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Rice development strategies for food security in Africa - J.C. Norman a and E. Otoo b

a Department of Crop Science, University of Ghana and
b Crop Research Institute, Fumesua, Ghana


Rice is the staple food in many countries of Africa and constitutes a major part of the diet in many others. During the past three decades the crop has seen a steady increase in demand and its growing importance is evident given its important place in the strategic food security planning policies of many countries.

With the exception of a few countries which have attained self-sufficiency in rice production, rice demand exceeds production in most countries and large quantities of rice are imported to meet demand - at huge expense in terms of hard currency.

In 1996, Africa consumed a total of 11.6 million tonnes (Mt) of milled rice per year, of which 3.3 Mt were imported (i.e. 33.6%). As many as 21 of the 39 rice-producing countries in Africa import between 50 and 99 percent of their rice requirements. The distribution of rice imports on a regional basis varies enormously, with the North and Central African regions setting the lower (1.7%) and upper (71.7%) limits, respectively. Other information shows that the volume of rice imports between 1990 and 1992 was highest in West Africa (2 550 000 tonnes) and lowest in Central Africa (219 000 tonnes).

Africa’s inability to produce rice to self-sufficiency levels is indicative of the presence of major constraints in the rice industry requiring urgent attention. It is necessary to stem the trend of over-reliance on imports to meet the increasing demand for rice. Local potential resources for production should be exploited with sustainable strategies at all levels of the rice industry.

The paper examines: the production potential of the various rice ecosystems, as well as their constraints; the production and consumption of rice; the efforts of governments’ agricultural and macro-economic policies on rice production, processing and marketing; and strategies for increased rice production aimed at meeting the expected increased demands at regional, subregional and country level.


This section takes an analytical view of the demand and supply of rice at regional, country and subcountry level. Africa is divided into five subregions: West, East, Central, North and South, and an analysis is done for each. This analysis gives a picture of the importance of rice in the region and thus the need for a regional strategy to ensure food security.

Rice area

Africa produces an average of 16.67 Mt of paddy rice per year (1987-1997) on 7.62 million ha (Mha) - the equivalent of 2.9 and 4.9 percent of the world’s total rice production and rice area respectively. (Tables 1 and 2).

Rice harvested area (Mha) in different regions of Africa




North Africa




West Africa




East Africa




Central and Southern Africa








Source: FAO, 2000.

Paddy rice production (Mt) in different regions of Africa




North Africa




West Africa




East Africa




Central and Southern Africa








Source: FAO, 2000.

West Africa has the highest rice area in Africa (56.5%): about 3.7 Mha. The major contributors to the rice area in the region are: Nigeria (24.8%), Côte d’Ivoire (9.5%), Guinea (6.0%), Sierra Leone (4.6%) and Mali (4.0%). East Africa has the next highest area under rice, accounting for 24.6 percent with Madagascar (16.9%) and Tanzania (6.0%) the major contributors in that region. North and Central Africa share roughly equal proportions of the rice area in Africa (8.1% and 8.5%, respectively) with Egypt (8.0%) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (7.9%) the principal contributors in the two regions, respectively. Southern Africa contributes the smallest area (2.3%) with Mozambique the principal contributor (1.8%).

Rice production area increased steadily from 1989-1991 to 1996, with a total increase of 900 000 ha in 5 years. Regional area trends indicate that between 1989-1991 and 1996, West Africa saw the greatest improvement in terms of area compared to the other four regions, which showed insignificant changes.

Rice production

The regional contributions to rice production in Africa are as follows: West Africa (42.0%) > North Africa (32.0) > East Africa (23.8%) > Central Africa (1.2%) > Southern Africa (1.0%).

Africa increased its paddy production from 10.08 Mt in 1987-1991 to 16.67 Mt in 1997, corresponding to the increase in area over the same period. Regional production trends indicate that West Africa had the greatest increase in production among the five regions between 1987 and 1997. The four remaining regions show only slight changes in production over the same period. (FAO, 2000) (Table 2).

