Africa is rich in both natural and human resources, yet nearly 200 million of its people are undernourished because of inadequate food supplies. Comprehensive strategies are needed across the continent to harness the power of science and technology (S&T) in ways that boost agricultural productivity, profitability, and sustainability -- ultimately ensuring that all Africans have access to enough safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs. This report addresses the question of how science and technology can be mobilized to make that promise a reality.
Rice production in Africa was 17 million tonnes in 2001, which is 14.6 percent of total cereal production in Africa. Consumption of rice has grown rapidly at an annual rate of 6 percent due to the change of lifestyle, particularly in urban areas mainly because rice is the most easily cooked food that can be prepared just by steaming. Further growth of consumption is expected. Average rice yields are still low in countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. Work by the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) estimated the gaps in yields of rice cultivation in various rice ecologies (Table 4.1). The data suggest that up to 5 tonnes of yield increase per hectare is possible in some regions. It should be stressed that these yield gaps refer to the gaps observed under experimental field conditions. Yield gaps based on production ecological concepts may well be twice as high.
There is much scope to close yield gaps by some 2-4 tonnes per hectare in irrigated rice production in West and Central Africa (Table 4.1). Promising research avenues include development of low-cost water management, weed-competitive and nutrient-responsive rice varieties (Box 4.2), and site-specific soil fertility management. These actions address the current major biophysical factors limiting yields. An integrated rice management approach should raise production levels, optimize profits, preserve soil quality and protect natural resources. The step-wise integration of new technology options should take place with the full participation of farmers (Ndiaye et al., 2004).
About 40 percent of rice has been grown so far in upland rainfed conditions in West Africa. Since rice is a semi-aquatic plant, the yield is higher in lowland conditions than in upland conditions. In Africa, particularly in West Africa, there are vast areas of unused land in the inland valley bottoms, which correspond to the rainfed lowlands shown in Table 4.1. Such wet or flooded inland valleys are difficult to use for crops other than rice. Since the upland is competitive with the cultivation of upland crop species, it is preferable to grow more rice in the lowland inland valleys. Further exploitation of inland valleys with increased rice productivity is an urgent issue for food security, particularly in West Africa.