This is good news for the cereal's potential to help Sub Saharan Africa out of poverty according to researchers. Rice is the second most important source of calories in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), a research organisation working to contribute to poverty alleviation and food security.
Thanks to fast urbanising Africa, consumption of rice is growing by six per cent annually. "Rice is important for Africa food security and the reasons are clear," AfricaRice Center, Deputy Director General, Marco Wopereis, told IPS, adding that
Projections are that in 25 years, the world will be eating 110 million tonnes more of milled rice and one third of that will be eaten in Africa, according to him.
Grown in 40 out of 54 countries in Africa, rice is the most important agricultural activity and source of income for more than 35 million smallholder rice farmers.
This accounts for 32 per cent of the world's rice imports, making Africa one of the largest rice importers in the world and a major player in the rice trade.
AfricaRice three years ago developed seven high performing rice varieties known as the Advanced Rice Varieties for Africa (ARICAs) which has been developed with traits for tolerance to flooding at a vegetative stage, salinity, iron toxicity and cold. These are high performing compared to the New Rice for Africa (NERICA) varieties developed for rain-fed environments in the 1990s.
Moussa Sie, a senior breeder at AfricaRice and coordinator of the Rice Breeding Task Force in Africa, said ARICAs will help increase the number of rice varieties available and boost production by at least 40 per cent.
These have been developed using participatory variety selection tools that breeders use to involve farmers in developing what is suitable for their needs and conditions in the view of flooding and droughts as a result of climate change.
"We are working in particular to breed varieties that are more robust and more ready to face the threats of climate change because rice is grown mainly by poor farmers and we need to develop varieties for such kind of farmers," Sie told IPS. "We have rice champions like the NERICA-4 varieties which we developed by involving farmers and ARICAs will follow the same route."
According to Realising Africa's Rice Promise - the most comprehensive reference publication on rice research in Africa - this staple is the future for Africa.
The study, a global collaboration by 100 authors with considerable expertise, says sustainably increasing rice production and productivity, enhancing quality and marketing are key to the transformation of the rice sector. "Rice is critical for food security and political stability throughout Africa and it has the greatest potential to fuel economic growth," the study notes.