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'AfricaRice' evolves strategic plan to boost rice production   
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A product-focused strategic plan evolved to enhance local rice production, processing and marketing by Africa Rice Centre (AfricaRice) and partners has received a much-needed boost.

The US$420 million investments in rice research which aims at assisting Africa’s farmers to achieve self-reliance in the cultivation of rice by the year 2020, are expected to enhance food security and alleviate poverty through increased productivity and profitability of the rice sector.

AfricaRice, a leading pan-African centre of excellence for rice research in Africa is implemented under the global rice science partnership (GRiSP), which is a research for development programme of the consultative group on international agricultural research (CGIAR).

“Such a project is usually challenging in the face of adequate funds, staff to implement, lack adaptable and consumer preferred varieties and still the rudimentary tools for production,” Dr Godfrey Asea, cereal researcher/plant breeder at the National Agricultural Research Organisation told the Ghana News Agency on Thursday.

“This is a laudable innovation moreso fashioned in tandem with country’s national rice development strategy and research systems, to achieve double rice production targets", he said, and expressed optimism about general challenges to be encountered.

The new 10-year strategic plan will focus on seven priority areas. These include providing farmers with climate-resilient rice varieties; expanding rice-producing areas while addressing environmental concerns; creating market opportunities for smallholders; and linking up with development partners and the private sector to stimulate the uptake of rice knowledge and technologies.

“AfricaRice’s new Strategic goal is to realize Africa’s tremendous rice potential as the Centre strongly believes the continent has the wherewithal be it human, physical and economic resources to produce enough rice to feed itself”, said Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck, Director-General of AfircaRice.

“Aside the cumulative cost, an indirect financial outlay estimated at US$1.2 billion has been budgeted to aid dissemination of technologies to actualize targets,” he indicated

The funding will come from 29 different donors including developing and industrialised governments, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UK Department for International Development (DFID), and the World Bank.

Full funding has not yet been secured as donors are still honouring their pledges, Dr Seck said, with the strategy intending to achieve almost 90 per cent self-reliance with at least 10 states to reach over 100 per cent.

Key players for implementing the plan are scientists from partner national agricultural programmes from its 24 member states in sub-Saharan Africa through strategic upstream research with added impetus to create new generation of researchers and extension professionals.

By the productivity-enhancing research and development (R&D) activities in the strategy, rice production in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) will increase from 18.4 million tonnes in 2010 to 46.8 million tonnes by 2020.

At least 11 million people in the value-chain production line will be uplifted above the $1.25 poverty line and about 5.6 million undernourished people reaching caloric sufficiency.

Statistics available from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) indicated that Ghana spends around US$450 million on rice importation annually to augment local demand with its self-sufficiency in the production of rice standing at 30 per cent, leaving a significant shortfall of 70 per cent.

It has emerged that African economies imported 10 million tonnes of milled rice in 2009 amounting to US$5 million with increased food and fuel prices predicted to last well into the coming decade.

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