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A GREEN REVOLUTION IN AFRICA

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ROME, Aug 20 2007 (IPS) - Imagine a new variety of drought and pest-resistant rice for Africa with double the yield of traditional rice, a growing season 30-50 days shorter than other varieties, a higher protein content, and it even tastes good. This is not a futuristic scenario but NERICA, the New Rice for Africa, which combines the high yield of Asian rice with the hardiness of African rice, writes Kanayo Nwanze, Vice President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and former Director-General of the Africa Rice Centre [WARDA]. In this article, the author writes that NERICA is a reality in the fields of 30,000 farmers in 20 countries. Yields have increased dramatically, families are taking advantage of the shorter growing season to plant an extra crop of vegetables or legumes, and women report that the wider leaf of the NERICA plant casts a shadow that inhibits weed growth. Rice was a crucial building block of the Asian green revolution. The high-yielding varieties that helped people overcome hunger marked the beginning of the end of Asia\’s chronic poverty and allowed its first steps toward industrialisation. Without a doubt, developments such as NERICA are exactly what is needed to move the African Green Revolution forward.

Today’s world faces multiple challenges like these, ranging from food insecurity to increased natural and human-made disasters and the effects of climate change. In 2003, the United Nations made a call for placing agricultural development at the forefront of the fight against extreme hunger and poverty. Half a decade later, the world is still debating how best to bring agricultural development into Africa.

A number of initiatives and organisations, including New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and, more recently, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) are a response to African leaders’ calls to chart a new path for prosperity by spurring Africa’s agricultural development.

The Asian Green Revolution is credited with saving a billion lives on the continent some four decades ago by revolutionising food production. The African Green Revolution should have its own agenda. It should be built on leadership from within Africa, but also tap into support from the outside. We recognise that the challenges facing African agricultural development require comprehensive solutions possible only through strategic alliances.

Imagine this: a new variety of drought and pest-resistant rice for Africa with double the yield of traditional rice, a growing season 30-50 days shorter than other varieties, a higher protein content, and it even tastes good. This is not a futuristic scenario, or a utopian fantasy. This is NERICA, the New Rice for Africa, which combines the high yield of Asian rice with the hardiness of African rice.

NERICA is a reality in the fields of 30,000 farmers in 20 countries. Yields have increased dramatically, families are taking advantage of the shorter growing season to plant an extra crop of vegetables or legumes, and women report that the wider leaf of the NERICA plant casts a shadow that inhibits weed growth.

IFAD, an international financial institution and specialised United Nations agency that invests in agriculture and rural development as a way to eliminate rural poverty, supported the development of NERICA. IFAD provided funds to the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) where this rice variety was developed to promote the use of NERICA in the region, and it is now designing a series of grants that will support NERICA seed multiplication efforts in several countries, including Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

The United Nations estimates that 1.7 million subsistence farmers in Africa could benefit from NERICA. At the macro level, this means that national economies of these countries will benefit from an increase in local rice production and, at the same time, reduce their need to use foreign currency to import rice. It is heartening to know that NERICA, and the varieties from which it was developed, will be part of the collection of the new Svalbard seed vault, an initiative of the Norwegian government that will store 3 million seed varieties representing the world’s crop genetic diversity.

The work of AGRA dovetails with IFAD’s goals. Since IFAD was established, nearly half of its programmes and projects have been devoted to African countries. It has made some USD 4 billion in loans and grants, financing close to 345 programmes and projects in 51 African countries of which more than 120, valued at more than USD 2.6 billion, are still underway.

If an African Green Revolution is going to be successful, it has to reach as many farmers as possible. Most are poor subsistence farmers who continuously face both local and global challenges. Climate change affects their traditional production patterns and rural-urban migration has meant an increased presence of urban supermarkets and the loss of farmers’ informal rural markets. In addition, the need for alternative energy sources will lead to the conversion of land from food crops to energy crops – all of which have serious implications for agriculture in general but small farmers in particular.

In its efforts to ensure that the needs of small-holder farmers are not overlooked by those who develop new policies, laws, and regulations for dealing with these challenges, IFAD makes investments in projects that involve the farmers themselves: projects meant to raise the capacity of grassroots farmers’ organisations. By building stronger rural institutions, farmers are enabled to work together, to participate in developing their own strategies, and to have a voice in decision making. They become empowered.

An African Green Revolution must have the right blend of political commitment and support, conducive and adequate policies, improved infrastructure and market access, improved consideration of land issues, and overall leadership and vision within Africa to move an action-oriented agenda.

Rice was a crucial building block of the Asian green revolution. The high-yielding varieties that helped people overcome hunger marked the beginning of the end of Asia’s chronic poverty and allowed its first steps toward industrialisation. Without a doubt, developments such as NERICA are exactly what is needed to move the African Green Revolution forward. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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