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To most of the world, rice connotes Asia and the vast agriculture of Far Eastern river deltas. Indeed, humanity's second major crop is from Asia, and 90 percent of it—the main source of calories for 2.7 billion people—is grown there.
But rice is also African. A different species has been cultivated in West Africa for at least 1,500 years. Some West African countries have, since ancient times, been just as rice-oriented as any Asian one. For all that, however, almost no one else has ever heard of their species.1
Asia's rice is so advanced, so productive, and so well known that its rustic relative has been relegated to obscurity even in Africa itself. Today, most of the rice cultivated in Africa is of the Asian species. In …ver más…
But these are concerns almost entirely of commercial farming. The situation is quite different where rice is grown strictly for localized, subsistence, or specialty use. There, yield, brittleness, color, or international interest can be unimportant. Indeed, small-scale farmers often prefer African rice. They like the grain's taste and aroma, and even its reddish appearance. They find the plant easy to produce: its rambunctious growth and spreading canopy help suppress weeds and it generally resists local diseases and pests by itself. Also, to some people traditional rituals are meaningless unless the ancient grain is employed.
Moreover, these are not the only advantages. Compared to its Asian cousin, African rice is better at tolerating fluctuating water depths, excessive iron, low levels of management, infertile soils, harsh climates, and late planting (a valued feature because in West Africa's erratic climate the rains are often tardy). Also, there are some types that mature much more quickly than common rice. Planted out in emergencies when food stocks are getting low, these can save lives.
What actually happens in the future to this interesting African crop will depend on individual initiatives, most of them within Africa itself. Part of the problem is its lack of prestige. Everywhere, consumers have fallen in love with processed Asian rice. If someone now makes a processed (that is,