Several countries contribute to the total production of rice in Africa but only 11 produce 1 percent or more, with Egypt (29.9%), Nigeria (19.7%) and Madagascar (16.9%) making the highest contributions.

Grain yield

The average grain yield in Africa (2.2 t/ha) is below the world average (3.4 t/ha) by 49 percent. (Table 3). The low grain yield is due to several factors, including the poor standard of production technologies and the dominance of the upland ecosystem (55%). The irrigated ecosystem represents only 11 percent of the total rice area in Africa, while in the world, it accounts for 53 percent (Kaung Zan et al., 1985). The average grain yield of Africa shows very little improvement with time. The north has the highest grain yield (4.9-5.7 t/ha) because of the high level of production technology and the dominance of the irrigated ecosystem.

Rice yield (kg/ha) in different regions of Africa




North Africa

5 861

8 431

+2 570

West Africa

1 514

1 610


East Africa

1 844

1 884


Central and Southern Africa

1 071




1 902

2 186


Source: FAO, 2000.

West Africa and East Africa have the lowest average grain yields in Africa (1.6 and 1.9 t/ha, respectively). It should be noted that West Africa, which contributes 56.5 percent of the rice area, accounts for 42 percent of the total production, while North Africa, which is responsible for only 8.2 percent of the rice area, accounts for 32 percent of total production as a result of the higher grain yields, higher cropping intensities and the dominance of the irrigated ecosystem.

Rice consumption

In 1996, Africa consumed 11.6 Mt of milled rice per year, 33.6% of which was imported. Between 1989-1991 and 1995, milled rice import trends showed a small decline of 55 000 tonnes as paddy production increased by 2.3 Mt over the same period. The regional trends in rice imports show that the small decline in imports could be attributed to the decrease in imports in East Africa. West Africa and Southern Africa showed upward trends in rice imports. The increase in rice consumption is the result of a combination of factors, including: urbanization, increased population, higher per caput income, misguided patterns of national resource allocation, currency over-evaluation and food crises as a result of drought or civil wars (Tshibaka and Klevor, 2002).

West Africa

West Africa accounts for 51.5 percent of the total quantity of rice consumed in Africa. Some countries import more than 50 percent of their annual consumption, including Benin, Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Niger and Senegal. Nigeria is the biggest producer in the region and imports only 16.2 percent of its requirements. Countries importing less than 50 percent of the rice available include: Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Central Africa

The region imports a total of 244 160 tonnes and has less than 40 percent rice self-sufficiency. Only two countries - Burundi (83.1%) and the Central African Republic (83.5%) - have high rice self-sufficiency levels. Congo and Gabon exhibit high rice imports (98%), while the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda import 62.4 and 65 percent, respectively, of their consumption. The subregion consumes a total of 340 760 tonnes of rice. Cameroon consumes the highest quantity of rice (170 900 tonnes per year), followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (65 500 tonnes); the Central African Republic consumes the least (6 500 tonnes). The total import bill of rice in Central Africa is US$66 860 900 (1993-95 average) (FAO, 1996).

East Africa

Rice availability (i.e. production + imports) in the region is 2 389 Mt, of which 1 998 000 tonnes are imports. Imports therefore account for 82.6 percent of the availability, with the difference made up principally by two countries: Madagascar (1 479 000 tonnes) and Tanzania (406 800 tonnes). The major importing countries in the region are Tanzania (72 000 tonnes/year) and Sudan (149 333 tonnes/year).

In the various countries, the proportion of imports contributing to rice availability is 99.6% in Sudan, 97.1% in Somalia, 59% in Kenya, 100% in the Comoros and just 3.4% in Madagascar. Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda have very low imports.

