Best of Both Worlds – Côte d’Ivoire

September 2004

Rice farming in Côte d’Ivoire is characterised by poor soils, drought and pest infestation. The majority of farmers struggle to meet their own needs and have been unable to find a rice variety that is both pleasant to eat and high yielding. However, the West African Rice Development Association has bred a new rice variety that combines the benefits of existing Asian and African seeds. Farmers have been able to participate in crop selection initiatives, giving them access to the new variety and leaving them to choose which crops are most suited to their own circumstances.

Staple Food

Rice is the principal food crop in many parts of Côte d’Ivoire and is one of the most important staple foods for the country’s population. Per capita rice consumption has increased at a rate of 2.5 per cent per year over the past two decades, as cereals have gradually replaced roots and tubers in the diet of the population. Rice now accounts for one fifth of total caloric consumption, the largest share of any single food. The growth in rice consumption per capita has now slowed, with population growth driving increases in production, which stands at an annual rate of 840,000 tonnes.

© Liz Bates
© Liz Bates

Rice production in Côte d’Ivoire has spread to at least 750,000 hectares, with a yield of 1.5 tonnes per hectare. This is sufficient to satisfy only 56 per cent of national rice demand, with the remaining demand for rice being met through imports of about 450,000 tonnes a year.

Most of the rice produced in Côte d’Ivoire is grown in upland systems, which account for about 74 per cent of total rice area. Upland rice is grown mainly in the hilly forest zone in the southwest and in the cotton-growing savannah areas in the north. Meanwhile, the share of rice grown in rainfed lowlands varies from 8 per cent to 19 per cent. Irrigated lowlands include different degrees of water control, from the valley bottom wetlands of the southwest, to the larger-scale irrigation schemes in the north-central area. Irrigated systems account for an estimated 25,000 hectares; i.e. 6 or 7 per cent of the total national area under rice cultivation.

Production practices

Most rice in Côte d’Ivoire is grown using traditional, low-input manual techniques. There is still enough land available to permit traditional practices in upland systems, based on long fallow periods to maintain soil fertility. Under these practices, the main threat to productivity is drought. Poor access to water due to poor supply channels, or lack of producer organisations and credit, are also constraints. In most lowland systems, water control remains limited and continues to constrain yields.

The rice sector was the focus of considerable public investment and intervention in the 1970s, with an extensive programme of irrigation and valley bottom development, the construction of a series of industrial mills, and controlled paddy and rice sale. The government has gradually withdrawn from the rice sector over the past two decade, but continued to maintain a monopoly for imported rice supplies, which allowed the fixing of official rice prices until 1995. In 1995 the import monopoly was eliminated, and price controls were lifted in the following year.

West African Rice Development Association

In the face of the difficult production environments in Côte d’Ivoire, the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) has been dedicated to finding new ways for farmers to improve their crops. WARDA is an autonomous inter-governmental research association with the following mission.

‘To contribute to food security and poverty eradication in poor rural and urban populations, particularly in West and Central Africa, through research, partnerships, capacity strengthening and policy support on rice-based systems, and in ways that promote sustainable agricultural development based on environmentally sound management of natural resources.’

© Courtesy of WARDA
© Courtesy of WARDA

WARDA underwent major transformation when it moved from Liberia to Côte d’Ivoire in 1987, resulting in a new organisational structure. The organisation now comprises 17 member states: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.



Key elements of WARDA’s collaborative work

  • Germplasm enhancement
    This includes improved varieties released in the Sahel in 1994 (resulting in a 10 per cent yield advantage), a series of lowland varieties developed in Nigeria, and the ‘New Rice for Africa’ (Nerica) featured below.
  • Crop and natural resource management
    This includes new methodologies to manage soil salinity, cost- effective recommendations for fertiliser and pesticide use instead of ‘blanket’ recommendations, growing certain legumes as cover crops, and developing rock-phosphate as a cheaper alternative to fertiliser.
  • Integrated pest management
    This involves identifying suitable screening sites to develop varieties with durable resistance and the management of the main African rice pest, the gall midge, by releasing tolerant rice varieties in southeast Nigeria.
  • Social sciences
    This includes the dissemination of information, and conducting analyses of farmers’ preferences, crop improvement activities, and the interaction of rice cultivation with human health and the environment.
  • Systems development
    This has demonstrated that greater synergies (between farmers and researchers) can be captured through integrative appropriate technologies offering higher productivity and sustainability.
  • Technology transfer
    This includes a community-based production scheme and participatory varietal selection (see ‘Judi 572 – Nepal’ case study).
  • Capacity building
    An essential part of WARDA’s work is to strengthen the capability of national programmes for rice research.

Nerica – A New Rice For Africa

Nerica is the product of hybridisation between the cultivated rice species of Africa and Asia. Rice breeders in Africa combined the hardiness of African rice with the high yield potential of Asian rice. The result is rice that can produce a crop with minimal inputs in Africa’s difficult ecological environment. Since its creation in the mid 1990s, Nerica has carved a special niche market for itself among upland rice farmers in Africa.

