"Nichts mehr davon, ich bitt euch. Zu essen gebt ihm, zu wohnen.
Habt ihr die Blöße bedeckt, gibt sich die Würde von selbst."
Friedrich Schiller
  May 2008 FOOD

Two Areas of Hope Emerge in Rice Cultivation

As the global food crisis in the midst of a worldwide economic collapse threatens the existence of millions of poor across the world, two new developments in rice cultivation have inserted fresh hope that the threat can be beaten back. Developed in West Africa through the collaborative backing of the Japanese government, UNDP, the African Development Bank, the US Agency for International Development, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the Rockefeller Foundation, NERICA, the "New Rice for Africa", protein-rich, weed-competitive and pest- and disease-resistant, is a remarkable example of Asian-African collaboration.

The basic idea was to combine the best traits of the Asian and African rices. Vital to the effort were gene banks that contain seeds of 1500 African rice varieties, which had faced extinction as farmers abandoned them for higher yielding Asian varieties. The initial experimental work at the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) has developed the rice into a valued crop capable of increasing farmers' harvests by 50%. From the seven pilot countries of Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, and Togo, NERICA is being further disseminated to East African countries such as Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania.

The second piece of good news in this area is the emergence of the the Sub-1 flood-resistant gene rice. This variety would help farmers produce six tons of rice per hectare under normal conditions and around three tons if the paddy was submerged for two weeks. In countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, and parts of India, where heavy monsoon rain often floods hundreds of thousands of hectares, paddy fields remain submerged for days. Normal varieties would only yield 1 ton or less if subject to that sort of submergence. "The variety that has this gene still performs as well as the original without submergence," said David Mackill, program leader for rain-fed environments at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, adding: "It is like an insurance policy."

Farmers in India and Bangladesh will likely start commercial production of Sub-1 flood-resistant gene rice next year, giving them protection against crop losses from typhoons and heavy monsoon rains. It is expected that the Myanmarese farmers, who encounter similar natural calamities from time to time, would also join in. "We now have a fairly big program in India and Bangladesh to multiply the seed," said Meckill on May 27, adding: "It would survive for about two weeks under water."