Southern Africa

The total available rice in the Southern African market is 278 700 tonnes, of which 69.2 percent is imported (192 900 tonnes) and 30.8 percent (85 800 tonnes) is produced locally. Mozambique is the biggest producer in the region (65 400 tonnes, accounting for 76.2% of production). Zimbabwe imports all its rice. Zambia, Swaziland, Mozambique and Angola, although producing small quantities of rice, import negligible amounts, since maize is their main staple.

North Africa

Egypt is the biggest rice producer in the region producing 2.6 Mt per year with negligible imports. Morocco produces only small quantities of rice (20 400 tonnes) and imports negligible amounts, while Algeria depends almost entirely on imports which account for 97.5 percent of the available rice.

Rice self-sufficiency

West Africa

West Africa’s rice self-sufficiency levels between 1960 and 1996 are presented in Table 4; the 1996 data for the four other regions are presented in Table 5. The average self-sufficiency levels for the West African countries showed a steady decline from 1964 to 1996 (72.2% > 46.6%) - an indication of the region’s inability to meet the increasing demand through local production.

Rice self-sufficiency (%) of West Africa, 1960-1996



1970-74 a

1980-84 a

1989-1996 b






Burkina Faso










Côte d’Ivoire


















































Sierra Leone




















Source: a Nyanteng, 1998; b FAO Trade, 1998.

Rice self-sufficiency (%) of Central, East, Southern and North Africa, 1996

Central Africa


East Africa


Southern Africa


North Africa


















Central African Republic




South Africa










Dem. Rep. Of Congo
















Eight countries - Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal and Togo - showed an improvement in rice self-sufficiency after 1984. Only Mauritania, however, shows a consistent upward trend between 1960 and 1996. Both Liberia and Sierra Leone show a significant loss in self-sufficiency at the end of 1991, when production in the two countries dropped by 77.8 and 70.9 percent, respectively. Nigeria has the highest self-sufficiency level in the region, and it was achieved through a ban on rice imports in 1985, backed by an accelerated development programme for the construction of several small-scale irrigation schemes in the country to boost local rice production (Nyanteng, 1998).

Central Africa

The average level of self-sufficiency in Central Africa (37.9%) is lower than in West Africa (46.6%). Self-sufficiency in the rice-producing countries in the subregion ranges between 2 and 37.6 percent, with the exception of Burundi and the Central African Republic which have high levels of self-sufficiency (83.1% and 83.5%, respectively) (Table 2). Rice production in Gabon and Congo is insignificant (less than 1 000 tonnes), hence the very low self-sufficiency levels (1.9% and 2%, respectively).

East Africa

The average self-sufficiency level in East Africa (58.3%) is higher than in West Africa (46.6%). Madagascar, Malawi and Tanzania have almost attained complete self-sufficiency (96.6%, 90.5% and 64.9%, respectively), while Sudan (0.4%) and Somalia (2.9%) depend almost entirely on imports (Table 2).

Southern Africa

The average self-sufficiency of the region is 42.5 percent, with Swaziland attaining nearly complete self-sufficiency (99.1%) compared to South Africa which depends almost entirely on imports (0.4%). Zambia has fairly high self-sufficiency (62.9%), and Mozambique and Zimbabwe just under 50 percent (Table 2)

North Africa

Egypt produces enough to meet the local demand and export the surplus, but its export market has declined because of increased local consumption. However, Egypt has complete self-sufficiency (Table 5) in rice (99.9%). Morocco has complete self-sufficiency (99.9%) and negligible imports. Algeria has very low local production (1 200 tonnes) and almost all its consumption (46 000 tonnes) comes from imports.


The potential arable land in Africa is 637 Mha, and 68 percent of this total is in reserves. There is therefore great potential for expanding agricultural production in general and rice in particular. The rainfed (upland) ecosystem accounts for the main part of rice production (60% of rice area), which often competes with several important staple crops: maize, sorghum, millet, cassava, yams, coco-yam, plantain, banana etc., and with cash crops: coffee, cocoa, citrus, cola nuts etc. As any of these crops becomes important from an economic point of view, the rice area is destined to diminish as rice yields lowest in the rainfed ecosystem. Wetlands, including the irrigated ecosystem, will thus become increasingly important, as rice is the upland crop best suited to these ecosystems.

