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AGRICULTURE REPORT – April 16, 2002: New Rice For West Africa - 2002-04-15

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

A new kind of rice is coming to West Africa. The new rice is said to have the best qualities of traditional African rice. It also has the higher productivity of Asian rice. It increases harvests by as much as fifty percent.

The West African Rice Development Association announced plans to give the new rice to farmers in several West African countries.

Rice is the main food in much of West Africa. The West African Rice Development Association says demand for rice is growing faster there than anywhere in the world. It says rice imports have risen in West Africa during the past thirty years.

Experts say the African and Asian versions of rice developed separately over many centuries. The African rice plant falls down when the plant is filled with rice. The grain head breaks apart easily, so some rice is lost. Asian rice is more productive. It has become popular in world markets.

For years, scientists talked about combining the best qualities of African rice with those of Asian rice. Yet attempts to combine the two kinds of rice failed.

In Nineteen-Ninety-One, researcher Monty Jones started using genetic engineering methods to combine the two. The genetic differences of the plants made the work difficult. Yet the differences also led to improvements in the new rice. Scientists say the product of two genetically different plants grows faster and is more productive.

Scientists have created several kinds of new rice for Africa. These kinds of rice resist dry weather, harmful insects and poor soils. They also slow the growth of unwanted plants. That reduces labor, and permits farmers to work the same land for longer periods.

The new kinds of rice also have a different structure of the grain head. African rice produces only seventy-five to one-hundred grains. The new rice plants produce as many as four-hundred grains. The rice plants hold the grains firmly, so they do not fall apart.

The new kinds of rice develop about one month earlier than other rice. They also are taller. This makes harvesting easier. Experts say they also contain more protein than other rice.

The West African Rice Development Association says the new rice also may help rice growers in Asia, Central America and South America.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow. This is __________.