March 12, 2009
The people of Madagascar eat more rice than anyone else in the world, an enormous 120 kilograms per person per year or twice the consumption of the average Japanese. Overall, the island, located off the east coast of Africa, consumes 2.5 million tons annually, most of it homegrown.
But Madagascar, like much of mainland Africa, is struggling to meet an ever growing demand for this and other staples and effectively needs a so-called ‘green revolution’ to feed its people.
At an African economic conference, TICAD IV, held in Yokohama in 2008 JICA joined with other international donors, African countries and organizations to launch a ‘Coalition for African Rice Development’ or CARD to help achieve that goal.
Effectively, the participants agreed to double rice production in sub-Sahara Africa from 14 million to 28 million tons by 2018 by continuing to develop superior strains of rice including one called NERICA, by introducing better farming techniques and education, upgrading irrigation projects, expanding cultivable areas and upgrading such areas as quality control and marketing.
Rice fields in Madagascar
For JICA it represents perhaps the agency’s biggest agricultural initiative to date in Africa where the agency has been steadily increasing its operational involvement.
In Madagascar, one of 12 countries initially targeted by the CARD project, Japanese experts have already been at work in several areas. The country’s major rice producing area in the Lake Alaotra region in the Central Highlands has for years suffered severe land degradation as soil and sand washed down from nearby mountains, silting riverbeds and irrigation systems and causing flooding.
JICA drew up an integrated plan for water and soil conservation and improved productivity and will provide technical expertise to help implement it.
Fifteen Indonesian experts were also sent to the region to help in rice cultivation, soil improvement, stockbreeding and the use of small-scale farm machinery. They will provide technical information to key farmers who in turn will instruct other village neighbors in the new techniques.
Other advisors will work with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries providing both technological help and coordinating applications for grant aid and loan assistance to help the rice industry.
The bulk of the world’s so-called ‘bottom billion’ – the poorest of the poor – live in sub-Sahara Africa. Ironically, in a region with vast potential agricultural wealth, many of these people have a daily struggle to find sufficient food.
One expert is convinced Africa, with a little help from its friends, can rise to the challenge. Prof. ‘Monty’ Jones, who is universally referred to as the ‘father’ of Nerica (new rice for Africa) said recently: “We have the land. We have the water. And we have the people to make all of this possible. Africa will have a ‘Green Revolution’ in a very big way.”