ANTANANARIVO, May 7 (Xinhua) — The secretary-general of the Malagasy Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Fanja Raharinomena, has thanked China for its commitment to supporting African countries in developing their agricultural sector.

Raharinomena described China as « a pioneer in hybrid rice research in the world » and thanked « the Chinese government for its commitment to supporting African countries and particularly, Madagascar, in the development of agriculture. »

During a visit Friday to the demonstration fields of hybrid rice varieties funded by the Chinese government in Mahitsy, a town northwest of the Malagasy capital, Antananarivo, she said the development of the rice sector is a « pillar of food self-sufficiency in Madagascar. »

« Hybrid rice gives a yield of up to 11 tons per hectare, whereas conventional rice produces only five tons per hectare, with the use of improved practices and techniques under the right conditions, » Raharinomena told Xinhua.

« It can contribute to a rapid increase in the level of rice production, » she said.

Raharinomena admitted that technical and financial challenges hamper large-scale production of hybrid rice in Madagascar.

Madagascar enjoys a humid tropical climate, with abundant sunshine and water resources — the right conditions for rice cultivation, but inadequate infrastructure, obsolete agricultural technologies, and lack of investment have prevented the country from producing enough rice to meet local demand, having to import hundreds of thousands of tons every year.

In May 2019, China’s National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center opened an office in Madagascar, and one of its main tasks was to breed various hybrid rice varieties based on the island state’s diverse ecological environment, and to enhance food security on the African continent.

In partnership with the Chinese national center, the Indian Ocean Trading Company (STOI) has been popularizing hybrid rice in Madagascar since 2017 by giving inputs to farmers.

Tovonanahary Rabetsitonta, CEO of STOI, told Xinhua that Malagasy farmers earn a profit margin of five times more by growing hybrid rice than cultivating conventional varieties, though « not all hybrid rice seed varieties are suitable for Madagascar. »

Thanks to cooperation with the Chinese center, he said, the best adapted varieties of hybrid rice have been identified for different regions in the country, with a yield of 10 tons to 12 tons per hectare, Rabetsitonta said.

By Gerard Govinden