Africa Turns to Asia as Demand for Rice Surges

Africa Turns to Asia as Demand for Rice Surges

Being a universal staple, the demand for rice is rapidly growing in Africa, particularly in the urban regions. However, domestic rice production is struggling to catch up with the growth in consumer demand. 

In an attempt to address the gap between domestic supply and demand, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) facilitated a three-day regional workshop involving African and Asian experts to share knowledge and experiences on better rice production. 

Valuable lessons were shared at the workshop from the Asian value chain including price and trade policies, research and extension, agricultural education, seeds systems development, private sector development, and technical know-how in plant production, protection, harvesting, processing, and trade. 

“It is important that we need to redouble efforts in sharing knowledge and experiences on better production but also for the better trade in rice, using opportunities such as the African Continental Free Trade Area. There is no shortcut to achieving some level of respectable self-sufficiency other than enhancing productivity, which at the moment is at a very low level,” said Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO assistant director-general and regional Representative for Africa. 

“By sharing knowledge and experiences on best practices, we are contributing to a more sustainable agrifood system transformation in Africa.” 

“The government of Tanzania is keen to tap into the knowledge and experience of some Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand which are among the top three rice exporting countries in the world.” 

Nyasebwa Chicago, the director of crop development in the ministry of agriculture said that “we value the experience of some Asian countries that have succeeded to boost productivity in rice farming through various strategies including rice intensification systems.”

Attempts to Boost Rice Production 

Africa imported around 16.6 million metric tonnes of rice in the financial year 2020-2021. The continent is looking to increase rice imports to over 17 million metric tonnes in FY 2021-2022, according to the source’s forecasts. Most of the rice imports were shipped to Sub-Saharan countries. 

Nigeria, Tanzania, Madagascar, Liberia, Uganda, Mali, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Gambia, Benin, and Cameroon are Africa’s top rice-producing countries. However, more than half of all African countries are net Rice Importers

By 2025, rice production in Africa is projected to reach 34.9 million tonnes of milled rice. 

If current trends continue, African production will meet only two-thirds of the demand and more than 12 million tonnes of rice will need to be imported each year, at an annual cost of more than $5 billion. 

African countries are turning to shipments from Asia to address the gap. Furthermore, several African countries have made substantial strides to reinforce rice production. Several policies, strategies, and institutional mechanisms have been put forth (mainly driven by political will) to do the same. 

For example, Tanzania has increased rice production in recent years because of coordinated efforts by the government and other stakeholders along with the Food and Agriculture Organization. The country has successfully made rice the second most important food after maize. Notably, the productivity percentage still remains low, with an average of 1-3 tonnes per hectare which is less than half of Asian rice-producing countries like China. 

Low productivity can be attributed to climate change, insufficient application of new technologies, the use of low-yielding varieties, low levels of private sector involvement in the rice supply and value chain, insufficient irrigation infrastructure, and low youth involvement.

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