Sh5billion set to revolutionize Africa's strategic crops

Kenya is among 20 African countries set to benefit from a $63million project that seeks to increase the potential of four key African crops, rice,maize, cassava, and wheat, by increasing yields of each crop by 20 percent, and a 60 percent increase in annual average household income in five years through technology adoption.

Dubbed ,Support for Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops (SARD-SC), the project comes at a time when food security and nutrition are high on the international and national agenda of African countries, as rising food prices push millions into extreme poverty. It is estimated that over 200 million Africans are food insecure as a result of unprecedented rise in food prices bite. This is a staggering 40 percent jump from 2007. The project allows, for the first time, in a single project, Africa-wide coverage of efforts to tackle food security challenges.

In Kenya for example where maize is the staple food, production has stagnated even as demand soars. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Kenya National Statistics Bureau, maize consumption in Kenya has risen steadily over the past ten years. Kenyans ate 23 million bags of maize and produced 26 million bags of maize in 2002, creating a surplus. But in 2012, Kenyans consumed 43 million bags of maize and produced 30 million bags, demonstrating that production has not kept pace with demand. The 13 million-bag deficit has been met through imports.

More than 1.3 million Kenyan farmers didnt have any maize seeds to plant last season which put around 3.7 million people in Kenya as food insecure due to their over reliance on maize. Cassava on the othe hand is relied on by over 5 million East Africans due to its ease of planting and availability. Rice is Kenya's third staple after maize and Potato.

Yet the full potential of these crops havent been exploited to the maximum to ensure that they are not just enough on the table of Kenyans and by extension African families, but they are in surplus and can be sold to provide extra income to families. “There is so much potential for these strategic crops and they, if harnessed using the right policies, would lift millions of Africans out of poverty and place Africa in a whole new economic level,”read part of the report on the project.

The project has four components which include agricultural technologies and innovations generation to ensure the right technologies tools have been identified to drive uptake by as many African as possible, agricultural technologies and innovations dissemination which entails farmers spreading the technologies to farmers and ensuring they are comfortable using them to increase production and yields, capacity building which closely monitors and empower the farmers who have taken up the technologies and project management.

Other countries to benefit include Nigeria, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana,, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The project will be implemented by three Africa-based centres of the Multinational Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). These are Africa Rice Centre (AfricaRice), the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).