Monday, September 26, 2011

Rice policy workshop

A workshop on the ‘Competitiveness of rice value chains after the rice crisis: Lessons from case studies’ was organized, on 25–26 September, as a side event after the 40th anniversary celebration in Banjul. Eighteen participants attended — representatives of national agricultural research programs and national statistical services from 11 countries, private sector, the African Union and AfricaRice.

The results presented by the various countries showed that, in general, local rice production systems are competitive and they make efficient use of domestic resources. But, in terms of incentives, not all the rice systems benefit from protection. In general, it is the upland rice ecology that seems to have higher domestic resource cost (DRC), showing that upland rice systems need more efficient technologies to boost performance.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

AfricaRice 40th anniversary celebration

To coincide with the CoM, the Center’s 40th anniversary was celebrated in Banjul, Gambia on 24 September, under the theme ‘40 years of rice research at the service of Africa’. It was fitting that the anniversary was commemorated in Gambia — one of the founding members of the Association and one of the main supporters of local rice on the continent.

AfricaRice’s celebration was inaugurated by the Minister of Trade of Gambia in the presence of the outgoing and incoming CoM chairmen, other representatives of the CoM, members of the diplomatic corps and donor community, national and international researchers, development partners, the private sector and farmers’ organizations.

At the inauguration, the farsightedness of the founding members of the Association was praised, the main achievements of the Association despite all the problems it has faced over the 40 years were highlighted, and the dedicated contribution of past and present management, staff and partners, including donors, was gratefully acknowledged.

The second half of the program, which was chaired by the AfricaRice Board Chairman, included a keynote address on ‘Fostering small-scale rice production for food’, by Josué Dioné, Director of Food Security and Sustainable Development at UNECA. In his address, Dr Dione emphasized that fostering small-scale rice production requires the adoption of a regionally coordinated value-chain approach to investing in technologies, infrastructure, institutions and policies.

As part of the celebration program, Dr Dione officially released the AfricaRice book Lessons from the Rice Crisis: Policies for a food secure Africa, which was published for the occasion. The book describes how the policy research and advocacy conducted by AfricaRice immediately before and during the 2008 rice crisis were influential in providing adequate information and options.

The program also included a panel discussion on ‘Investments in small-scale rice value chains: Challenges and opportunities’. The panelists represented the entire range of the rice value chains, bringing attention to the need for a holistic approach to the rice sector, taking into account the needs and priorities of all the actors of the value chain.

Friday, September 23, 2011

28th Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers

The 28th Ordinary Session of the AfricaRice Council of Ministers (CoM) was held in Banjul chaired by Gambia, on 22 and 23 September. The opening message of the President of Gambia, delivered by the Secretary General, recognized that AfricaRice has been relentless in its advocacy for support to the rice sector in sub-Saharan Africa.

Recognizing that international public goods, such as improved varieties, crop management options and evidence-based policy recommendations, generated by AfricaRice and its partners have contributed significantly to boosting the rice sector in sub-Saharan Africa, the CoM encouraged non-member countries in Africa that are benefiting from these goods to join the Association.[1]

The Council gave its full support to GRiSP, approved the Center’s new Strategic Plan for 2011-2020, and asked the Center to develop an operational plan as soon as possible to be implemented in collaboration with national partners. After reviewing the research and development activities of the Center over the previous 5 years, the Council commended the efforts of the Director General and staff.

At the end of the Session, the Council made 10 key resolutions and approved Chad’s assumption as Chair of the Council for the next 2 years.

[1] Africa Rice Center was established as the West Africa Rice Development Association in 1971, and the inter-governmental Association remains at the heart of the Center, a feature that distinguishes AfricaRice from all other CGIAR centers.

Friday, September 16, 2011

AfricaRice Science Week and GRiSP-Africa Science Forum

GRiSP aims to mobilize the very best of the world’s rice science and involve the widest possible range of stakeholders in the technology generation and dissemination process to address, among others, Africa’s major rice-development challenges.

The GRiSP-Africa Science Forum, held at AfricaRice’s temporary headquarters in Cotonou, from 12 to 16 September, was attended by over 100 international and national rice experts, including representatives of all the key partners. Participants reviewed the progress made by GRiSP in Africa in 2011, particularly on the development of new research products — ranging from gene discovery[1] to the mini-combine[2] and policy briefs for decision-makers — grouped under the six GRiSP themes:

  •       Harnessing genetic diversity to chart new productivity, quality and health horizons
  •       Accelerating the development, delivery and adoption of improved rice varieties
  •       Increasing the productivity, sustainability and resilience of rice-based production systems
  •       Extracting more value through improved quality, processing, market systems and new products
  •       Technology evaluations, targeting and policy options for enhanced impact
  •       Supporting the growth of the global rice sector.

Laying emphasis on the need for pooling intelligence to better exploit the comparative advantages of all the partners to more efficiently address the constraints to rice production, AfricaRice Director General Dr Seck spelled out 10 conditions that are essential for GRiSP to become a successful program and ensure a high degree of satisfaction among rice farmers and consumers throughout the world.

The conditions include the need to respect the diversity of partnerships, regional differences and institutional identities in GRiSP, while rejecting ‘hegemonic thinking’. The conditions also include the need for equitable resource allocation based on the real requirements of the various regions; the urgent need to strengthen the capacity of African stakeholders; the significant role of the national partners within GRiSP; the importance of continuous dialog with policy-makers; and the need to avoid bureaucracy, including excessive evaluation with scientists spending more time writing reports than doing research.

AfricaRice Deputy Director General (DDG) and Director of Research for Development, Marco Wopereis highlighted the major shift in focus from supply-driven research, where the emphasis is mainly on increasing rice production, to more demand- or market-driven research, where the attention is given to the entire rice value chain.

Achim Dobermann, IRRI Deputy Director General for Research and GRiSP Program Director, took an active part in the GRiSP-Africa Science Forum, expressing his satisfaction with the progress made by the Africa-based team in 2011, particularly with regard to the new way of doing research.

In his capacity as outgoing chairman of the AfricaRice National Experts Committee, Babou Jobe (Director General of the National Agriculture Research Institute, Gambia) confirmed “100% support” to GRiSP, particularly its major thrust on strengthening national capacity. He was pleased to learn that one-third of the Global Rice Science Scholarships had gone to African students in 2011.

[1] See ‘The genes that could beat the “AIDS of rice”’ in the GRiSP Annual Report 2011.
[2] See ‘Research in brief: Promoting small-scale mechanization across the continent as the essential ingredient for rice intensification’ in this report and ‘A mini-combine for sub-Saharan Africa’ in the GRiSP Annual Report 2011.