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[LILONGWE] Sub-Saharan Africa could boost its rice production with the announcement of increased collaboration between three of the world's leading international rice research institutes.

The centres — the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) based in Benin, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) based in Colombia and the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) — announced their commitment to bring the best of science and experience in Africa, Latin America and Asia to address the major challenges faced by Africa's rice growers.

Africa currently imports about 40 per cent of its rice to satisfy local demand. With rice prices expected to double in the next couple years due to shrinking rice reserves, increasing African rice production is essential.

"By harmonising our activities we can cover the whole continent, have critical mass [of rice scientists], address most of the problems facing rice [in Africa], and at the end of the day we can have a very high impact," said Papa Abdoulaye Seck, WARDA's director general, in a press release.

"Some of the agro-ecologies in Asia, Latin America and Africa are similar and rice farmers in developing countries face similar challenges. Therefore, a successful programmatic alignment where the comparative advantages of these centres are combined can have a large-scale impact in Africa," Shellemiah Keya, director general for research at WARDA, told SciDev.Net. 

The centres have proposed creating an umbrella consortium — the sub-Saharan Africa Rice Consortium (SARC) — to bring together already existing research networks in Africa and include countries not covered by these networks.

SARC will address high priority issues for rice research and development in Africa, such as improving rice varieties and farmers' access to them, increasing the number of rice scientists in the region and improving collaboration.

The director generals of WARDA, CIAT and IRRI issued a joint statement saying that the initiative creates a united front for rice research and a way of channelling technology and information from international research to countries and farmers in the region.