Rome/Yaoundé -- Africa's largest gathering of rice industry experts, policy makers and farmers representatives has asked FAO to 'stimulate national, regional and global partnerships to (help) develop Africa's rice sector'.
The call came at the end of the 3rd Africa Rice Congress in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé. Attended by more than 650 delegates from 60 countries, including 35 African nations, the event was co-organized by the Africa Rice Center and FAO.
Africa is expected to produce 27.2 million tonnes of rice this year, up by 2 percent over last year, while reducing its dependence on imported rice.
In its final declaration, the congress also called for increased investment in the modernization and mechanization of Africa's farming and in aggregation of farm output, while safeguarding land rights of smallholders and improving livelihoods. It also urged the strengthening of farmer organizations to ensure that farmers capture a fair share of value added in the value chain and more encouragement for the development of public-private partnerships.
In support of promising productivity growth in the African rice sector - especially in the Sub-Saharan region - FAO is looking to strengthen its commitment to rice production in the region with a particularly strong focus on sustainability.
West Africa, Egypt driving growth
Speaking at the congress, FAO Assistant Director-General, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department Ren Wang said the organization was in a strong position to help accelerate the already good growth in rice productivity in Africa.
'AfricaRice and the Global Rice Science Partnership are excellent engines for the production of new technologies. I believe FAO can strengthen its role as a partner in these important activities,' he said.
'What is needed are the networks and relationships to ensure successful new technologies - once tested and proven - can be scaled up to reach the millions of farmers who need them. This type of development work is one of FAO's strengths,' he added.
Wang said FAO is working on a new initiative that would help realize the full potential, productivity and production of Africa's major rice ecosystems. It will also promote the use of quality seed as well as secure the production of certified rice seeds for efficient and sustainable rice production.
'We have an established and successful strategy in FAO's Save and Grow campaign. We want to apply these sustainability principles to rice in Africa,' he added.
FAO's Rice Market Monitor predicts the 2013 rice harvest in Africa will yield 27.2 million tonnes (or 17.8 million tones on a milled basis), 2 percent above 2012's output. It says West African countries and Egypt will drive much of this growth, but a strong recovery in production is also expected in East Africa.
Wang said this increase in production was clearly good news, helping to reduce Africa's dependency on increasingly expensive imported rice. FAO predicts imports by African nations will drop to 12.6 million tonnes, or 7 percent down from the 2012 record level of imports. Much of this decline in imports reflects expectations of reduced deliveries to West African countries, especially Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Togo, many of which can count on increased domestic production to meet their needs.
On the last day of the congress, FAO co-organized a ministerial forum featuring government ministers from Cameroon, Senegal, Chad, The Gambia and Mali, where the issues of land tenure and government policies in relation to private investment were discussed.