Friday, January 30, 2015

Sub-Saharan rice farming countries benefit from season-long training

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines-The Season-Long Rice Farming Program for extension agronomists in Sub-Saharan countries has been a success, reported Lea Abaoag, head of the Technology Management and Services Division of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) on 29 January 2015 during the IRRI-GRiSP Asia Science Week.

Felix Oteng, one of the five training graduates from Ghana in 2012, is a living testimony of this success. He has used his knowledge in training his co-extension workers in his country. In December 2014, he was awarded as the Northern Regional Best Agricultural Extension Officer during the National Farmer’s Day celebration.

“I have really seen the impact of the course and I can say that more good things are yet to happen, ” he said.

Not popularly known as a rice region, Africa is in fact an important rice producer and consumer. Rice is the fastest growing food staple in the region. For instance, Ghana’s rice consumption continues to increase with the country’s population growth, urbanization, and changing consumer preferences. From 22.8 kg per year in 2005, the country's per capita consumption jumped to 34.2 kg per year in 2011. However, the country’s rice self-sufficiency ratio is only about 30%, leaving a 70% shortfall. Currently, Ghana spends about US$450 million each year on rice imports to meet its local demand.

"Improving rice production in Africa is critical in meeting the region’s future demand for rice,” said Dr. Noel Magor, head of IRRI’s Training Center. “Training young Africans in all aspects of rice production, for them to be updated of the latest and most useful information and to build their professional networks, will empower them to play an active role in developing environmentally sustainable rice production in their countries,” he added.

The Program is a collaboration among the Japan International Cooperation Agency, International Rice Research Institute, and PhilRice under the Coalition for Africa Rice Development (CARD). The project aims for greater, sustainable harvest of quality rice for Africa by demonstrating that the using up-to-date rice farming practices will result in increased food security and improved livelihoods for rice farmers, their families, and their communities.

The training targeted extension officers, junior researchers, and research technicians in rice research and development. Ms. Abaoag, who is also the overall coordinator of the season-long rice farming training program, said that the African extension agronomists were trained on PalayCheck and Palayamanan systems at the PhilRice Central Experiment Station in Nueva Ecija. PalayCheck is an integrated crop management system for rice while Palayamanan is a diversified rice-based farming system.

The Program started in 2011 and completed in 2013 with a total of 63 extension agronomists who learned the benefits of an effective extension service in the delivery of up-to-date technologies to farmers. It was a 17-week course at PhilRice and a two-week course at IRRI.

This training program is an important milestone in the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) and is part of the joint effort by the Africa Rice Center and IRRI to support rice sector development in Africa.

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