20 February 2008

New Rice for Africa

Last week, I presented some of my work on agriculture in Liberia to classmates in the MPAID program. It's always nice to have a sympathetic audience, but there was some friendly criticism as well - not least, of my main suggestion that the fastest way to grow more rice is to provide traditional shifting cultivators with better seeds, rather than invest in rice swamps, irrigation and fertiliser. I cited Guinea as a country that has done so with some success, provoking some bewildered looks from my friends, since Guinea is still one of the world's poorest countries.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find that today's New York Times has a photo series celebrating rice cultivation in Guinea! Cultivating the 'New Rice for Africa' has, it seems, enabled villagers to grow 50% more rice without fertiliser and up to twice as much with it. Yet sadly, these wonder seeds (which are off-patent and non-hybrid, meaning farmers can keep some of their harvest for planting) are only being planted by 200,000 farmers in West Africa. This article tells you why. No surprises: it's roads, input supply chains and output marketing . . . again.

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