International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) opened a new regional office in Nairobi to help Africa boost rice productivity and self-sufficiency.

The office was inaugurated by Professor Hamadi Boga, Principal Secretary, Kenyan State Department of Agriculture Research, who was represented by Margaret Makelo; Jim Godfrey, chairman of the board of trustees and Matthew Morell, director general, for the IRRI. The office and IRRI’s regional research initiatives will be led by Abdelbagi Ismail, IRRI’s regional representative for Africa.

Hosted by fellow CGIAR center the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and working closely with AfricaRice, the new regional hub will speed IRRI’s ability to translate its 60-year history of success transforming the Asian rice sector to the African context.

“IRRI is very grateful to ILRI for hosting our regional office here within their headquarters,” said Abdelbagi Ismail, IRRI’s regional representative for Africa. “Their generous support, as well as their extensive experience and network in the region, will be invaluable in helping IRRI work with governments and national institutions to accelerate the agricultural opportunity across the continent.”

According to IRRI, increasing urban populations, higher per capita incomes, and changing consumer preferences have made rice the fastest-growing food staple in Africa. Over 130 million hectares of inland valleys are suitable for rice farming, yet only about 10 million hectares are utilized, mostly growing low-yielding traditional rice varieties. IRRI noted, that because of insufficient production, many African nations have had to import 50% to 90% percent of their rice to keep up with demand, creating a considerable strain on their economies.

IRRI’s efforts in the region is working to help national agriculture priorities and a continent-wide strategy, ‘Boosting Africa’s rice sector’, that was developed by CGIAR sister center AfricaRice and national partners. The plan aims to reduce reliance on rice imports and reach 90% rice self-sufficiency by 2025. IRRI initiatives that support these priorities include deployment of high-yielding and climate-smart rice varieties, dissemination of locally adapted best practices in crop management and intensive farming, building the capability of rice scientists, and fostering partnerships that work towards efficient, sustainable and profitable rice-based systems.

According to IRRI, rice consumption in sub-Saharan Africa is growing at the expense of traditional staples like cassava, millet and sorghum, and demand continues to surpass local production. While continued investments by African countries have led to improvements in their rice sectors, there is an urgent need to accelerate the process.

“It is important to foster greater regional and international collaboration on the development and diffusion of improved technologies in sub-Saharan Africa to sustainably meet increasing demand,” IRRI said.  

IRRI and AfricaRice will work even more closely with national partners in sub-Saharan Africa to deliver on the rapidly growing needs of the African rice sector in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

“We are very excited to intensify our engagement here in Africa,” said Matthew Morell, director general of IRRI. “Africa’s rice sector has enormous potential for growth. With strong leadership from governments and institutions, Africa can be self-sufficient in rice production and become a top producer globally, contributing to worldwide food security.” He continued, “IRRI’s research-based solutions for the rice sector coupled with the work of our sister CGIAR centers, national partners, and the private sector can help deliver these results.”