They will also develop post-harvest technologies to help farmers deal with loses suffered after the crop is removed from farms.
African farmers are under-resourced and many depend on old, low-yielding varieties developed more than 20 years ago without the new pressures of climate change.
Rice production in Africa also faces challenges such as high post-harvest losses of 20 percent of crops harvested, lack of farm inputs — including better seeds and fertilisers— and lack of knowledge about best practices, for example,effective weed management and getting more yields through better spacing.
Africa is eating 12 million tonnes more rice than it is producing. According to the International Rice Research Institute, Africa is a net importer of rice with a projected annual deficit of 4 million tonnes by 2015.Statistics from the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) indicate that Africa in 2012 consumed 24 million tonnes of rice, half of which was imported at a cost in excess of US$5 billion.
Marko Wopereis, the deputy-director general of AfricaRice says that climate change is putting a new strain on raising rice productivity and in maintaining quality because consumers prefer better quality rice in terms of taste and cooking properties, which determine the prices they will pay for the commodity.
To address the challenges of rice production, AfricaRice scientists are developing climate-smart rice varieties that are resistant to flooding and drought — and better post-harvest technologies that are energy-efficient and preserve the nutritional values, Wopereis adds.
"AfricaRice will next year field-test a number of flood-tolerant varieties in Nigeria, one of the major rice consumers and importers in Africa."
Marko Wopereis, AfricaRice
Sali Atanga Ndindeng, grain quality and post-harvest expert at AfricaRice, says that they have developed stainless steel vessels for use by farmers to precook rice using steam to prevent it from breaking before processing.
The vessels will use briquettes made from rice husks for energy generation. The stoves — which the vessels are put on — are built locally using local materials that can easily contract.
"Rice farmers will now stop using steel drums, which have a high risk of contaminating their rice but also affect the quality of the rice when the heat is poorly distributed during the precooking process," says Atanga. Steel drums use a lot of wood fuel, which produces unhealthy smoke.
"Rice farmers and researchers should collaborate to address marketability and quality of local rice," according to CissePeinda Gueye, a rice farmer in Senegal
Gueye adds that scientists should be effective in sharing research outcomes with the farmers to improve production and address quality problems.
Gueye, who is also the president of Senegalese Women Rice Farmers Federation, says consumers want better cooking and perfumed rice and, therefore, those without such properties are hard to sell.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.