Wetlands are distinguished from drylands and open water by the presence of free water where the crop grows. The total wetland area in Africa amounts to about 5.6 million km2 (i.e. about 16% of the total area of the continent). The major wetland soils, however, represent a total area of 3.4 million km2 (i.e. 9-10% of the continent). The wetland soils of Africa consist of: histosols (205 333 km2), gleysols (1 783 948 km2), fluvisols (1 376 534 km2) and temporarily flooded soils (2 280 847 km2). The fluvisols of the arid and the semiarid zones pertaining to the valleys and deltas of the Nile and Niger rivers make an important contribution to the food production required to feed the Sahelian population (Antoine Jacques, personal communication).

The wetlands in tropical sub-Saharan Africa cover a total area of 2.4 million km2 (24 Mha) and are divided into four categories (Table 3): coastal wetlands (1 165 000 km2); inland basins (1070 000 km2); river floodplains (300 000 km2); and inland valleys (850 000 km2) (Andriesse, 1985). Africa, which represents one-fifth of the world’s land, is about one-third desert; its total irrigated land accounts for a mere 0.1 percent. While the area occupied by wetland soils is larger than the irrigated land area, it is nevertheless quite small compared to the total. There are several large areas, principally in Central Africa, where wetland soils are common and are dominated by Tropaquepts and Tropoquents with limited suitability for conversion to productive use.

Table 6 shows that the inland basins and the inland valleys (45% and 36% of the wetlands, respectively) are a good potential resource for rice development in Africa. Many rivers in Africa (e.g. Gambian, Niger, Benue, Zaire, Zambia, Limpopo, Tana, White and Blue Nile and Chari) have well-developed floodplains in their middle and lower stretches suitable for rice production, ranging from tens of metres to tens of kilometres.

Wetlands in tropical sub-Saharan Africa (2.4 million km2)


100 km2

% of total

% of total

Coastal wetland




Inland basins

1 075



River flood plains




Inland valleys





2 400



Source: Andriesse, 1986.

Rice ecosystems

Rice is produced in Africa in five main ecosystems:

Many constraints are observed in the various ecosystems, some of which are specific, while others cut across ecosystems and regions. The specific constraints are discussed under each ecosystem while the non-specific ones are described generally.

Dryland rice ecosystem (strictly rainfed)

Description: This is the most extensive rice ecosystem in Africa (60% of rice area) and it consequently exerts great influence on the total rice output. It occurs in the uppermost part of the toposequence. It is more important in West Africa than in the other subregions.

In West Africa, it occupies 57 percent (i.e. 1.8 Mha) of the total rice area and accounts for 44 percent of regional production. The major producers in West Africa are: Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria. Production occurs on well-drained soils above the flood line, where the sole water supply is rainwater and the soils have a low water-retention capacity. It is cultivated on both steeply sloping areas and gently undulating hills. Farmers generally apply very few or no production- and yield-improving inputs (e.g. fertilizers and other agrochemicals).

Potentials: There is great potential for rice area expansion in the dryland ecosystem. However, the availability of good soil is a limiting factor, unless other competing crops are shifted out in favour of rice. Average grain yields are low (1 t/ha), but with moderate application of yield-improving inputs, the production output could increase up to 2.5 t/ha (WARDA, 1988).

Constraints: The only source of water is from precipitation; as a consequence, the crop is highly vulnerable to drought resulting from erratic and poor rainfall. The ecosystem is found mainly in regions where the soils are highly weathered and dominated by kaolinite, which has low water-retention capacity. Soils in this ecosystem are usually poor in nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur; iron deficiency may also occur. Phosphorus deficiency results mainly from fixation with iron, manganese and aluminium.

