- African member countries have taken the historic decision to expand and transform the pan-African Rice Center beyond the west African geographical region.
Recognising the strategic importance of rice for Africa and the effective geographic expansion of the Africa Rice Center - which was constituted as the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) in 1971 - the council of ministers last week concluded the 27th Ordinary Session in Lomé, Togo, to officially change the Center's name to "Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice)" and to no longer refer to it as WARDA.
The Africa Rice Center is an intergovernmental association of African countries with the Council of Ministers as its highest oversight body. It is also one of the 15 international agricultural research institutes supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
The Council of Ministers Session was inaugurated by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Togo Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo on behalf of the President. "We salute the prominent role that the Africa Rice Center has been playing in our fight against poverty through the intensification of rice research in Africa," stated the Prime Minister.
He also appreciated the efforts made by the governments of the Africa Rice Center member countries and the support of the international donor community.
Kossi Messan Ewovor, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Republic of Togo, chaired the session, during which a number of key resolutions were made.
"This change reflects current reality. Today our Center is very different from when it was established in 1971 in view of the increase in the number of its member countries from beyond West Africa and the continent-wide adoption of the public goods generated by it," the Council of Ministers declared.
The Council underlined that the pan-African ownership of the Center has increased particularly in the period since 2007 during which six countries from Central, Eastern and Northern Africa joined the Center. As a result, the number of Africa Rice Center member countries went up from 17 in 2006 to 23 in 2009.
It also noted that the Center's technologies and services greatly benefit 34 African countries, including 11 non-member countries.
The Council urged that the unique model of the Africa Rice Center as a pan-African intergovernmental institution be taken into consideration in the context of the ongoing CGIAR reform process, because it is an important asset for the consultative group.
The Council also called for a "Mega-Program on Rice" in the new CGIAR as rice is the fastest growing food staple in Africa and is an engine of economic growth and political stability that can impact on poverty and hunger.
The current session of the Africa Rice Center Council of Ministers was held against the backdrop of the recent food crisis, particularly the rice crisis, which affected several African countries.
The Council commended the Director General and his team for not only assisting the member countries in responding to the rice crisis, but for also alerting them beforehand and recommending strategies to effectively manage such crises in the future.
"In addition to the geographic expansion, the Africa Rice Center has transformed itself in many other ways in terms of its scientific and financial health," the Council of Ministers remarked.
The minister also took particular note of some of the following signs of change, which are contributing to the effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of the Center, such the significant increase in the annual member country contribution to the Center, its budget and project funding as well as new dynamic research portfolio addressing major rice challenges in Africa, including the impact of climate change.
Conveying its sincere thanks to the President and the government of Togo for their warm hospitality and the excellent organisation of the session, the Council approved The Gambia's assumption of the Council Chairmanship for the next 2 years.
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