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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 15:20 GMT
High-yield rice for West Africa
Women pounding rice
African farmers helped develop the new breed of rice
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Richard Black
BBC science correspondent
line
Farmers in West Africa are set to receive seeds for a new breed of rice, which increases harvests by up to 50%.

Nerica - short for New Rice for Africa - combines the hardiness of traditional African strains with the productivity of Asian varieties.

Ears of Nerica rice
Nerica will reduce the need for rice imports
Rice is the staple food across much of West Africa.

The West African Rice Development Association (Warda) announced at a meeting in Ivory Coast that Nerica seeds would be distributed to farmers in Benin, Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria and Togo.

The target is to produce 750 million tonnes in 2003, which could save those seven nations as much as $100 million by reducing rice imports.

From there, if all goes well, its developers hope Nerica will spread across sub-Saharan Africa.

Breakthrough

Nerica has been developed to yield around 50% more than current African strains, without the need for irrigation. It matures around a month earlier, and is richer in protein.

Much of the development has been carried out in Guinea, where around 100,000 farmers are already growing Nerica.

Rice paddy
Nerica combines African and Asian strains of rice
Its development is a blend of modern science and traditional farming expertise.

African and Asian varieties of rice are so different that usually they will not cross-breed.

Instead scientists have used a technique called embryo rescue, the agricultural equivalent of in-vitro fertilisation.

Scientists created several strains of Nerica, which farmers then trialled, with their comments feeding back into the scientific process.

See also:

19 Jun 01 | Africa
Rice hybrid raises African hopes
21 Nov 00 | South Asia
India 'should tackle rice patent'
26 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Rice genome falls to science
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