Rice in upland areas competes with other food crops, both in terms of land availability and labour. The small farmer gives priority to traditional food crops, such as maize, yam, sorghum and cassava. Competition from weeds is also important in rice-growing areas.

The rainfed upland ecosystem is characteristically an extensive rice culture, which is based on the traditional system of shifting cultivation. The drawbacks of this system are as follows:


Description: Lowlands cover the area from mid-slope to valley bottom. The rice crop can obtain water from three sources: direct rainfall, high watertable and surface water, depending on its location in the toposequence. The main hydraulic characteristic is the fluctuating watertable, resulting from the cyclical swelling and receding water levels of rivers during the rains.

Potentials: The ecosystem is very important in West, Central, East and Southern Africa. In West Africa, about 630 000 ha are cultivated in lowlands (accounting for 20% of rice area and 22% of regional production) (WARDA, 1988). It is estimated that a total 130 Mha of inland valleys are available for cultivation in Africa (WARDA, 1988), 19 Mha (14.6%) of which are in West Africa. Tanzania is the second most important rice producer in East Africa and, excluding Madagascar, it is the highest rice producer in mainland East Africa. Tanzania has a total area of 270 000 ha under the lowland/hydromorphic ecosystem, representing 74 percent of the rice area in the country. Madagascar has a total rice area of 1.2 Mha, 61 percent (i.e. 736 000 ha) of which is rainfed lowland/hydromorphic. Rainfed lowland rice ecosystems are also found extensively in the central and northern parts of Mozambique, especially in the basin of the Zambezi River system. Depending on the level of technology, soil conditions and socio-economic factors, the yield range in the lowland ecosystem is wide (1.4-5 t/ha); however, in general it is higher than in the strictly upland ecosystem.

Constraints: Due to poor drainage, high levels of iron and manganese may occur, often producing iron toxicity symptoms. Iron toxicity has been observed in many West African countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone (Virmani, 1979). Yield losses resulting from toxicity range from 12 to 88 percent. Where non-tolerant lines are grown in such conditions, total crop failure may result. The major physical constraint in this ecosystem is uncontrolled floodwater, which can inundate the crop or produce flash floods capable of carrying away the harvest.

Other constraints include:

Inland swamps

Many fertile, V-shaped valley bottoms or river basins in Africa offer excellent ecosystems for rice cultivation (Andriesse, 1985). Inland swamp rice is very important in West, Central and East Africa. In the Congo, there are large areas of lowland valley swamps in the Congo River basin, in particular in the provinces of Bumba and Kikwit.

Inland basins, river floodplains and inland valleys constitute 93 percent of the wetlands in Africa, with inland basins and inland valleys accounting for 45 and 36 percent, respectively, of the total wetland area (Table 4). The deep-water/floating rice ecosystem (Table 7) is found mainly in West Africa, where it accounts for about 7 percent of the rice area. This ecosystem contributes 92% of the rice-producing area in Chad, 64% in Mali, 50% in Niger, 10% in Guinea, 5-12% in Nigeria and 3% in Côte d’Ivoire. There is also an extensive flat valley of the Niger River in the Mopti region of Mali characterized by inland swamps. Smaller deep-water rice areas are found in Niger and Chad. In Pool Melabo, near Kinshasa, Congo farmers plant rice after the floodwater recedes. Most of rice varieties used in this ecosystem are local and low-yielding; farmers apply little or no inputs and yields range from 1 to 2 t/ha. In Tanzania, the inland valleys (small V-shaped depressions) constitute 8 percent of the rice area (29 000 ha). Zambia has an estimated 150 000 km2 of wetlands, comprising swamps, floodplains and dambos (seasonally waterlogged grassy areas).

Rice areas, yields and production by ecosystem in West Africa, 1980-2000










1 490



1 490

Hydro. inland swamp





Irrigated humid zone










Mangrove swamp











2 631



3 396


2000 (projections)


2 160



2 160

Hydro. inland swamp




1 064

Irrigated humid zone










Mangrove swamp











3 643


4 694

Source: WARDA, 1993.