© Courtesy of WARDA
© Courtesy of WARDA

Combining the toughness of the African Oryza glaberrima with the productivity of the Asian Oryza sativa was a formidable scientific challenge because the two species have evolved separately over millennia. Using molecular biology, the scientists – in association with an array of partners from around the world – overcame the main problem of hybrid sterility. Over 3000 family lines of Nerica have subsequently evolved from the process.

Once field tests had been completed, it became clear that the new varieties combined the traits of their parents in various combinations. Nerica produces rapid ground cover, followed by upright growth at the reproductive stage. The rapid ground cover enables the rice crop to smother, and therefore out-compete, local weeds. Upright growth enables the plant to support heavy seed heads through maturity to harvest.

Nerica’s three fields of hope

  • Nerica has the combined assets of a higher yield, shorter growth duration, resistance to local stresses and a higher protein content than traditional varieties.
  • Nerica responds to the real needs of millions of upland rice farmers in Africa.
  • Nerica has the potential to alleviate the desperate food situation in Africa and to fuel the economy.

Nerica for whom?

Having developed a revolutionary breed of rice to suit the environment of African rice farming, the question still remained of who would actually benefit from the variety. Could the scientists let the African farmers decide their own fate in terms of whether or not to adopt Nerica? Or would they repeat the errors of scientists of the 1970s who imposed foreign crop varieties on poor farmers and then left them to fend for themselves?

In approaching this dilemma, WARDA decided to adopt participatory varietal selection (PVS) to help transfer the new technology in a participatory and democratic way. The PVS strategy involved a three-year programme:

  • Year 1: Farmers select from 60 to 100 varieties;
  • Year 2: Farmers grow the selected varieties in their own fields in comparison with their traditional varieties;
  • Year 3: Farmers purchase seeds of their preferred varieties (be they the traditional or new varieties) for their own use.

Once varieties had been selected and were being cultivated by farmers, WARDA implemented a community-based seed system (CBSS) to allow the farmers to develop the variety themselves. The system combines farmers’ own seed-saving and seed reproducing practices with some training on selecting panicles for seed harvest and methods of preparation, storage and maintenance. With the adoption to CBSS, new varieties can be made available to farmers in four years, as opposed to the seven years previously required with formal seed systems.

Judging the Benefits

Nerica is well suited to poor farmers who cannot afford the costly inputs, such as fertilisers and pesticides, associated with other high-yielding varieties (HYVs). It is also beneficial to the needs of farmers, as it helps to better feed their families. The majority of upland rice farmers in the region are women. Nerica is able to reach women farmers with the aid of the Organisation Voluntaire du Developpement Local (OVDL), who also help in training women in community-based seed production systems.

Characteristics of Asian and African rice species
Oryza sativa (Asian) Oryza glaberrima (African)
  • High yield potential, but low adaptation to rainfed uplands.
  • Has replaced Oryza glaberrima over many rice-cultivated areas.
  • Low yield, but a rich reservoir of genes for resistance to local stresses.
  • Almost totally abandoned by farmers.

Balancing quantity and quality

Bintu, a typical rice farmer in West and Central Africa, cultivates about 1 hectare in the southern region of Côte d’Ivoire. Like other farmers in the region, she carries out the labour-intensive activities such as clearing, weeding and harvesting. In order to feed their families Bintu and fellow farmers have little choice but to continually clear land, grow a few crops, and move on to clear still more land.

Bintu cannot grow the typical HYVs that have revolutionised production in Asia. These semi-dwarf varieties cannot compete well with African weeds, or tolerate drought and local pests in rainfed African farming systems. Farmers like Bintu are also too poor to afford the commercial fertilisers required for most HYVs to succeed.

Binto mostly grows the Asian Oryza sativa rice that entered Africa 500 years ago, which produces a fairly substantial crop but at the expense of repeated clearing. Bintu prefers the flavour and texture of the African Oryza glaberrima that her grandmother passed on to her. However, Bintu could not feed her family on the low productivity of this variety, and it became a luxury for her and her family.

However, when Bintu participated in a local PVS trial, she was able to select the varieties that tasted the best and gave the most productive yield. She selected Nerica and has never looked back. She also preferred Nerica for its softer grains, making it easier to pound with her pestle and mortar.

The Future

By involving local farmers in the decision-making process for the selection of rice varieties, WARDA has helped to alleviate poor farming conditions in a way that meets farmers’ needs. WARDA has made the Nerica variety available to farmers of all types, and has helped inform them of the benefits that can be derived. The farmers have been helped to establish a system for testing the viability of newly available varieties. This allows them to decide for themselves the varieties that will best meet their needs. With expansion of Nerica through Africa, many subsistence and commercial farmers will now be able to benefit from the advantages of the variety.


ITDG would like to thank LI-BIRD, CAZS and the International Rice Research Institutefor providing information and helping in this case study.

The case study draws on articles written by LI-BIRD, CAZS and the International Rice Research Institute.

Further Information



International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

IRRI Library

PhilRice: Philippine Rice Research Institute

Rice On-Line




Donor and Supporting Organisations

Department for International Development (DFID)



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