Whether African can achieve a Green Revolution has been a perennial question.
Everyone is looking for a trigger that will usher in the combination of high yielding crop varieties, fertilizers, and irrigation water that fuelled the Green Revolution in Asia. Since the major increases in Asia's food production occurred in irrigated areas, large-scale irrigation schemes have become attractive. A recent paper investigates the potential of and constraints to a rice Green Revolution in Africa's large-scale irrigation schemes, using data from Uganda, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Senegal.
The paper has three important messages.
First, Africa would benefit from Asian rice varieties, which perform well under irrigated conditions that currently exist in Africa.
Second, full benefits from irrigation would depend on the supporting inputs, institutions and infrastructure, including quality seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, management know-how, information and financial services and, most importantly, a stable supply of irrigation water.
Third, Africa needs a big push in developing both large and small-scale irrigation systems. Although small-scale irrigation development seems to be the current trend among aid organizations, the paper shows that large-scale irrigation schemes also have high potential under proper management.
The paper leaves us thinking about many more issues. How do we find the right Asian rice variety for this geographically diverse continent? What is the potential for ground water irrigation which is a major source of irrigation water in other rice producing countries? Will increasing irrigation pave the way for the expansion of other crops and facilitate commercialization of agriculture? Will irrigation improve food security and foster a sustained rural development in Africa? Recent increases in food prices have only increased the stakes.