Constraints in the inland swamps ecosystem are similar to those listed above for the lowland/hydromorphic ecosystem.

Mangrove swamp

Description: Mangrove swamps occur mainly along the West African coast comprising Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, the Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal and Nigeria. They cover a total of 1.2 Mha, 193 000 ha (16%) of which are developed for cultivation (WARDA, 1993). Mangrove swamps are characterized by high levels of salinity as a result of seawater intrusion brought by the ocean tides.

Nearly all mangrove swamps enjoy a salt-free period during the rainy season when freshwater floods wash the land. This salt-free period decreases from more than 6 months to less than 4 months with increasing proximity to the sea. Nevertheless, it is long enough for the rice crop to grow and produce yields of 1 to 2 t/ha.

Constraints: About 84 percent of the potential area is uncultivated; development is expected to be very slow for the following reasons:

It is clear that mangrove swamps are unlikely to make a major impact on rice production in West Africa and Africa in general. Constraints in mangrove swamps include lodging and silting, caused by tidal movements. Adverse soil conditions, especially acidity and salinity, as well as iron, aluminium and manganese toxicity, are also important. Acidity results from the oxidation of sulphur compounds upon empoldering.

In swamps further from the sea, weeds are a major constraint. Crabs are by far the most damaging pests; others include stem borers and rice bugs. Damaging diseases include blast and brown spot.

Irrigated ecosystem

i) Humid zone

Description: The irrigated ecosystem provides the best conditions for rice cultivation as it offers better water control than the other ecosystems. However the importance of the irrigated ecosystem in rice production in Africa is relatively small (11% of the rice area), with the exception of a few countries, such as Egypt (100% of rice area), Madagascar (31%), Niger (100%) and Mauritania (100%). The yield range is the highest among all the ecosystems (3.5-7 t/ha) (WARDA, 1994).

Potentials: The vast wetlands in West and East Africa are yet to be fully developed. In West Africa, the irrigated ecosystem was expected to increase from 231 000 ha (1980-84) to 340 000 ha by 2000 (Table 7). The projection was based largely on the activities of Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire to develop their wetland and irrigated ecosystems.


· Chemical:

- nutrient deficiencies (N, P, S and Zn);
- toxicities (Fe, Mn and Al); and
- acidity.

· Biological:

- weed build-up (build-up of grasses, broadleaves, sedges and wild rice);

- diseases (rice yellow mottle virus, blast, glume discoloration, sheath rot and bacterial leaf blight);

- insects (gall midge, white stem borer and grain bugs) - in Africa, 15 species of insect are considered major pests of rice, classified into four groups: stems borers (causing most of the damage), leaf feeders, grain suckers and stem and leaf suckers;

- pests (birds, rodents and crabs);

- germplasm (poor input responsiveness of local varieties and slow release of improved varieties); and

- health hazards (build-up of vectors of malaria and shistomiasis parasites).

ii) Sahel

Description: The Sahel is the traditional zone from the Sahara to the Guinea savannah. It includes parts of Senegal, the Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Chad.

Constraints: The Sahel ecosystem is essentially an irrigated zone with serious climatic constraints. Extreme temperature conditions occur and varieties unable to withstand large fluctuations in diurnal temperatures are unsuitable. Sand-laden winds also affect photosynthesis by blocking the leaf surfaces. The soils also tend to suffer from salinity and alkanization problems. The cold wind prevents the growing of a second crop during the cold dry season. These dry cold conditions also cause post-harvest losses, as brittle rice grains shatter during milling.


Rice production in Africa is affected by the following constraints:


The strategy focuses on: the formulation of appropriate government policies; increasing rice yield; improving post-harvest technology; improving research and extension; provision of infrastructure; and accessibility to inputs.

