The importance of rice in enhancing food security across Africa was the focus of a meeting between the African Development Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and Africaseeds on Wednesday, April 8 in Abidjan.
FAO presented to the Bank its rice initiative, which is keen on addressing the widening gap between rice demand and supply on the continent. Statistics from FAO puts Africa’s rice demand at 30 million tons per year. The continent imports 14 million tons per year.
Further, Africa’s rice production was 29 million tons in 2013, compared to Asia’s 674 million, out of the global production of 745 million tons in the same year .The concern is that Africa has great potential for expanding its agricultural production, in particularly rice, because “it is a strategic priority crop for food security,” said Robert Guei, a Senior Technical Officer at FAO’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection department.
The widening demand-supply gap has prompted increased calls on the continent to step up efforts to significantly increase local supply and curb rice importation. According to Guei, rice is a key commodity in many national strategies for food security, and therefore the urgent need to explore partnerships geared towards intensifying its production.
FAO’s rice initiative is critical in that it will provide a framework for AfDB, its regional member countries and other development partners to coordinate their support to rice value chain development, thereby promoting resilience and food security, according to Dougou Keita, AfDB’s Agriculture and Agro-Industry Division Manager for West and Central Africa. “This meeting with FAO is to discuss and agree on actions needed to advance operationally the rice initiative,” he said.
Supporting farmers to adopt high yielding and market preferred grain quality rice emerged as key factor in increasing productivity and production, as did promotion of rice farming as a business. “We have to have a business model that integrates value chain with assisting farmers in using best practices and modern farming technologies,” observed Guei. Organising farmers into groups, he said, would make them become a strong force with market linkages, giving them collective voice over their produce.
Similarly, Africaseeds Executive Director Kwame Miezan emphasised that appropriate policies looking out for interests of resource poor local farmers, would elevate the rice sector.
FAO is reaching out to the AfDB and other partners in order to mobilize resources and support for a holistic and comprehensive programme for sustainable rice systems development in Africa.
A partnership meeting to discuss how to boost rice growth on the continent was held in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, last November. It saw the launch of a comprehensive Programme for Rice Development in Africa. Its implementation will involve participation of farmers, international and local partners as well as private sector.