Africa bets on rice union to boost production

Kenya has played host to a meeting that has birthed a continental initiative to harmonize rice production and development, after emerging that the second staple crop in most African countries, was dwindling in production with the continent importing 40 percent to satisfy local demand.

The comprehensive Programme for Rice Development in Africa targets rice farmers, scientists and everyone involved in the value chain in designing and implementing sustainable projects that boost the crop’s development on the continent.

Among the organizers of the meeting that hatched the initiative included the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, AfricaRice and key players in the rice value chain in Africa. “A major challenge facing the rice sector in Africa in general is the inability of local production to meet the continent’s demands for rice, and the continent continues to rely on importation to meet its increasing demand for the crop,” said Bukar Tijani, FAO Africa regional representative. “We expect this initiative to contribute to reducing high food import bills and impact on small producers.”

The multifaceted approach to rice production comes at a time when studies show Sub-Sahara Africa spend more than US$1.7 billion a year to import rice partly because of insufficient production. With rice prices expected to double in the next couple years due to shrinking rice reserves, increasing African rice production has been pointed as a matter of when and not if.

Initiatives to spur rice production, like varieties that don’t require to be grown in rice paddies have traditionally yielded fruits and have been hailed for a spike in production being experienced in many African countries.

Kenya which has been among the active proponents of the collaboration has been struggling with gaping production and supply shortfalls.

While rice is the country’s third most consumed cereal crop after maize and wheat, its annual consumption is around 540,000 tonnes compared to 130,000 tonnes in annual production.