Government policies

It is important that governments develop policies which play a positive role in sustainable rice production (Nguyen and Tran, 2002). For example, the recent success of rice production in Viet Nam was possible as a result of the Government’s innovative 1988 policy, through which farmers were given greater incentives to cultivate rice (Le, 1999). Viet Nam went from being a rice-importing to a rice-exporting country in 1989. Rice yield in Viet Nam increased from about 2.5 t/ha in the mid-1980s to over 4 t/ha in 2000 (FAOSTAT, 2001). In contrast, the stagnation of rice yield and production in Madagascar was due to government policy banning the importation of fertilizers. In Nigeria, the government ban on rice imports in 1989 resulted in a rapid increase in rice production. The subsequent relaxation of this ban in recent years has led to hardship on rice producers in the country (Fagade, 2001).

Governments’ agricultural policies should show strong commitment to increasing growth in the sector and increasing contribution to the GDP. Governments must allocate more resources to the agricultural sector and initiate policies to provide solutions to problems associated with: technical constraints; socio-economic constraints; macro-economic policy constraints; and micro-economic constraints, in order to achieve the following objectives:

Increasing rice yield

There are two ways of increasing rice production: area expansion and increased output per unit area, i.e. intensification. The appropriate option depends on the ecosystem, but to increase rice production, a combination of both area expansion and intensification is necessary.

Area expansion

In rainfed upland areas, area expansion is unattractive for the following reasons:

For a sustainable increase in cropping intensity, significant changes in crop management practices are required.

Rice expansion in the lowlands is a more feasible option. Only a mere 10 to 20 percent of inland valleys are currently exploited for an ecosystem that may cover between 20 and 40 Mha in West Africa alone. It should however be noted that expanding lowland rice cultivation is not as easy as clearing a new piece of land in fallow rotation. Lowland area extension requires additional investment and land preparation to fully exploit the environment. Cultural constraints must also be overcome: farmers are reluctant to cultivate lowlands because of the fear of exposure to water-related diseases, such as onchocerciasis, malaria and bilharzias.


Yield improvement per hectare is the second option for increasing rice production. In general, current yield level could be doubled by using the best varieties available together with appropriate crop management techniques.

Improved production technologies

Necessary action should be taken to upgrade the existing level of technologies used by farmers. These should include inter alia the diffusion of improved seeds and fertilizers and the adoption of improved crop husbandry practices, such as appropriate planting densities, disease, pest and weed control and harvesting. These actions will help enhance the intensification process.

Integrated Production and Pest Management (IPPM)

African countries must adopt FAO Integrated Production and Pest Management (IPPM) practices in order to increase rice yields. Pilot IPPM projects were conducted in Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso by FAO in collaboration with the extension services of the ministries of food and agriculture and with technical inputs from national rice scientists and international research scientists and their collaborators from WARDA(West Africa Rice Development Association).

The project results included: the successful building of national and regional capacities among extension services and rice farming communities in IPPM approaches for sustainable rice production; and the development of IPPM capacities in the extension service and among farmers. By adopting IPPM, farmers in Dawhenya, Ghana were able to make savings of US$100/ha on production costs, because they did not purchase pesticides. Higher rice yields were obtained as a result of better crop management practices. Average net return was 32 percent higher in IPPM fields, while pesticide use was reduced by up to 95 percent. At the irrigation site in Asutsuare in Ghana, farmers who adopted IPPM practices obtained rice yields of 5.8 t/ha, compared with the 3 t/ha obtained by farmers who maintained conventional practices.

In Côte d’Ivoire, farmers in irrigated rice perimeters now apply IPPM in their fields. Rice yields have increased from between 4.5 and 5 t/ha without IPPM to approximately 6.0 t/ha with IPPM, representing an increase of between 17 and 25 percent (M’Boob and Youdeowei, 2002).

Improving post-harvest technology

The quality of rice depends on closely interrelated cultural practices and processing methods. Improved cultural practices give better quality; they include the use of homogeneous seeds, harvesting at the right stage of maturity and avoiding threshing on the soil. Hand-threshing on the soil is responsible for the high percentage of stones and foreign matter mixed with the rice. Mechanized threshing and winnowing are preferable. Different types of equipment are available, from the manual threshing machine to the motorized one. This improved technology should substantially reduce manpower requirements.

