COTONOU, BENIN — A pioneering project to enhance the quality and marketability of locally-produced rice through improved harvest and postharvest technologies in eight pilot countries of West and East Africa has just been launched by the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), the group announced on June 20.

Describing the project as “one of the first-of-its-kind for rice in sub-Saharan Africa,” AfricaRice economist Dr. Aliou Diagne stated that improved processing practices and technologies could significantly increase overall rice production by reducing losses.

“The reduction of postharvest losses of 10% will help increase farmers' nominal annual income by about $32 million in the eight pilot countries by 2020,” Diagne said.

Rice is the fastest growing source of food in Africa. The continent accounts for one-third of global rice imports as the domestic rice production has not been able to keep pace with the increases in demand triggered by population growth and rapid urbanization.

Smallholder farmers and processors in the region generally depend on manual technologies for rice cultivation and postharvest handling, processing and storage.

“This has resulted in the production of poor quality rice in the region,” said Dr. John Manful, AfricaRice grain quality expert.

Manful explained that until now more importance was given to increasing rice production.

“However, equal importance should be given to improving the quality of locally-produced rice. Otherwise the lower-quality domestic rice cannot compete with higher-quality imported rice,” he said.

The project will focus on the development and evaluation of suitable harvest and postharvest technologies for producing quality rice products that respond to market demands. At the same time, local farmers and processors in the target countries will be trained to apply these technologies.

The project will also offer opportunities to local households to raise their incomes by promoting the development of new rice-based products and rice by-products. It will also explore the use of rice for producing fortified food items.

The findings of the applied research activities are expected to feed into national and regional agricultural policies relating to the rice sector. Research-based analytical support will be provided for the establishment of a regional mechanism to harmonize and coordinate rice policies through strong linkages with key regional economic communities.

The five-year project is aligned to the common goal of AfricaRice and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which supports it. Both seek to increase food security and improve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa through targeted research, policy and training. AfricaRice is a member of the CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers.

In addition to AfricaRice, the project partners include national programs from the eight pilot countries (Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda) and the Canada-based McGill University. Through the strong continent-wide linkages of AfricaRice, the results of the project will be disseminated beyond the pilot countries.

Representatives of all the project partners attended the project launch held recently at AfricaRice in Cotonou, Benin, and discussed plans for the project implementation at the national and regional levels.

“We are very excited by this project, because postharvest losses account for up to 25 percent of losses in agricultural production in Sierra Leone. A reduction of these losses could substantially increase food production in the country without increasing the cultivated area,” said Nazir Mahmood, research officer from the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI), who attended the meeting.