African governments urged to invest more in agriculture
The Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Prof. Monty Patrick Jones, says the only option for food security in Africa is for African governments to invest more in agricultural research.
Such investment, he said, would promote the development of new technologies that would enhance increased agricultural productivity to feed the continent's estimated population of two billion by 2015.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra, Prof. Jones said it was unfortunate that politicians in Africa did not give priority to agricultural research because they were always looking for quick returns for political expediency.
He said in African countries such as Nigeria, Rwanda, Botswana and South Africa, where the government had invested in agricultural research, 'you can see the benefits'.
He advised African countries to move away from subsistent agriculture and venture into large scale production to meet demand for local consumption and export.
Prof. Jones is a World Food Programme Laureate and revered plant breeder who discovered the genetic process to create the New Rice for Africa (NERICA), a high-yielding rice variety suitable for growing conditions in many African countries.
He and his team of researchers had crossed varieties of Asian and African rice to discover the NERICA hybrid that combines the high yields of Asia's rice and the toughness of Africa's rice, thereby giving higher yields, shorter growth cycles and more protein content than its Asian and African parents.
Rice is a major staple in many African countries, many of whom are net importers of the cereal, and the NERICA intervention has helped to increase production, thereby helping many of those countries to reduce the import bill on rice substantially.
Prof. Jones said in the last two decades, rice production in Africa had remained stagnant, while demand for the cereal increased.
There was, therefore, the need for significant increase in production, hence the motivation for the NERICA project.
Prof. Jones said the NERICA initiative had helped to increase rice production by about 25 per cent in some African countries and 50 per cent in others.
He said rice production held the key to food security in Africa, and therefore urged African governments to pay attention to its cultivation.
Prof. Jones also stressed the need for African governments to take the production of maize, cassava, yam and other staples seriously.
He said FARA had played a significant role in global agricultural research and development, adding that it had been able to bring Africa's voice to the global system.
By Kofi Yeboah/Daily Graphic/Ghana