Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rice: Africa's New Commodity?

Alice C. Linsley

Rice paddy in Volta Valley at Gobi

At one time rice was cultivated in the great river basins of East Africa. It was exported from Africa to Asia. From Asia, to came back to Africa. The exchange of rice was so common that the word for rice became the name of a basic measurement of weight.

During ice age glacial advances, when the ocean levels were up to 390 feet (120 meters) lower, both Asia and Australia were united with islands on their respective continental shelves and formed continuous land masses. However, the deep water between those two continental shelves kept the flora separated. During the late Paleolithic, rice exchange spread due to human commerce on the seas.

Rice formed the basis of weight measurement from East Africa to Sulawesi. On Madagascar, the weight of one grain of rice is called vary. This corresponds to the Swahili wari and to the Dravidian verasu. The Hebrew word for rice is orez and the Arabic is ruz. These share the RZ root with Dravidian.The Dravidian word reflects the most ancient written records of commercial weights.

Rice is returning to Africa as a significant grain commodity. Here is the most recent news:

In Ghana’s Volta river valley, a comprehensive project has been launched to expand Africa’s capacity for the cultivation of rice – a stubbornly unpredictable commodity that is critical to the continent’s continued food stability.

Launched two years ago, the project, known as Gadco, brings agricultural experts from Brazil, where rice is successfully grown in conditions similar to Western Africa, to Ghana. This will help local farmers learn to cultivate rice.

Over decades, there have been countless attempts have failed to successfully grow rice in Sub-Saharan Africa, mainly due to poor management and a lack of funding. However, thus far Gadco appears to have finally managed to develop rice production in Africa.

Gadco is a profit-driven model and the funding has been provided by Summit Capital, a Seattle-based hedge fund. Over $15 million was spent on the first phase, bringing 40-per cent returns to investors. Thus far, the Gadco rice paddies have cultivated 1,600 hectares and have produced two successful harvests. Additional paddies are currently being planned.

The next phase of the project will be launched within the next two years. It will use a $100-million investment to develop rice paddies in five Sub-Saharan countries, including Mozambique, Zambia and Nigeria.

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