Is this the end of hunger in West Africa?

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 March 2013

rice consumpition in salone 1Report from APO says that a new analysis by the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), has revealed that the paddy rice production growth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has almost tripled.

Rice production has risen from 3.2% per year – before the rice crisis (2000–2007), to 8.4% per year in 2012, marking a significant end to the rice crisis of 2007–2012 – at least statistically.

But are more people in Sub-Sahara Africa being fed?

With most households unable to afford three meals a day and the sub-region importing most of its staple diet – rice, any reported increase in production yield must be welcomed.

The analysis also showed that average rice yield in Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) jumped by about 30% from 2007 to 2012 – a rate of increase that is said to be faster than the global average.

“This is very encouraging news,” said AfricaRice Director General Dr Papa Seck.

“The surge in SSA’s rice production and yield is a result of key investments made by farmers, governments, the private sector, the research community and donors to develop Africa’s rice sector.”

Dr Seck underlined that it is crucial to maintain this trend, because rice consumption continues to increase in SSA at an annual rate of 5%.

High rice prices in late 2007 and 2008 had sparked food riots in several African cities. As a result of this “rice crisis,” African governments, assisted by the international donor community, embarked on ambitious programs to boost their rice production capacity.

RICE CULTIVATIONTo find out the domestic production responses to these measures, AfricaRice analyzed trends in rice production across the African continent, placing particular emphasis on the periods before and after the 2007/2008 rice crisis.

All data were retrieved from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (www.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/psdQuery.aspx, accessed 7 February 2013).

“We were pleased to learn that paddy rice production in SSA increased by 2.8 million tonnes from 2000 to 2007, and then accelerated, increasing by 4.7 million tonnes in the period 2007–2012,” said AfricaRice Deputy Director General Dr Marco Wopereis.

“But what’s more important, the analysis revealed that average rice yield in SSA increased by about 11 kg per ha per year from 1961 to 2007 and by a spectacular 108 kg per ha per year from 2007 to 2012, despite drought and floods in several African countries in 2011 and 2012.”

He explained that such growth rates are comparable with cereal yield growth rates after the Second World War in the UK and the USA. Rice yield worldwide – driven by the Green Revolution in Asia – increased by 52 kg per ha per year over the period 1960–2010.

rice consumption in salone“Currently, 71% of the increase in paddy rice production in SSA can be explained by yield increase and 29% by area expansion, whereas before the rice crisis, only 24% of production increase could be attributed to increases in yield and 76% to increases in harvested area,” Dr Wopereis added.

“This is evidence of increased use of technological innovation, such as improved varieties and improved crop management in general.”

More information on this analysis is provided in Dr Wopereis’ blog piece. A forthcoming AfricaRice publication, to be published by CABI, entitled ‘Realizing Africa’s Rice Promise’, will present a detailed analysis.

The results of this study will also be discussed at the Third Africa Rice Congress, which is planned to be organized by AfricaRice and the Government of Cameroun in Yaoundé, Cameroun, 21–24 October 2013.

But critics say that Africa is not short of agricultural development initiatives, aimed at increasing crop yield and quality and stemming hunger in the continent. What seems to be the key perennial problem is poor governance and corruption.

Arrest this scourge and you’ve cracked Africa’s problem of human development and poverty.

FARA is the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, an umbrella organization bringing together and forming coalitions of major stakeholders in agricultural research and development in Africa.

monty jonesIts Executive Director – Professor Monty Jones is not only well renowned for his rice production research. Expectations of him in helping to end hunger in the continent are very high.

But the professor has now become a politician in his native country Sierra Leone, a career move, many around the world find disappointing.

Professor Jones was recently appointed by President Koroma, as one of his ministers of plenipotentiary – a euphemism for: ‘feel free to do anything, but achieve nothing’ – whilst getting rich, standing on the broken back of the poor tax payer.

He is a renowned plant breeder and co-winner of the prestigious 2004 World Food Prize. ‘He won the award, based on his discovery of the genetic process to create the New Rice for Africa (NERICA), which gives higher yields, shorter growth cycles and more protein content than its Asian and African parents.’

But with his involvement now in the chaotic politics of Sierra Leone that is highly polarised by tribal bigotry, crippled by corruption and slothfulness, the Professor – critics believe, has now traded his vision of ‘a hunger free Africa’ for an easy life in African politics.

Dr Arthur PorterPointing to a similar appointment made in 2011 by president Koroma, of another highly acclaimed Sierra Leonean born medical specialist – Dr. Arthur Porter, who is now facing fraud allegations in Canada, for his part in a $22.5 million contract involving his company – Sierra.

According to Canadian newspaper report: “Now he is the target of three lawsuits, all claiming that he has defaulted on loan payments that were made to him while he was in Montreal.”

“The Quebec government has also released a report accusing him of allowing the McGill University Health Centre to slip into financial disarray and has assigned the network of six hospitals a special financial overseer, a move the government says is one step short of trusteeship.”

Two years ago, Dr. Porter was also involved in a multi-million dollar fraud scandal to help lever hundreds of millions of dollars for the government of president Koroma.

Will Professor Jones – the ‘Rice Guru’ – now minister in the Koroma government, resist the temptation of ‘getting rich quick’ through politics, or will he continue to serve as a beacon of hope for the many hungry stomachs in Africa?

Good news – rice production is going up in Sub-Sahara Africa. But a lot more needs to be done, and the continent needs many more professors like Monty Jones in the paddy fields – not in the corridors of Presidential State House.

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