African rice, known by the scientific name Oryza glaberrima, is a variety of rice native to Sub-Saharan Africa, whose cultivation is believed to have begun many centuries ago in the inland delta region of the Niger river i.e. the present day Mali. Oryza barthii is the name of its predecessor which continues to grow wild in many parts of Africa.
Technological Advancement with respect to African Rice Varieties
The continent of Africa has witnessed a constant struggle to grow sufficient food to nourish its vast population. For a large period of time, as many as a third of the population was malnourished. Towards the end of the 19th century research scientists developed innovative technologies to counter this problem by crossbreeding standard Asian and African rice species to create a new type of rice, designated as NERICA or New Rice for Africa. Developed by scientists at the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA), which happens to be an intergovernmental research centre for rice; Nerica came into existence as a cross between the ancient, hardy African rice variety, O. Glaberrima and the high-yielding Asian variety, O. Sativa. Nerica combined features from both with a grain that possessed -
1. Higher resistance to drought and pests,
2. Better yields even with scarce irrigation or use of fertilizer,
3. Above all, more protein content compared to other types of rice.
Today, Nerica has a number of upland ‘japonica’ and lowland ‘indica’ subspecies and boasts of several varieties introduced by The Africa Rice Center (known as AfricaRice) that has long been associated with far more than just bringing the NERICAs to the African farmers ‘life’.
O. Sativa Vs O. glaberrima
In comparison to the Asian rice variety O. Sativa, the African rice is a more brittle grain with poor milling quality and lower yields. However, it is a hardier crop with better adaptive capabilities to poor or infertile soils, reduced water availability, climatic variations and exhibits resistance to disease and pest attack.
Among the Jola population, who occupy south-west Senegal, many cultural aspects exist, that dictate Jola women's choice of which specific rice varieties to cultivate. These have to do –
· naturally with their taste,
· the ease with which they may be pounded (or milled),
· and how they respond to cooking processes.
In any case, African rice is believed be “heavier” on the stomach and consequently better at satiating hunger. This apart, it also makes for a good flour which is more aromatic and also tastes better than the flour made from the O. sativa species. In the flour form, it may be consumed mixed into a drink, as a porridge, steamed or cooked as dumplings, or even grilled over hot coals.
Other than the above uses, the Jola employ rice as part of many sacred rituals due to age-old belief that there exists a scared link between the crops and their ancestors. For instance, The Mende population belonging to Sierra Leone, use African rice that is soaked in palm oil, as a chief component in their ritual sacrifices for their ancestors.