The once-powerful kingdom of Dahomey and more recently one of Africa's largest cotton producers, Benin is today one of the continent’s strongest democracies.
Thanks to its democratic values, peace and stability, the country’s international stature has continued to grow. In January 2012, Benin President Yayi Boni was elected Chairperson of the African Union.
Since Benin’s economy is mainly based on agriculture and the government has accorded an important place to agriculture and food security, it is not surprising that three international agricultural research Centers of the CGIAR Consortium are represented in the country.
The three Centers comprise the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Bioversity International (Bioversity). AfricaRice’s temporary headquarters operates from a research station near Cotonou – Benin’s economic capital – which also serves as the outreach location for IITA and Bioversity.
As Benin is one of the 24 member countries of AfricaRice, which has a special status as an intergovernmental pan-African research organization, the bonds between the two are particularly strong.
Spanning over a quarter century, this partnership has grown significantly as rice has become critical for food security in the country, particularly in the urban areas.
The situation is similar in other African countries as rice is today the single most important source of dietary energy in West Africa and the third most important for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.
Rice consumption in the continent is growing faster than that of any other major staple. In Benin, for example, it is estimated that the total rice consumption grew at 17% between 2001 and 2010, while production grew at only 12.3% over the same period. To keep pace with the demand, Benin resorts to heavy imports; this makes it highly vulnerable to international market shocks.
However, over the last few years, with the technical support of AfricaRice, Benin has put in place policies and strategies to support the domestic rice sector. As a result, rice production in the country increased by 36% between 2007 and 2008 and a national rice development strategy has been successfully developed.
AfricaRice carries out several joint projects in close association with the Benin national program – Institut national des recherches agricoles du Bénin (INRAB) – focusing on priority areas identified by the country.
This collaborative work has delivered sizable benefits for Benin and the region as a whole, such as productive varieties like upland and lowland NERICAs; improved natural resource management options; efficient post-harvest technologies; and a wide array of participatory methods, innovation systems and learning tools, such as rice learning videos that facilitate technology adoption.
The Center has contributed importantly to strengthening the rice research and development capacity of its Beninese partners both through fellowships and group training of actors across the value chain.
“The partnership between Benin and AfricaRice continues to be very pro-active and productive. In addition, there is strong political will at the highest level of the country to support the rice R&D sector,” said AfricaRice Director General Dr. Papa Abdoulaye Seck.