COTONOU, BENIN — In recognition of the growing importance of rice as a strategic crop for Africa’s food security and poverty reduction, the African Union Commission (AU) and the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) signed an agreement on July 20 to jointly promote the rice sector in the continent through research, development, supportive policies and capacity building.

The agreement focuses on the following three areas:

  • Policy research and analysis;
  • Promoting production technologies and agricultural innovation systems;
  • Provision of policy communications and facilitating dialogue to inform and improve the design and implementation of food and agricultural policies in and among the Member States of the African Union.

Hailing this collaboration as a “historic achievement,” Papa Abdoulaye Seck, AfricaRice director general said, “This will help create the political will to move Africa’s rice sector forward.”

Despite significant increases in domestic rice production in many African countries during 2008 and 2009, the region still imports nearly 40% of the rice it consumes, which makes it highly exposed to international market shocks.

“However, Africa can turn around the situation as it possesses a large reservoir of underutilized agricultural land and water resources, and many technological options, developed by AfricaRice and its partners, are already available,” said Seck, explaining that the collaboration with the African Union would facilitate the required link with policy-makers to transform the rice sector.

The agreement was signed at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by H.E. Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, and by Seck, on behalf of the center’s 24 member states.

The signing ceremony was followed by a technical meeting to explore areas of collaboration, including the development of a regional value chain approach and a common market initiative for rice as part of the existing partnership between the African Union Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture (AU-DREA), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) to develop regional value chains for strategic agricultural commodities.

Tumusiime considers AfricaRice an important new partner in this multi-institutional platform. She recognized the important role that AfricaRice as a Center of Excellence has played through its development of the NERICA rice varieties and the continued need for the Center to help intensify rice cropping in a sustainable manner, contribute to capacity building across the value chain and develop favorable policy frameworks.

"Today, the African Union Commission gets an opportunity to take one concrete step towards the achievement of a vision that both our institutions share: one of an Africa free from hunger and poverty,” said Tumusiime.