off a historic process – the successful involvement of the private sector in NERICA seed production – led by Benin industrialist Mr Babatundé Olufindji, who was recently honored by FAO for his active role.
The Regional Bank of Solidarity (BRS) has given over USD 80,000 credit to farmers’ organizations to produce NERICA seed in Benin. In 2007, another company BSS-SIPRI-Sarl launched an ambitious NERICA project in Benin in collaboration with the Satake Corporation. Songhaï (an NGO based in Benin) is using its own innovative strategy to produce and commercialize NERICA in Benin and neighboring countries.
Such wide-ranging partnerships have also been developed in other pilot countries. “The linking up with the private sector is one of the project’s biggest successes,” Dr Akintayo commented. “But we still have a long way to go.”