Sub-saharan Africa has the climate to produce all the rice it consumes and, indeed, become an important exporter. Instead, rice is the second largest food import in Africa, after wheat, requiring large outlays of foreign exchange to finance a growing demand (Table 1 below).
The growing rice deficit in Africa and increasing imports annoyed Norman Borlaug. In principle, sub-Saharan Africa should be surplus in rice, not deficit. SAA and Global 2000 wanted to see what could be done to accelerate rice production and productivity. The rice belt in West Africa was the place to find out. In 1996, Borlaug sent Dr Tareke Berhe, a senior agronomist with SG 2000 in Ghana, to Guinea to establish a SG 2000-Guinea program there. Right from its inception, the program promoted a “value chain” approach to rice development.
At the Africa Rice Center (WARDA), a team led by Dr Monty Jones, launched a project to improve indigenous rice varieties well-suited to African conditions by crossing them with the high-yielding Asian types – a difficult research challenge. After years of painstaking work, fertile offsping were finally obtained. These interspecific African x Asian crosses — dubbed New Rices for Africa (NERICA) — combine the superior features of both types. WARDA had just released its first NERICA varieties and had made considerable foundation seed available to Guinea for rapid seed multipication programs. The country was facing increasing deficits of rice, a primary staple, and growing imports.
SG 2000-Guinea established close links with the National Agricultural Research System and WARDA to identify and test improved NERICA varieties and to support seed production. Working with the National Agricultural Extension System, about 20,000 demonstrations were established with farmers, mostly with NERICA varieties.
Machinery for improved threshing and milling was purchased and demonstrated. Farmerbased organizations capable of producing surpluses were trained to improve product quality and meet market standards.
Rice production in Guinea has increased from 1.1 million tons in 2000 to 1.5 million tons in 2009 (FAOSTAT). Much of this production increase is due to area expansions. Yields have remained fairly steady at 1.7 t/ha. The problem on yield is soil fertility.
Considerable impact was achieved in popularizing the new NERICA varieties. In Guinea the NERICA area grew from essentially zero in 1996 to 85,000 ha in 2005. Some 14,800 tons of rice seed was exported, during 2001-2003, to Gambia, Mali, Sierra Leone and a handful of other countries.
In 2005, SAA launched a regional rice production program to extend its experience in Guinea more broadly. Tareke Berhe became the Regional Rice Director. The program has been active in all SAA focus countries. The greatest impact has been achieved in Ethiopia, Mali, and Uganda. Between 2000 and 2009, production in these three countries increased from 866,600 tons to 2,233,090 tons – a 2.5-fold increase (FAOSTAT and Ethiopia Statistical Authority).
The SAA experience with rice underscores the importance of going beyond high yielding, cost-effective crop management. It addresses postharvest and agroprocessing challenges to ensure good grain quality which can then be transformed into rice products desired by consumers, especially in urban markets.
In SG 2000, rice is viewed within a value chain perspective (see below). In rice productivity, SAA is focusing on introducing improved varieties and improving soil fertility management. In postharvest handling, mechanized threshing and milling, to produce quality grain that is clean and free of debris is a major activity. SG 2000 country programs are also working with farmers’ groups, largely women, to develop parboiled rice enterprises. Our public-private partnerships group is linking rice-producing farmer organizations to large rice millers and buyers such as the World Food Program.
Rice is one of Ethiopia’s more rapidly growing cereals. Recently, SAA was awarded a grant from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to serve as an NGO partnership working with the regional government of Tigray, Ethiopia, to apply a fuller value chain approach to rice development.
The urban consumer in Africa wants to buy rice of the quality imported from southeast Asia. African rice producers will have to meet this standard to capture this important and growing market. It can be done.
SAA Executive Director, Programs