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The Japanese government has announced that it will give US$30 million to help tackle Africa's food crisis and to support agricultural research and development in the region.

The bulk of the money will go towards the development of new rice for Africa (NERICA), a hybrid of Japanese and African grains. The Ivory Coast-based West African Rice Development Association has developed the variety, which has been created using conventional breeding techniques.

“We hope that NERICA rice will help solve Africa’s food problems,” said Hatsuhisa Takashima, spokesman for the Japanese delegation at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in South Africa last week.

NERICA, which went into general production last year, is touted as providing higher yields than traditional varieties. It is also drought-resistant and can be cultivated using smaller amounts of fertiliser and pesticides.

The Japanese announcement coincides with the US government's pledge at the WSSD to provide US$90 million to combat hunger in Africa in 2003. Of this money, US$53 million will go towards harnessing science and technology for African farmers. The rest will assist smallholder-based agriculture to cash in on global markets.

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