FAO urges Eastern Africa to increase rice production

Africa accounts for up to 13 percent  of the world population but consumes 32 percent of world imports with a consumption growth rate of 4.5 percent per annum.

Africa accounts for up to 13 percent  of the world population but consumes 32 percent of world imports with a consumption growth rate of 4.5 percent per annum.

As the world today continues to face an acute food crisis, the crisis  in Africa has been escalated by low agricultural production and an ever increasing population.

This has created a pressing need for increasing agricultural production and diversification of foods referred to as traditional staples. 

And according the FAO, rice is one such a crop which the region’s agriculturalists should embrace for food security.

Manabu Yasuhara, the project coordinator of a special programme for Food Security at Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that there is a lot of potential for East African countries to increase rice production especially if they use improved seed varieties like NERICA (a mixture of Asian and African rice) or upland rice.

“Expansion of the production of rice will address the problems of hunger and malnutrition and also boost the economy,” Yasuhara said.

Officials attending the FAO regional workshop on rice and aquaculture for Eastern Africa in Kampala last week agreed that if production is done in the right manner rice production could, not only transform African agriculture but also enable Africa to become a net exporter of rice by providing more than 5 million tonnes of rice per year to the international market.

The four day workshop was attended by delegates from 12 African countries who discussed ways of increasing rice production, aquaculture and market development.

Agricultural research scientists at FAO say this could be done by just increasing the area under rice cultivation by 15 per cent by adopting improved rice varieties and farming practices. 

Currently, of the 130 million hectares of lowlands suitable for cultivation in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 3.9 m hectares are under cultivation.

According to FAO, the price of rice has doubled from what it was in 2002, mainly because Asia, the largest producer, is every day less capable of feeding the world.

World consumption of rice is increasing on average by 1 percent per annum and productivity by only 0.5 percent.

This cumulative gap created over the past 10 years has now caused a “rice crisis”.

“There has been increased demand for rice in the world but with less production and this has pushed the prices up because demand exceeds supply. This is why we are encouraging farmers to grow more rice because this will help the farmers to earn income and also contribute to food security,” said Yasuhara.

According to Yasuhara, though rice farming is not yet very popular on the continent, the price of rice is increasing everyday and African countries should utilize the opportunity to double production and be able to produce for export and earn foreign exchange.

Africa accounts for up to 13 percent  of the world population but consumes 32 percent of world imports with a consumption growth rate of 4.5 percent per annum.

“We want most African countries to start producing large quantities of rice. The long term objective is to have African countries benefit from the export market producing a variety of Agricultural products,” he said.

In addition, Yasuhura pointed out that to boost rice production in two years , FAO’s  Emergency Rice Initiative for Africa  provides urgent assistance to rice growing countries on the continent in the areas of seed; fertilizer; best technologies; and post harvesting and marketing.

“There is also need to produce a variety of crops, though most African countries depend on one or two types of crops. Diversification would also mitigate the effects of food prices such that if the price of one crop goes down, farmers can benefit from another crop, it’s a kind of insurance,” he explained.

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