Cotonou, Benin — International and national experts in rice policy research in West Africa have developed a common strategy to improve the impact of policy research and institutional arrangements on the competitiveness of the rice sector in the region. The experts representing Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) participated recently in an extensive brainstorming meeting in Cotonou, Benin.
The key elements of the strategy include:
The formation of a rice policy research and advocacy platform at the regional level—based on strong national advocacy groups—that can serve as a channel for transmitting policies to promote the rice sector in the region. It was recommended that WARDA should nurture and coordinate the formation of this platform.
The development and implementation of a common agenda for rice policy research to provide necessary information for the formulation of national and regional policies
The development of multi-country project proposals on rice policy research based on regional research priorities identified by the participants and the joint sourcing of funds to carry out the projects
Rice has become a commodity of strategic significance in Africa, where it is grown and consumed in about 40 countries. According to WARDA economists, the demand for rice in West and Central Africa (WCA), the rice belt of Africa, is growing at the rate of 6% per annum—faster than anywhere else in the world.
This growth in demand for rice is largely the result of urbanization, which is growing at the rate of 3.5% per year in Africa—again the fastest in the world—and changing consumer preferences. As domestic rice production cannot meet this rising demand, West African countries have become heavily dependent on imports of this staple food. Rice imports in the sub-region have increased eight-fold to 4 million t per year since the 1960s, at an annual cost of over US$1 billion.
Smallholder rice farmers in the region face unfair competition from subsidized rice imports and have to compete in markets that are more demanding in terms of product quality. They are faced with such constraints as poor infrastructure and lack of access to markets, inputs and credits, processing technology and market information.
The policy experts agreed that unless favorable and consistent policies and effective institutional arrangements relating to rice are developed and implemented across the region, local rice would never become competitive. They discussed such issues as:
Why is the domestic rice production in the region not competitive?
How can policy research help?
Should there be a common agricultural and trade policy for the region?
How can such an agenda be implemented? What will be the cost and benefits of the common agenda?
Priority research themes on rice policy were identified and a network of scientists on agricultural policies in the sub-region was established. The participants agreed on the need for a multinational study on the effects of existing policy and institutional arrangements on rice competitiveness in West Africa. They recommended that WARDA should assist in building the national capacity of its partners in West Africa relating to policy research with inputs from the participants.
“The outputs of this important meeting will contribute to the organization of a regional conference on Policies and Strategies for Promoting Rice Production and Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is planned to be held this year by WARDA,” stated Dr Patrick Kormawa, WARDA Policy Economist.