By Henry Lyimo, Daily News, Tanzania
THE government is keen to adopt policy measures that will boost rice production to sustain self sufficiency of the food and commercial crop and meet growing demand of the staple food in the regional market.
The Director of Crops Development in the Ministry of Agriculture, Nyasebwa Chimagu said yesterday the government would be keen to tap into knowledge and experience of some Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand, which are among the top three rice exporting countries in the world.
We value experience of some of Asian countries that have succeeded to boost productivity in rice farming through various strategies including rice intensification system,” he said in opening remarks of a regional workshop organised to share knowledge and experience on successful rice sub-sector development policies in sub-Saharan Africa.
Tanzania is the second largest producer of rice in Eastern and Southern Africa after Madagascar despite low rice yield levels with average paddy yields between 1.25 and 2.5 tonnes per hectare, according to ministry of the National Rice Development Strategy Phase II (NRDS-II).
Rice production is growing from an estimated average of 2.2 million metric tonnes produced annually to meet growing demand from domestic and regional markets.
The East African nation produced 2.6 million tonnes of rice in 2020/21 against the demand of 1,091,778 tonnes, according to ministry of agriculture statistics.
However in Africa, rice production is way below its demand which is expected to grow further due to rapid population growth, increasing per capita consumption and a shifting consumer preference towards premium rice resulting from increased urbanisation.
If current trends continue, African rice production by 2025 will meet just 64 per cent of the continent’s market. The gap in demand will have to be completed by imports of predominantly Asian rice.
Mr Chimagu, who spoke from Dodoma representing Minister for Agriculture, Mr Hussein Bashe in a teleconference, said the government encourages adoption of rice intensification system, to boost yields of the food and commercial crop.
He said the new system that is aimed at increasing the yield of rice produced in farming, was important to sustain rice self-sufficiency and contribute to the regional self-sufficiency.
He said rice had recently grown to be an important cash crop outmatching major traditional agricultural exports.
FAO Assistant Director General and Regional Representative for Africa, Abebe Haile-Gabriel said in his opening remarks via video conference that rice demand in Africa is expected to reach 35 million tonnes in 2025.
“In Africa, rice production doesn’t keep pace with consumption and growing imports is a drain.
This year, Africa is importing half of its demand for rice meaning that African countries spend significant amount of foreign currency to import the food crop.
He said some countries within the region have witnessed a significant increase in rice production over the last few years, which is attributed to the political will and commitment of governments to put in the right policies, strategies, and institutional mechanisms to result in such significant progress.
Despite this achievement by some countries, there are still challenges as more than half of the African countries are still net rice importers.
“This represents an economic drain on other sectors of the economy, as significant foreign exchange that could have been allocated to other sectors is needed to foot the rice import bill,” said Haile-Gabriel.
The FAO Country Representative for Tanzania, Dr Nyabenyi Tipo thanked the government for accepting to host the workshop, which would allow Tanzania to share its experience with rice policies, institutional framework and technical expertise and learn from other Asian and African countries in efforts to improve the sector.
She said Tanzania produced enough rice to meet her domestic demand but productivity remains low with an average yield of one to three tonnes per hectare.
The primary causes for low productivity include climate change, insufficient application of new technologies, including the use of low yielding varieties and low level of the private sector involvement in the rice value chain.
Other causes are insufficient irrigation infrastructure, low level of youth involvement in agriculture and lack of understanding of good agricultural practices among small-scale farmers.