The African continent has been experiencing a consistent increase in the demand of rice. Rice has in the past three decades grown in popularity to become a major feature in the continental diet. It currently takes first position on the list of fastest growing staple foods.
In the early 1970’s it was mostly consumed during special events but it has gradually replaced yams, sweet potatoes and cassava on the dinner table. In certain countries like Tanzania, Nigeria and Niger this transformation is particularly glaring. This growth has been shown to have a direct link to the growing incomes, rapid urbanization rates as well as population growth in many of the countries.
It is also associated with the change experienced in the occupational structure of the African family. As more women join the workforce they are capable of buying such convenience foods that require shorter preparation times. At the same time, more men live and work in the urban space away from their families. In these spaces, such foods are also given higher priority than their traditional alternatives.
This rise in popularity is accompanied by a subsequent drop in the consumption of other native cereals like millet and sorghum. But rice production in Africa has not been able to keep pace with this heightened demand. Only a handful of countries are self-sufficient in this regard. Of the total volume consumed annually, about a third is imported mostly from Asian countries.
However, this is not to say that there are no exceptional performers in rice production on the continent. There have been numerous initiatives to encourage rice cultivation and increase the production capacity. These have proved to be fruitful leading to a sharp rise in the past few years. Let us consider some of the top rice producing countries on the continent.
Nigeria is currently the largest rice producing country in Africa. This is largely the result of conscientious efforts by the current administration to place more emphasis on agrarian production. The move was aimed at reducing the nation’s over reliance on oil which has in the past year proved economically devastating as oil prices plummeted on the global market.
The government is also keen on improving the country’s self-sufficiency and reducing the commodity’s import burden that currently runs into almost $400 million annually. Rice farming in the country has received a boost from the local central bank through the Anchor Borrowers Program that avails loans and distributes requisite tools to farmers to boost production.
By the end of 2017, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture director claimed that the country had indeed reached self-sufficiency in the commodity. According to a report from the ministry, the country’s production capacity had reached 15 million metric tons. This would translate to major savings as the country would no longer need to import the commodity.
The country in fact consumes about 8 million tons, a figure that rises by about 6% annually. It is therefore projected that with around 34 states involved in rice cultivation the country would have a surplus for export by the year 2019. The country is taking steps to control the rampant smuggling that has had a negative impact on local market prices.
Egypt also ranks highly on African charts showing rice production by country. It is in fact the most important production zone in the entire North Africa region. One of the main factors lending to its viability is the extensive land base that sits on the banks of the Nile. This ensures that water resources for irrigation never run out. It holds the record as the only North African country that is full self-sufficient in rice production.
It has seen a rise from 5.1 million metric tons produced in 2016 to approximately 6.5 million tons last year. This was also the result of the government’s concerted efforts to increase local production.
The country planted a total of 1.87 million acres of the grain in 2017 and expects production capacity to double in the coming year. At the same time, the government ban on rice exports that came into force in 2008 is still in play. This double-edged approach aims at ensuring that the country not only has enough rice to feed its populace but also has a surplus to build its reserves.
The ban also seeks to discourage farmers from over-cultivating the commodity as this would drain local water resources and drive market prices down. Local consumption stands at about 3.3 million tons meaning that the country expects a significant surplus from the next harvest. This would go into expanding the local reserves from around 4 months’ worth to almost a year.
This island nation also boasts a relatively high production capacity especially considering its size. It is one of the few African countries in which agriculture has never lost its place as the mainstay of the local economy. About 70% of the population is employed in the sector and it yields almost one third of the total GDP annually.
Madagascar has also reserved a permanent seat in the annals of rice history for having introduced the famed Carolina rice to America. This is a very rare rice variety that has been shown to have originated from the African rice species Oryza glaberrima.
In more recent years, the country has gradually been increasing its rice farming capacity leading to subsequent yield increments. The estimated production level for Madagascar in 2017 was about 3.5 million metric tons. This is a reduction of about 0.2 tons from the previous year and brings down the country’s 5-year average production rate by almost 11%.
