28 June 2007, COTONOU, Benin — Participants of the Third Annual Meeting of the Africa Policy Research and Advocacy Group at the Africa Rice Center (WARDA), 25-27 June, in Cotonou, Benin, expressed deep concern about the current world rice situation and its implications for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
World rice reserves, estimated at 80.6 million tonnes in 2005-06, are at the lowest level since 1983-84. These stocks represent less than 2 months of consumption and half of the stocks are being held by China. World rice consumption continues to outstrip rice production and rice prices are rising and are expected to double in the next couple of years.
According to the Director General of the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck, the current world rice situation has serious implications, particularly for SSA, because about 40% of the region’s demand for rice is being met by imports.
With only 13% of world population, Africa accounts for 32% of world rice imports, which makes it a big player in the international rice trade. In 2006, SSA imported more than 9 million tonnes of rice worth an estimated US$ 2 billion.
Explaining that only 7% of the total world rice production is traded, WARDA Economist Dr Aliou Diagne said that this supply was too limited for SSA to rely on for its growing rice demand. “SSA should urgently reconsider its rice import policy to avoid the looming crisis.”
“African national rice economies will increasingly become exposed to unpredictable external supply and price shocks,” Dr Diagne remarked, referring to the recent warning by the World Bank that the current rise in prices of cereals and the low level of global reserves could unleash widespread food riots in Africa. The prices of rice have already gone up in Thailand and Vietnam, the traditional rice exporters to Africa.
Africa has an immense untapped potential for rice production. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the paddy (unhulled rice) production in Africa has gone up for the sixth consecutive year, reaching 21.6 million tonnes in 2006.
But with rice consumption in West Africa – the rice belt of Africa – doubling every 9 years, the challenge of keeping up with it is immense.
Call for urgent government support to African rice farmers
The workshop participants emphasized that the African governments should give adequate support to small farmers who form the majority of rice producers in SSA. Smallholder rice farmers in the region have been facing unfair competition from subsidized rice imports.
Pascal Gbenou from the Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organizations of West Africa (ROPPA) said that rice continues to be one of the most protected commodities in every country except in West Africa.
Mr Gbenou urged the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) to adopt a higher level of the common import tariff (TEC) for agricultural products, because the current TEC level applied by UEMOA has a detrimental effect on the sub-region’s agricultural sector in general and on rice in particular.
In his response, Mr Kolado Bocoum from UEMOA stated that UEMOA was revisiting the TEC issue and that UEMOA’s agricultural policies would greatly benefit from inputs from specialized structures like WARDA.
Value of right policies to boost Africa’s rice sector
“Right policies are indeed essential to make African rice sector competitive,” said Dr Akande Oyetunji, Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER).
“We are witnessing how the recent rice policies adopted by Nigeria as part of the Presidential Rice Initiative have boosted the country’s rice sector,” Dr Oyetunji said. Nigeria’s rice production was nearly 4 million tonnes in 2006, 10% above the 2005 level.
Moreover, Nigeria was able to reduce its rice imports in 2005 by over 800,000 tonnes, thanks to the strong measures taken by the government to increase domestic rice production and decrease rice imports.
Opportunity for Africa
WARDA economists think that the availability of cheap imported rice has until now provided a ready excuse for many SSA governments to neglect the domestic rice production.
“In that sense, the rise in world rice prices is a golden opportunity for SSA, because this increases the competitiveness of the local rice sector,” stated Dr Diagne, explaining that this was one of the main issues discussed at the meeting by the Africa Policy Research and Advocacy Group.
The Group, which was established 3 years ago, serves as a channel for transmitting policies to promote the rice sector in West Africa and its goal is to improve the impact of policy research and institutional arrangements on the competitiveness of the rice sector in the region.
Highlighting the importance of this meeting, WARDA Assistant Director of Research Dr Shellemiah Keya said that the recommendations from the meeting would serve as valuable inputs for advocacy at the forthcoming session of the Council of Ministers of WARDA member countries scheduled for September 2007.
In addition to WARDA economists, the meeting was attended by experts in rice economics and policy from Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali as well as representatives from the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), Oxfam and farmers’ organizations.