Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is seeking the support of Japan and other rice-producing countries to help double rice output in Africa by 2018, saying sustainable production of the grain would ease hunger and poverty in the continent.

Annan, a native of Ghana and chairman of the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, told an international network backing the plan to double rice output during a meeting in Tokyo this month that consumption of the grain in Africa is “growing faster than that of any other major staple food,” but the continent “has been unable to keep up with this demand.”

“The demand for rice in sub-Saharan Africa is increasing at double the rate of population growth. We should make a real effort to produce what we eat, and not export what we produce and import what we eat,” Annan said. He pointed out that Africa imports nearly half the rice it consumes.

The former top U.N. official said rice prices have more than doubled since the start of the global food crisis last year and prices have not fallen sufficiently despite the economic downturn. He called for steps to stabilize the balance of supply and demand for the staple.

Annan’s group is dedicated to helping African small-scale farmers lift themselves out of poverty and hunger by boosting productivity and incomes for the poor while safeguarding the environment.

Annan said smaller and older farms in Africa “need better access to improved seeds, fertilizers and options for processing and marketing their harvests.”

“The evidence is clear that when Africa’s farmers are given the chance to increase their yields through improved seeds and small amounts of fertilizer, they are eager to take advantage of the opportunity and they can produce remarkable results,” he said.

At the Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama in May last year, Japan pledged to share its agricultural experience with Africa and called for doubling rice output in a decade from the level of 14 million tons.

The multistakeholder network, known as the Coalition for African Rice Development, was launched on the sidelines of the TICAD meeting.

The two-day Tokyo meeting from June 3 was attended by representatives of 14 African nations, Asian rice-producing countries, including Thailand, Vietnam and Japan, and international organizations, among them the World Food Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

At the conference, 12 African nations presented their national rice strategies.

Annan welcomed the presence of Asian rice producers at the gathering, saying cooperation between Africa and Asia “will open new possibilities for food security in Africa.”

Sadako Ogata, president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, also welcomed the participation by non-African rice producers, saying it represents “a broad-based, unique example of South-South cooperation.”

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