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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Improving the harvest

Nov. 17, 2017

Agriculture specialists from Africa are studying Japanese farming techniques in a bid to address serious food shortages in their home countries. Population growth, combined with drought, is putting extra pressure on African farmers to meet demand. Visitors from the continent traveled to Toyama in central Japan to learn about rice production methods that could help feed more people.

Japan’s International Cooperation Agency (JICA) hosted a training session for researchers from 13 African countries. One of the participants was Peter Mavindidze from Zimbabwe, who is considering ways to improve the grain breeding of cereals.

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in the south with fertile soil that has earned it a reputation as the “granary of Africa.” Despite that, the last couple of decades have been hard with agricultural policy problems and lack of rainfall leading to serious food shortages.

“We have some drought issues,” says Mavindidze. “We don’t get enough food for around 30% of the population. We hope to learn how farmers manage in the case of no rainfall.”

The group visited an irrigation facility near the source of a river where they were shown how waterways that connect to rice fields upstream are narrow, while those downstream are wide. The method prevents the water from pooling upstream and brings a sufficient supply to the fields downstream.

“The system is all organized. Actually, it’s perfect for the farmers,” observes Mavindidze.

The visitors were also taken to visit a rice laboratory to meet specialist Takashi Oritani, 81, who has devoted much of his life to improving rice breeding. He showed them a field where a new type is growing.

Oritani has developed a strain of rice that will grow in tshe harsh conditions of Africa where the climate sometimes alternates between dry and rainy, every two months. He has created a hybrid of African rice and Japanese early-ripening rice called wase. It is ready for harvest in just two months — half as long as other types. This means that farmers could plant and harvest within the rainy season.

Mavindidze tries the rice, a variety called E111, and decides it would likely be popular in his country. “It tastes nice,” he says. “This is a good variety, I like it. I hope to borrow some seeds and incorporate it into our national breeding program.”

Oritani says the taste is just as important as the farming techniques. “You have to take into consideration what type of rice people in Africa are likely to prefer,” he says. “These are our friends and colleagues, even though they live far, far away. I hope that what we’ve shown the group can help the African land thrive.”

While the Japanese training program lasted just two weeks, the participants took home knowledge that could benefit generations of their people.