27 September 2010, Cotonou, Benin – In view of the growing importance of rice for Africa’s food security and the strategic role played by the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) in advising policymakers on this critical issue, national experts from 24 AfricaRice member countries urged the Center to continue its strong advocacy efforts for increased investments in the domestic rice sector to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This was one of the key recommendations made at the just-concluded meeting of the National Experts Committee (NEC), held in Cotonou, Benin. AfricaRice is a pan-African intergovernmental research association of African member countries. It is also a member of the Consortium of Centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
The NEC felicitated the AfricaRice Director General Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck and the staff for their “Outstanding” rating from the World Bank based on scientific, administrative and financial indicators.
Underlining the scarcity of national rice scientists, technicians and extension workers in sub-Saharan Africa, the NEC endorsed several measures taken by AfricaRice and its partners to strengthen national rice R&D capacity:
- Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP): The NEC reiterated its support to the new GRiSP initiative of the CGIAR-supported Centers and other key partners working on rice. GRiSP is expected to bring the best of international rice science to Africa in a coordinated manner.
- Revival of the task force mechanism: The NEC approved the revival of AfricaRice’s successful task force mode of research partnership. In line with sub-regional and regional organizations, the new Africawide task force mechanism – with strong ownership by national systems – will help build critical mass around major thematic areas of the rice sector. As part of this, an African Rice Breeding Task Force has just been launched with support from the Government of Japan.
- Regional harmonization: To ensure regional price stability of rice and harmonization of rice seed and fertilizer legislations and variety release catalogues, the NEC supported AfricaRice’s strategy to strengthen links with regional economic communities.
- Harnessing Egypt’s rice expertise: The NEC encouraged AfricaRice to pursue its strategy of harnessing the expertise of Egypt – which became a member of AfricaRice in 2009 – in irrigated rice systems and hybrid rice technology for the benefit of other member countries.
- Priority to post-harvest technologies: The NEC stressed the importance of looking beyond increasing rice production in Africa and addressing marketing issues of locally produced rice through a value chain approach – special emphasis will need to be paid to the introduction of suitable harvest and post-harvest technologies.
A major concern was raised by the NEC regarding possible risks to rice germplasm exchange for research purposes if the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) would be expanded to include material currently under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). The current arrangement as regulated by the ITPGRFA allows easy access of African countries to rice germplasm from each other or from other regions.
AfricaRice member countries were recommended to initiate an advocacy addressed to their Ministries of Agriculture and Environment to make sure that the African representatives present during the CBD negotiations are well informed of the current benefits for African agriculture from ITPGRFA.