The global food crisis has brought an end to what The Economist magazine has called “the era of cheap food.” This refers to the two decades before 2005 when food prices fell by three-quarters in real terms on world markets.
Food was so inexpensive that many developing countries found it was more cost effective to import food than to produce it themselves. In many African countries, for example, imported rice from Asia was so cheap that local farmers couldn’t compete, and so production flagged. But with many Asian nations limiting exports as a result of the food crisis, cheap imported rice is a thing of the past for African families—perhaps forever.
This is certainly the case in Burkina Faso. Rice there is the fourth most important food crop, after millet, sorghum and maize. For years, the west African country imported more than 70 percent of its rice from abroad, with local production covering the rest. But this has all changed after the price of rice rose by at least 60 percent in the first half of this year. Although this is a disaster for urban consumers, small-scale rice farmers can find in it an opportunity to increase their production, which will benefit them and their fellow Burkinabe.
Catholic Relief Services is carrying out a broad-based response to the global food crisis caused by skyrocketing prices for both food and fuel. A key part of our strategy is helping small-scale farmers to boost local crop production, increasing their incomes and putting more food on the market, which should lower prices for all.
An important component of this response is the CRS Rice Initiative, which seeks to increase the productivity of rice farm families in Africa. Sixteen CRS country programs across Africa have committed to participating in the Rice Initiative, which will provide small-scale rice farmers, most of whom are women, with access to improved seed varieties and high-quality nitrogen fertilizer that will quickly produce higher yields. We will also provide support to farmers in preventing post-harvest loss and in marketing their crops.
CRS has already begun “quick start” activities in four countries—Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana and Madagascar—using our private funds to support farmers so they can take advantage of the upcoming planting season.
CRS has also been invited to participate in a $5.1-million, two-year proposal by the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA, also known as the Africa Rice Center) to boost productivity in Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ghana.
It is our hope that we can build on our quick start in west Africa, and expand this Rice Initiative to east and southern Africa, as well as to Asian countries including the Philippines and India. In addition to WARDA, CRS intends to partner with the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute, which brought the Green Revolution to Asia.
The Rice Initiative is an example of CRS’ ability to leverage our expertise acquired over long years of experience to launch bold new programs. Our work in seed fairs and vouchers will help us effectively distribute seed and fertilizer to the farmers most in need. Our ability to provide follow-up technical assistance, including agro-enterprise initiatives linking African farmers to profitable markets, will help them to help their neighbors by producing a more bountiful harvest.
Thank you for your continued support and for your prayers for all the suffering who are going hungry as a result of this global food crisis.