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Can Africa Meet Up Rice Demand? 

By Leocadia Bongben — Can Africa meet up with its rice demand? This is the question asked as this delicacy is increasingly becoming a major foodstuff in African homes.

The continent produces only half of what it consumes and there is still a heavy reliance on imported rice to meet the local demand. In 2012, sub-Saharan Africa produced about 12,000 tons of rice, but consumed about 24 million tons, which means Africa still relies on importation to feed its populations. The situation in Cameroon, for instance, reflects what is happening in most African countries.

Cameroon produced 102,000 tons of paddy rice in 2012, but had to import 375,000 tons; three times the local production to meet up with the national demand pegged at 500,000 tons.
Rice importation is taking its toll on the national budget, according to experts. Imported rice cost African states US$ 5 billion (FCFA 250 billion) in 2012, whereas this money could also be invested in local rice production, Marco Wopereis, Africa Rice Centre Deputy General Manager, says.

Appreciating rice production since 2008 when prices went up the roof and there was panic on the world market that there would not be enough rice to feed people, Wopereis says the situation is changing positively. Before the crisis in 2008, rice production was estimated at about 3 percent, but production has gone up to about 8 percent per year. However, the challenge is to maintain the trend.

Though Africa has the land and human resources to develop its rice sector, Wopereis says to increase productivity in rainfall systems is still very difficult. Besides, climate change poses a serious problem. Some areas would get dryer, others flooded and it is going to be more erratic.
The challenge, the expert says, would be how to predict what is happening where and what can be done about it. To him, this is an area where research has to focus on developing varieties that are drought and flood resistant.

Ecological-intensifying production in a certain fields, working with the readily available the soil nutrients and reducing external influence of fertilisers, in some regions as it would be difficult to access mineral fertilisers is yet to be introduced. Wopereis proffers the use the organic resources- the soil, the way to cultivate the soil and grow the rice crop to make the best out of the situation to increase productivity as aresearch topic for the future.

Though research has the varieties and the knowledge to face some of the challenges, the different ways of improving agronomic production through small-scale mechanisation, like better weeding, is required. The African Rice Congress holding in Cameroon from 21- 24 of October, 2013 would be an avenue for experts to discuss ways of increasing rice productivity, factors that trigger increased production and transfer of technology to farmers among other issues.

“Rice Science for Food Security through Smallholder and Agri-business Development in Africa” is the theme of the third edition of the Africa Rice Congress. Ahead of the congress, journalists horned skills on Reporting for Development, R4D. Africa Rice Centre (Africa Rice) is an intergovernmental association of African Member countries including Cameroon, based in Cotonou, Benin Republic.

First published in the Post print edition no 01472

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