Conakry — Kafoumba Koné sounds almost smug.
"Our first rice harvest is in, and we're getting ready to plant again," he says, surveying his farm in southeastern Guinea. "Other farmers who have not yet tried NERICA are still preparing for their only harvest of the year." Along with 24 younger associates, Koné harvested nearly 700 tonnes of an improved variety of rice from their 140-hectare plot in the Beyla prefecture in the southeastern corner of this West African country at the beginning of August.
The group earned 294,000 dollars from their crop of NERICA, the New Rice for Africa, an improved variety that's proving to be well-matched to the low soil fertility in the region.
Roughly a third of their revenue has gone to pay off various creditors, but the balance, banked in their new account at a rural credit union, represents a handsome profit as they return to the fields.
Rice production in Guinea presently falls well short of the needs of its 10 million strong population. According to a report from the agriculture ministry, the country's rice deficit is around 240,000 tonnes a year, forcing Guinea to import roughly a fifth of its annual consumption of 1.26 million tonnes from Thailand and Vietnam.
"It is time we begin to re-evaluate our dependence on imported rice. We need to increase our local output," said Agriculture Minister Jean-Marc Telliano.
This year, Guinea's National Agency for Rural Promotion and Agriculture Extension has made 500 tonnes of NERICA rice seed available to smallholders as part of a one million dollar project to increase output.
"This rice variety is a cross between African and Asian strains of rice. Rich in protein, it is prized by Guinean consumers, for whom rice is a staple," said Ali Condé, director of the agency.
Farmers in Beyla and neighbouring Kérouané have enthusiastically adopted the improved variety.
IPS visited a farm in Kérouané at the end of August, where a group of 17 farmers are growing NERICA on 130 hectares of land. There is no shortage of arable land in this part of the country, and the local community readily granted the group access to cultivate this large area.
"We harvested around 645 tonnes of (unprocessed) paddy rice," said Mohamed Dioubaté, head of the Kérouané collective. Some of the crop will go towards the farmers' own use, but most will be sold to buyers from all over the country.
Dioubaté told IPS that a 100-kilo sack of rice sells for about 300,000 Guinean francs - 42 dollars - which means the group made a gross income of roughly 270,000 dollars from the past three months of work.
"The introduction of this variety of rice here in 2012 has been a blessing for us," he said. "Now we can have two harvests a year which wasn't possible before."
"It's even possible to get three harvests per year since the growing cycle for this rice is actually 90 days," said Abdoulaye Sangaré, an agriculture extension worker in the region.
According to Sangaré, the new rice is perfectly adapted to conditions here, where farmers lack the resources to irrigate their fields or apply fertiliser and pesticides. NERICA is doing well despite low soil fertility and a dependence on rain for water.
The benefits of increased production are already being felt in the local marketplace.
"With the coming of NERICA, the price of rice has fallen in our region," said Sarata Keita, a rice seller in Kérouané. "Now a kilo of rice costs between three and four thousand francs (less than a dollar) while the price was between five and six thousand in the past."
However, the farmers complained about a lack of equipment and agricultural machinery that would let them work even more quickly and efficiently.
"We harvested the rice with sickles," said local farmer Samouka Kourouma, "and threshed and cleaned the rice by hand. We would be happier if we had mechanical rice hullers and other equipment."