• Kyodo

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Rice cultivation expert Tatsushi Tsuboi has spent a lifetime promoting the grain’s production in Africa, a continent with chronic food shortages.

His efforts to combat starvation and boost economic development in Africa led to his winning this year’s Niigata International Food Award, a biennial prize honoring people or groups for their contributions to solving food problems.

Since graduating from university, Tsuboi, 65, has spent over three decades in international cooperation activities and teaching rice cultivation to people in Asia and Africa.

In the 1990s, he came across a variety dubbed “Nerica” (New Rice for Africa), which grows quickly, resists insects and desiccation and needs no large-scale irrigation facility.

“The doors before me opened at a stretch,” he said.

Since 2004, Tsuboi has studied Nerica cultivation methods and spread the variety mainly in Uganda with local farmers and the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, serving as a senior technical adviser to the state-backed Japan International Cooperation Agency.

About 14,000 Africans have been taught by Tsuboi.

Rice is not a staple in Uganda, but rather an upscale food for wealthy families. But it allows farmers to feed their families and improve their quality of life by selling it.

“Since the climate in Africa is relatively warm and farming has long been widely practiced, I thought rice could be planted on an annual basis,” he said.

He said the 2008 Tokyo International Conference on African Development’s goal of doubling Africa’s 14 million tons of annual rice output in a decade is coming into sight.

“My winning the award can be an encouragement to those working there (Uganda),” Tsuboi said. “I would be happy if local people remember generations from now that rice production became popular in Africa thanks to some Japanese.”

Tsuboi was thinking of taking it easy back home in Oita Prefecture, but will probably visit Africa often in the future.

“My next mission is to cultivate young people who are willing to live there and work up a good sweat with the local people,” he said.

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