Case study 1: New Rices for Africa (the NERICAs)

NERICA rice in Liberia's lowlands.  Credit Africadevcorps

NERICA rice in Liberia’s lowlands. Credit Africadevcorps

Demand for rice in West Africa is rising rapidly, failing to be met by local production. More than 6 million tonnes of rice are imported each year,[1] accounting for half of the region’s requirements.  Nigeria’s rice import bill alone exceeds US$2billion.[2]  Population growth, rising incomes and changing consumer preferences will only encourage greater demand. In order to address this production shortfall, Monty Jones, a Sierra Leone scientist working at the Africa Rice Centre (AfricaRice) began a programme utilising ‎tissue culture technologies, to develop crosses between the African species of rice (Oryza glaberrima) and the Asian species (Oryza sativa).  The former is more adapted to local environments but typically returns low yields of around 1 tonne per hectare while the latter produces yields of around 5 tonnes per hectare. Crossing the 2 species created numerous embryos but these could only be grown to maturity after tissue culture. At first the tissue culture technique did not work well, but collaboration with Chinese scientists provided a new tissue culture method, involving the use of coconut oil, which proved highly successful.[3] The resulting rice varieties, known as the New Rices for Africa (NERICAs), grow well in drought-prone, upland conditions, are resistant to local pests and disease, tolerant of poor nutrient conditions and mineral toxicity and show early vigorous growth crowding out weeds; all of which are characteristics of the African species of rice. Later in their development, characteristics of the Asian rice species appear: they produce more erect leaves and full panicles of grain and are ready to harvest after 90 to 100 days, 30 to 50 days earlier than current varieties. Due to significantly higher yields than current varieties (up to 4 tonnes per hectare under low input conditions) Uganda was able to reduce its rice imports by half from 2002 to 2007. A shift from maize to NERICA production in Uganda with proper crop rotation was found to increase income by $250 per hectare.[4] According to AfricaRice, 60 lowland and 18 upland NERICA varieties have been named and characterized through a process of participatory varietal selection.[5][6] As of 2009, an estimated 700,000 hectares across sub-Saharan African were planted with NERICA varieties, covering about 5% of the region’s upland rice growing areas.[7] Uptake is likely to expand as more varieties are released. Many NERICA varieties are particularly suitable for use in the rain-fed upland areas where smallholders lack the means to irrigate or to apply chemical fertilizers or pesticides.[8] In Benin, farmers that adopted NERICA varieties experienced yield gains of about 1 ton per hectare. Women also benefited considerably, generating a net income gain of $337 per hectare, becoming a key determinant in poverty reduction. In Uganda, farmers averaged 2.2 tonnes per hectare, twice the average rice yield for sub-Saharan Africa. Adopters in Nigeria also witnessed significant gains: household gross income from NERICAs increased by US$555, raising the probability of escaping poverty.[9] In addition to benefiting rural economies, NERICAs have the potential to assist cash-strapped national economies by reducing the cost of food imports. It has been estimated that the introduction of NERICAs in Guinea alone led to import savings of US$13 million in 2003.[10]
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