E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


Japan looks to help Africa with revolutionary rice

(Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2002 -- CropChoice news) --

JOHANNESBURG - Japan said it hoped to help halt famine in Africa by encouraging farmers on the world's poorest continent to grow a new rice that mixes the best of Japanese grains with those of Africa. The rice, dubbed new rice for Africa or NERICA, is a high-yielding grain developed in west Africa that can survive heat and water shortages and can be cultivated with less fertiliser or chemicals and without an irrigation system.

Feeding the world's poor is central to discussions at the U.N. Earth Summit from August 26-September 4 on cutting poverty and protecting the planet in Johannesburg. Six nearby African countries are currently facing severe food shortages. Japan said at the summit it would extend a $30 million aid grant to help tackle the food crisis in southern Africa and planned to increase its support for NERICA rice by committing more money and people to research and development.

"We hope that NERICA rice would help solve Africa's problem," said Hatsuhisa Takashima, spokesman for the Japanese delegation at the U.N. summit. "It will save very precious foreign currency (currently) being used to import rice."

Japan hopes the rice, which can yield up to four times more per hectare than traditional grains, will be producing 10 percent of all rice consumed in 17 west and southern African countries within the next five years. Although NERICA is a biological hybrid it is not a genetically modified (GM) crop. The use of GM foods to ease food shortages in Africa has sparked heated debate at the summit.

GM crops are widespread in the United States, which is providing the bulk of food aid to the region. But questions over the safety of GM foodstuffs - which Zambia and Zimbabwe have said they will not accept in aid - has fuelled fears the issue may upset a massive relief effort in the area. NERICA, created by the Ivory Coast-based West African Rice Development Association, combines the robustness of African strains, including resistence to drought, pests and soil problems, with the higher productivity of Asian rices.

It went into general production in 2001. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Lesotho, Malawi and Mozambique are the six sub-Saharan countries most affected by food shortages that aid agencies blame on drought and mismanagement.