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New Rices For Africa

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Author Topic: New Rices For Africa  (Read 518 times)
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« on: October 14, 2007, 07:50:01 am »

Nericas are cross breeds of hardy, drought-resistant African rices and high-yielding Asian varieties. The first new rice was produced by an African scientist, with support from wealthy countries and private foundations, in the 1990s.
Photo: James Hill for The New York Times

Mr. Jones now leads the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, based in Ghana. He also serves on the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, a nonprofit group financed with an initial $150 million from the Gates and Rockefeller foundations.

'New Rices for Africa The alliance' intends to invest $23 million to promote the distribution of promising seeds.

Mr. Jones, 55, who was born into the Creole elite of Sierra Leone, said he decided to go into the agricultural sciences when as a teenager he heard of rioting over rice shortages in West Africa.

At age 39, he was put in charge of a team breeding upland rain-fed rice varieties at the West Africa Rice Development Agency, now the Africa Rice Center.

For more than a generation, scientists had unsuccessfully sought to combine the hardy African rice species with high-yield Asian species.

With great ingenuity, his team overcame the obstacles and produced the first new rices more than a decade ago.

The new seeds increased yields even without fertilizer and more than doubled them with it. From planting to harvest, they also took three months rather than the five or six required by traditional varieties, putting rice on the family table during the hungry season.

But to sustain increased yields, farmers need a reliable source of fresh seed. Productivity declines when the new seeds become degraded after mixing with local varieties in storage sheds and fields and on the floors of the farmers’ huts.

Odia Camara, a 30-year-old farmer and mother of five, remembers glimpsing the new rices growing in a government-sponsored test field near her village, also named Camara, in 1998.

“The stalks were big and very bushy, carrying a lot of rice, and swayed when the wind blew,” recalled Ms. Camara, who is not related to Goulou Camara of Hermakono.

Four years later, Ms. Camara’s group of about 50 farmers, all women, initially organized to grow vegetables, was one of two groups in the village that got their chance. The government provided each of them with a scant 55 pounds of seed, as well as subsidized fertilizer — enough for a small plot.

The groups also got basic machines to thresh, husk and parboil the rice from Sasakawa-Global 2000, a nonprofit partnership organized by Jimmy Carter and Norman Borlaug, the scientist who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to the original Asian Green Revolution.

The first two years, the new rices yielded the village’s richest rice harvests ever — triple the usual amount. There was plenty of the aromatic rice to feed the families and cash left over to pay children’s school fees. Even cranky marriages mellowed.

“When we are hungry, we don’t even look at each other,” Ms. Camara said of her husband. “When the rice comes, we are very happy together.”

But 2004 brought signs of trouble. The groups had a decent harvest, but the acreage planted was greater and the yields lower because the new seed was not as pure.

In 2005, international donors did not give Guinea fertilizer, and the government provided none to the farmers in the area, nor did private traders bring any to local markets, according to government officials.

At harvest time, yields plummeted. Hunger stole back. Ms. Camara’s group grew so discouraged, she said, that it wanted to give up on the new rices.

But government workers visited their village last year and persuaded them to try again. The government provided the village of 2,500 people with 150 pounds of scarce subsidized seeds. The two women’s groups split it.

Despite the challenges, the new rices spread farther in Guinea than in any other country, covering 16 percent of the area under rice production — progress credited to the commitment of civil servants and the enthusiasm of the political elite.

But the rice seeds could have reached many more farmers if they knew about them and were able to buy them, researchers say.

Guinean officials complained that rich countries had not invested enough in agriculture. But Tareke Berhe, an agronomist who represented Sasakawa-Global 2000 in Guinea from 1996 to 2004, said the government should have spent more on agricultural fundamentals.

Guinea is rich in resources but has been plagued by corruption and ruled for more than two decades by the autocratic leader Lansana Conté.

“Guinea doesn’t have to depend on anybody,” Mr. Berhe said. “It’s a rich country in every way. It has diamonds, gold, bauxite. It has forestry products, lumber. It has a long coastline with fisheries.”

Meanwhile, the people make do.

After a grueling afternoon threshing rice last year, Ms. Camara sat in front of her mud hut with her baby boy on her lap. She had earlier spoken lyrically about farming when surrounded by women, but grew silent in the presence of her elder brother-in-law, Aboubacar Oularé, 40, a community health worker.

In measured tones, Mr. Oularé explained that the new rices made up only a small portion of what the villagers cultivated. Still, he credited the harvests with relieving the suffering of his illiterate sister-in-law and her family. And if the seeds spread, they could improve more lives.

“They have brought change — not a lot, but some,” he said. “It is not now as it was before.”
« Last Edit: October 14, 2007, 07:55:17 am by Bianca2001 » Report Spam   Logged

Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true.

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