Last year international rice prices jumped to record highs
sparking widespread food riots in several import-dependent Africa countries
3 September 2009, Lome, Togo – Following the shock increase in food prices, which sparked food riots in several African cities early last year, several member countries of the Africa Rice Center adopted key policy measures recommended by the Center in 2007 to support the rice sector. This contributed to an 18 percent increase in rice production in 2008 in Africa, compared to 2007 production levels, data from the Food and Agriculture organization show.
Most notable is a 241 percent increase in Burkina Faso’s rice production in 2008 compared to 2007 levels. Burkina Faso was one of the countries rocked by food riots. FAO attributes this turnaround in Burkina Faso’s rice fortunes to government support to farmers that ensured access to high quality certified rice seed, including NERICA® rice varieties developed by the Africa Rice Center, and other basic farm inputs.
Senegal, the world’s eighth largest rice importer, also increased its rice production by 90 percent in 2008 through a presidential initiative that put in place a distribution system that ensured rice farmers could easily and readily access subsidized farm inputs such as certified seeds and fertilizers.
In the heat of the worst rice crisis in recent times, many African governments prioritized local rice production and are striving to create conditions that will enable farmers to begin to use Africa’s largely untapped land and water resources to produce affordable rice.
“This is a step in the right direction but governments still need to do more in order to significantly reduce dependence on rice imports for national food security,” says Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck, Director-General of the Africa Rice Center.
Other African rice-producing countries that have recorded double-digit increases in national rice production in just one year are Mali, Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Uganda.
These achievements and the challenges of the African rice sector will be discussed at the biennial Africa Rice Center Council of Ministers’ meeting in Lomé, Togo, this week.
The Africa Rice Center is an intergovernmental association of 23 rice-producing African countries, which facilitates more effective policy dialogue in the continent through its Council of Ministers. It is also one of the 15 international agricultural research Centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
The Center produces a variety of rice technologies, helps member countries accelerate adoption of new technologies and strengthen rice seed production and distribution systems in order to boost production.
In realization of the critical role played by research in developing technology innovations and solutions required to increase rice production and food security, Africa Rice Center member countries invested ten times more in the period 2007-2008 in rice research through their contribution to the Center than between 2001 and 2006.
Rapidly urbanizing Africa has for decades relied on relatively cheap rice imports to meet 40 percent of its rice demand. Ranked among the world’s leading rice importers, Nigeria alone takes up 5.6 percent of the globally traded rice. Africa’s annual rice consumption is increasing by 4.5 percent against an annual growth in production of about 3 percent.
“Rather than being a threat, the increasing rice price is a unique historical opportunity and incentive to use Africa’s latent potential for rice production and break away from decades of policy bias against agriculture which accounts for 35 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP and 75 percent of the continent’s employment,” Dr Seck says.
A simulation conducted at the Africa Rice Center projects that Africa could in principle become a net rice exporter, providing more than 5 million tonnes of rice to the international market by increasing the current area under rice cultivation by 15 percent and by using improved technologies to close the yield gap.
To effectively take advantage of opportunities presented by the global rice market, the Center is urging African countries to invest strongly in the agricultural sectors, especially in research and extension which are responsible for development and delivery of new technologies.
The Africa Rice Center is also urging governments to better manage and exploit natural water resources to increase the productivity of rice. According to FAO, Africa uses only four percent of its renewable water resources. Irrigation would increase rice yields three or four times more of what is currently achieved by relying on rainfall alone. Development of roads and storage facilities would further reduce post-harvest losses, which eat into 40 to 60 percent of the rice produced.
Targeted input subsidies to defray the costs of new and improved technologies are also necessary for ensuring the continent achieves its rice production potential. Africa’s current rice yields are less than one third of what could be produced, if technologies and innovations were properly applied.