The explanation behind this drop is a sever draught that affected the major production zones in the country. The area recorded the lowest ever rainfall levels in a 36-year period. This led to reduced planting and subsequently lowered output. At the same time, cyclone Enawo took its toll on cropland in the Northern areas of the country causing massive flooding and ruining the crop.
The local government’s initiatives however offer a ray of hope as it is consistently increasing cultivation area and providing input for farmers.
Tanzania is the most important rice production zone in East Africa. In this country as well, agriculture is top on the priority list for economic development. It in fact employs more than 75% of the local population. The country earns upwards of its total foreign exchange revenue from the sector.
Rice growing areas have increased significantly due to governmental support and this has in turn reduced dependence on imported rice. In the past, farmers mostly focused on local variety rice that had limited yields. But as they embrace modern technology and improved varieties there has been a marked increase in production levels.
Production rates for some farmers have almost tripled as some report getting up to 45 bags of rice per acre of crop instead of the previous 15 bags. They attribute the growth to government support in terms of financing and favorable policies.
Factors Accounting for Increased Rice Production in Some African Countries
New Rice Varieties
In the past, the continent mostly relied on hybrid rice varieties from top rice exporting countries mostly in Asia. These did not always perform as expected in the harsh climatic conditions of Africa. But more recently, scientists have developed more customized varieties that have much better yields than their previous counterparts. An example is the New Rice for Africa (NERICA) hybrid that is already in use by local farmers.
These new hybrids are mostly developed in Tanzania and Kenya and are resistant to high temperature and disease. While the former varieties often produce approximately 2 tons of rice per hectare, the new hybrids yield around 7 to 10 tons per hectare. The only disadvantage though is that the seeds are not ideal for replanting due to genetic separation that lowers their production potential.
However, the anticipated higher yield from the crop should be more than capable of offsetting the cost for new seeds.
Modernized Cultivation Methods
Certain governments and private entities have promoted modifications to the traditional rice cultivation methods to improve output. One such method is known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). It has proved to be particularly effective as it uses less water than the regular method making it possible to farm effectively even in draught conditions.
Even though this is not a completely new method, the fact that it is more labor-intensive than the traditional way has delayed its implementation in Africa. But in view of the harsh climatic conditions that have marred the continent in the recent past, it has proved to be indispensible.
High Yield Production Strategies
Proper utilization of natural resources and high yield strategies ensure improved production levels as well as sustainability. The recent hype surrounding rice production on the continent in some areas led to overproduction and exhaustion of some resources. This happened in certain West African regions whereby farmers planted on fragile ecosystems that led to environmental degradation and low yields.
But with the ongoing sensitization and education process among farmers by various government and private entities, more and more farmers are embracing proper production strategies that reduce the environmental toll of the crop.
Another important step is the reduction in use of blanket fertilizer use that does not take into account the unique surroundings in rice plantations. Recent fertilizer management strategies involve a thorough assessment of the area in question to ensure that the product used supplements the natural conditions making up for deficits and therefore maximizing output.
Reduction in Post-Harvest Losses
One of the most significant factors affecting African agricultural production is post-harvest loss. This is largely the result of poor handling and sub-par infrastructural facilities. With a view to combat this, some of the top rice producing countries in Africa have set out initiatives to sensitize farmers on proper handling. Additionally, as such infrastructural provisions as good roads and electricity networks are built, there has been a significant reduction in the loss levels previously experienced.
The Future of Rice Production in Africa
The rapid rise to popularity of rice has seen many African countries implement policies to consistently increase rice production. A majority of them have proposed to double current production levels within the next decade. This is set to propel the continent forward by reducing its expenses on importation and creating reserves for drought seasons.
Africa is still a long way off from catching up with global rice production rates. According to researchers, the continent has a very high production potential and has only utilized a fraction of this. There is still a lot of arable land that could be put to good use and produce more than enough rice for local consumption and export purposes.
But before these initiatives take effect, the continent is still plagued by a major supply deficit of the delicious commodity. This creates the ideal opportunity for discerning investors looking to fill a market gap. A high number of countries on the continent are still quite a long way from attaining self-sufficiency. Proper research and a strong business focus will make it possible for you to take advantage of this.
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