20 September 2017

Rwanda: African Experts Push for Crop Improvement

Photo: allafrica.com
Cassava.

Genetic plant resources should be preserved and new crop varieties developed in order to increase agricultural productivity and ensure food security, experts from the African Union have said.

The experts were speaking at an African Union Regional Workshop on the Implementation of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).

The two-day conference, which opened Tuesday in Kigali, attracted officials from African Union countries and beyond, coming ahead of the member countries' seventh session that will be held in Rwanda from October 30 to November 3.

Delegates from the AU Commission meeting in Kigali are expected to consolidate and agree on key things so as to have a common, united voice and position to advance at the November conference.

Up to 144 countries are signatory to the treaty.

The experts called for development of crops that can withstand effects of climate change and diseases in order to address rampant hunger and poverty facing the world, and Africa in particular.

Kent Nnadozie, the secretary for International treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, said improvement in crop yields is needed to feed the growing world population projected to reach 10 billion people in 2050.

"The more diverse, and more different varieties that you have for each crop, the more the ability for farmers to have varieties that adapt to situations and needs, as well as different environmental situations and other environmental stress arising from drought or climate change," he said.

The Head of Rural Economy and Agriculture Department at African Union, Janet Edeme, said addressing access to improved varieties that can resist climate change and diseases is critical.

But, she pointed out, there is need to formulate conditions and policies that benefit African smallholder farmers.

The Director of Research at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), Patrick Karangwa, said countries bound by the treaty should be able to share tested varieties instead of investing in new research whose results can come maybe after five years.

Rwanda is trying to test about 17 varieties of cassava that are resistant to Cassava brown streak disease, a viral disease locally known as Kabore, after the disease devastated cassava crop in the country, according to Karangwa.

Speaking to The New Times, Karwa Amani, the president of COOPROMASA, a cooperative of maize farmers in Gatsibo District, said what farmers need is availability of crops that can produce more yield per acreage and can withstand climate change shocks such as drought.

Maize produce in Rwanda ranges from four to seven tonnes per hectare.

A new FAO report, "The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, Building Resilience for Peace And Food Security 2017," released last week, shows that hunger is on the rise in the world as, overall, hungry people increased to 815 million in 2016 from 777 million in 2015.

The numbers included 520 million people in Asia; 243 million in Africa, and 42 million in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report said climate change effects, especially drought, and violence were the main causes of increased hunger.

Africa has the highest hunger rate in the world as, on average, hunger affects one-in-four people on the continent compared to the global rate of one-in-10 people.

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