7 Reasons Why Africa Should Import Less Rice and Produce More Locally
Rice is one of the most consumed staple foods in Africa, especially in urban areas. However, most of the rice consumed in the continent is imported from Asia, mainly India and Thailand. This has serious implications for food security, trade balance, employment and income generation. In this article, we will explore seven reasons why Africa should import less rice and produce more locally.
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1. Reducing the rice import bill:
According to the ITC trade statistics, African rice imports accounted for USD 23,189.9 million in 2019 with Cote D’lvoire Benin and South Africa being the main importers. This represents a huge drain on the scarce foreign exchange reserves of African countries, which could be used for other development purposes. By producing more rice locally, Africa could save money and reduce its dependency on external markets.
2. Enhancing food security:
Rice is a strategic crop for ensuring food security in Africa, as it provides calories, protein and micronutrients to millions of people. However, relying on imports exposes the continent to the risks of price volatility, supply shocks and trade restrictions in the global market. For instance, during the 2007-2008 food crisis, many rice-exporting countries-imposed export bans or quotas, leading to shortages and riots in several African cities. By increasing local production, Africa could ensure a more stable and affordable supply of rice for its population.
3. Creating jobs and income:
Rice production has a high potential to create jobs and income for rural and urban populations in Africa. According to Africa Rice, a research center set up by 28 nations and based in Abidjan, rice cultivation employs about 20 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly smallholder farmers. Moreover, rice processing, marketing and distribution offer opportunities for value addition and entrepreneurship along the value chain. By investing in the rice sector, Africa could stimulate economic growth and reduce poverty.
4. Improving quality and diversity:
Rice imported from Asia is often of low quality, adulterated or contaminated with pesticides or heavy metals. Moreover, it does not reflect the preferences and tastes of African consumers, who prefer aromatic, long-grain or parboiled varieties. By producing more rice locally, Africa could improve the quality and safety of its rice products, as well as diversify its offer to meet the demand of different market segments.
5. Promoting regional integration:
Rice production and trade can foster regional integration and cooperation in Africa. Several regional initiatives have been launched to promote rice self-sufficiency in the continent, such as the Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD), the Continental Investment Plan for accelerating Rice Self-sufficiency in Africa (CIPRiSSA) and the Regional Rice Offensive. These initiatives aim to harmonize policies, standards and regulations, facilitate cross-border trade and investment, and share knowledge and technologies among African countries.
6. Supporting environmental sustainability:
Rice production can contribute to environmental sustainability if done in an ecologically sound manner. For instance, rice can be grown in rotation with other crops or integrated with livestock or fish farming to enhance soil fertility, pest control and water management. Moreover, rice can be cultivated using less water and energy than other cereals, such as wheat or maize, if improved varieties and practices are adopted.
7. Leveraging innovation and technology:
Rice production can benefit from innovation and technology to increase productivity, quality and resilience. Several research institutions and organizations are working to develop improved rice varieties that are adapted to the diverse agro-ecological zones and climatic conditions of Africa. These varieties are resistant to drought, flooding, salinity, pests and diseases, as well as high-yielding and nutritious. Furthermore, digital tools and platforms can be used to disseminate information, provide extension services and link farmers to markets.
In conclusion, importing less rice and producing more locally can bring multiple benefits to Africa in terms of food security, trade balance, employment and income generation, quality and diversity, regional integration, environmental sustainability and innovation and technology. However, achieving this goal requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders involved in the rice value chain: governments, private sector, civil society, research institutions and development partners.
Africa Rice Importers: Trends and Challenges
Africa is one of the largest importers of rice in the world, accounting for about 30 percent of the global rice trade. According to the ITC trade statistics, African rice imports accounted for USD 23,189.9 million in 2019 with Cote D’lvoire, Benin and South Africa being the main importers. However, the continent also has a huge potential for rice production, as it has diverse agro-ecological zones suitable for different rice varieties and cropping systems.
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Rice Consumption and Demand in Africa
Rice consumption in Africa has been increasing steadily over the years, driven by population growth, urbanization, income growth and changing consumer preferences. Rice is considered a convenient and affordable staple food that can be prepared quickly and easily. The average per capita consumption of rice in Africa was 26 kg in 2018, up from 18 kg in 2008. However, there is a wide variation among countries, ranging from less than 10 kg in some parts of East and Southern Africa to more than 100 kg in some West African countries.
The demand for rice in Africa is projected to continue to grow in the coming years, reaching 34.9 million tones by 2030. This implies that Africa will need to increase its rice production by more than 50 percent from the current level of 22.8 million tones. However, meeting this demand will be challenging, as the continent faces several constraints and challenges in its rice sector.
Rice Production and Supply in Africa
Africa produces about 5 percent of the world’s rice, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The major rice-producing countries in the region are Nigeria, Cote D’lvoire, Madagascar, Mali and Tanzania. Rice is cultivated by smallholder farmers who use traditional and low-input methods, resulting in low yields and poor quality. The average yield of rice in Africa was 2.4 tones per hectare in 2018, compared to the world average of 4.5 tones per hectare.
The production of rice in Africa is also affected by various biotic and abiotic stresses, such as pests, diseases, droughts, floods and salinity. Climate change is expected to exacerbate these challenges and reduce the suitability of some areas for rice cultivation. Moreover, the lack of adequate infrastructure, such as irrigation, storage, processing and marketing facilities, limits the productivity and profitability of rice farming in Africa.
To bridge the gap between demand and supply, Africa relies heavily on imports from other regions, especially Asia. Africa imported around 16.6 million metric tons of rice in the trade year 2020/2021. The continent might increase rice imports to over 17 million metric tons in 2021/2022, according to the source’s forecasts. Most of the rice imports had countries in Sub-Saharan Africa as destination.
However, importing rice is not a sustainable solution for Africa’s food security and economic development. Rice imports drain foreign exchange reserves, expose consumers to price volatility and reduce incentives for domestic production. Furthermore, imported rice may not meet the quality and taste preferences of African consumers, who prefer aromatic and parboiled rice varieties.
Rice is an important staple food and a source of income for millions of people in Africa. However, the continent faces a huge challenge of meeting its growing demand for rice with its own production. To achieve this goal, Africa needs to invest more in improving its rice sector, by enhancing research and development, promoting improved technologies and practices, strengthening value chains and policies and fostering regional cooperation and integration.
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