28 April 2008, COTONOU, Benin — The Africa Rice Center (WARDA) is helping its member states manage the rice crisis through a combination of short-term actions reinforced by medium- to long-term strategies supporting their domestic rice sectors.
“The rice crisis is not really a surprise for WARDA and our member states,” said WARDA Director General Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck. “The Center had not only foreseen the crisis, but also taken concrete actions to help its member states manage it.”
Anticipating the crisis
Since 2006, WARDA has been systematically alerting the governments of its member states on a looming rice crisis in Africa. The most recent alarm was sounded at the WARDA Council of Ministers in September 2007 in Abuja, Nigeria.
As part of his high-level advocacy efforts using WARDA’s unique status as an Association of African countries, WARDA Director General Dr Seck met with policymakers in Benin in November 2006. During this meeting, a pan-African Presidential Rice Initiative under the aegis of President Yayi Boni of Benin was proposed and approved by His Excellency.
The Presidential Initiative, now scheduled for a November summit in Cotonou, Benin, will bring together Heads of States, Ministers of Agriculture, Finance and Trade of WARDA member states as well as donors, international and national rice researchers, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and farmers.
The objectives of the Presidential Initiative are to rally support for collective action by the member countries to boost the continent’s rice production and advocate for greater investment in the rice sector to avoid devastating breaks in supply.
The issue of the rice crisis was the focus of the 26th session of WARDA Council of Ministers in September 2007, where given the importance of the theme, the Council exceptionally allowed farmers’ organizations (ROPPA), regional and sub-regional organizations (FARA and CORAF) and regional economic communities (UEMOA) to attend as observers.
Dr Seck made a presentation to the Council on “Rice crisis: myth or reality,” which concluded that all the signs pointed to a looming rice crisis for Africa, while highlighting at the same time the tremendous potential of Africa for rice cultivation because of its vast stretches of uncultivated land, particularly inland valleys, as well as water resources, which are still untapped.
During his presentation, Dr Seck made a series of pragmatic recommendations to African governments to:
- Establish seed legislation and encourage the involvement of the private sector in seed supply and trade
- Reduce the import tax on small-scale farm and processing machinery which can increase rice farmers’ labor efficiency and improve grain quality
- Work together to reduce fertilizer prices as fertilizers in Africa are 2 to 6 times more expensive than those in Asia and Europe
- Improve the capacity at research, extension, processing, and marketing levels
- Promote large-scale use of upland and lowland NERICA® rice varieties
- Increase significantly the share of high-yielding irrigated and lowland rice farming
Convinced by this advocacy, member states have made strong commitments to rice research and development by increasing their contributions to WARDA; unanimously adopting the recommendations; and supporting strongly the President Yayi Boni Rice Initiative. Several member countries immediately sought WARDA’s assistance in developing national rice strategies and effective seed legislation.
Facing the crisis
To respond to the rice crisis in the short-run, WARDA has advised governments to reduce levies on imported rice and define mechanisms to avoid speculation in the rice markets, while keeping in mind the long-term strategy of vigorously supporting smallholder rice producers to raise their productivity and marketed surpluses.
WARDA is also developing with national programs and other partners an emergency initiative to significantly raise rice production in sub-Saharan Africa as of now.
Discussing the details of this initiative, which will be announced shortly, Dr Seck observed, “The rice crisis offers an opportunity for Africa to build a better future for its rice sector.”