Africa's 'green revolution' will hinge on homegrown rice, said researchers and policy analysts at the first African Rice Congress in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania last week.
Delegates agreed resolutions calling for more research aimed at developing improved varieties and boosting rice production in Africa.
They urged governments to support their rice farmers, instead of becoming increasingly dependent on foreign supplies.
Sub-Saharan Africa imports almost half of its rice, and demand is increasing by six per cent each year.
The conference emphasised the need to increase the number of rice scientists in sub-Saharan Africa through incentives and training.
A spokesperson for the Africa Rice Center (WARDA), which organised the meeting, says the centre will strengthen its training of rice scientists and technicians in collaboration with Cornell University in the United States.
Delegates also said that plant breeding and biotechnology programmes such as those run by the Rockefeller Foundation in East Africa should be extended to West and Central Africa.
To increase production, they emphasised the importance of developing low-cost agricultural machinery, such as rice threshers, that are appropriate to farming conditions in Africa.
Delegates said that the success of the New Rice for Africa (NERICA) varieties — bred from high-yielding Asian rice and African rice that thrives in harsh conditions — showed the benefit of conserving Africa's rice diversity in gene banks.
Nguu Van Nguyen, secretary of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's International Rice Commission, welcomes the resolutions but says much effort will be needed to make Africa self-sufficient in rice production.
He emphasised the importance of developing irrigation systems to support rice farming.
The Food and Agriculture Organization is also working with the Rockefeller Foundation-funded African Rice Initiative to scale up dissemination of NERICA seeds throughout sub-Saharan Africa.