Improved dehullers (separating dehulling and whitening) should be tested and developed for use in processing. They could be made available to women groups of processors through an adapted credit system supported by extension services. Benefits of the dehullers are increased quality, higher recovery ratios and more by-products for markets. Mini-mills (with a capacity of around 1 t/hour) are being developed in African countries such as Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire; they are adapted to the market requirements and production environment of the region and offer numerous advantages:

Research and development


At national level are the NARSs (National Agricultural Research Systems), for example: ministries of agriculture, science and technology; research institutions (e.g. Crop Research Institutes, Savannah Agricultural Research Institute and Food Research Institute in Ghana); and universities. In each country, research and development of rice is undertaken by the respective NARSs. Regional bodies include: ASARECA(Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa) for East and Central Africa; CORAF (Conférence des Responsables de la Recherche Agronomique en Afrique) for West and Central Africa; and SACCAR (Southern African Coordinating) for Southern Africa. CORAF has a network for rice development. The continental body, FARA (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa), should collaborate with the regional bodies to mobilize funding for rice research and development in Africa.

Rice research in Africa has been spearheaded by International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs), such as WARDAand IRRI (International Rice Research Institute). The IARCs collaborate with the NARSs of the various countries to generate technology to increase rice production within the region by enhancing their ability to achieve success. Assistance to the NARSs has focused on solving production constraints and capacity-building. Collaborative studies between the NARS and some IARCs, such as WARDA, IITA (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture) and IRRI, have yielded useful results in the varietal improvement programmes of all regions in Africa. WARDA is currently the major IARC promoting rice research and development in Africa through its Task Force activities (WARDA, 1998). NARSs also collaborate with ARIs (Advanced Research Institutes), universities in the north and Chinese agricultural missions in rice research and development. Such collaboration has been beneficial in generating improved technologies and it must both continue and be strengthened to facilitate post-graduate training of scientists in new technological advances, including biotechnology.

Research thrust

Production constraints in each of the ecosystems should be identified so that researchers can investigate and overcome them for the benefit of farmers. Research of inland swamps and valley bottoms should be intensified as these environments offer hope for increased production by virtue of their relatively high fertility and high moisture availability. Simple technologies, such as bunding, should be applied in these ecosystems to exploit the potential.

Technology transfer (extension)

Active extension services are key requirements for the dissemination of developed technologies to rice farmers. Therefore, new technologies should be disseminated effectively and rapidly by extension services so that they can be adopted by farmers. Despite the intervention of NGOs and aid agencies, the rate of technology adoption is still low for various reasons: lack of logistic support; inadequate training; unattractive technical packages; poor work ethics; and the very high farmer/extension agent ratio (up to 1 000: 1). It is thus evident that in order to ensure rapid mass adoption of improved technologies, extension services must be made more effective by addressing these constraints.

Provision of infrastructure

In general and especially in sub-Saharan Africa, infrastructural development (rural road networks and small-scale irrigation facilities) is not a high priority at present. Governments must invest more in both infrastructures and processing facilities, providing the private sector with incentives to provide the processing facilities (improved dehullers and mini-mills).

Access to inputs (including labour and land)

Inputs required to increase farm level productivity have been identified to include high-yielding and early-maturing seeds, as well as agrochemicals, such as fertilizers for improved soil fertility, herbicides to control weeds and pesticides to control pests and diseases. Improved marketing channels to make these inputs readily available to farmers at affordable prices should be given high priority. Governments should facilitate private sector provision of inputs, farm machinery and animal traction facilities to farmers. In addition to these farm-level inputs, farmers have to contend with the question of access to land and labour. Land tenure insecurity must be addressed by governments and credit made available to farmers by rural financial institutions. Governments should facilitate the formation of farmer-based organizations to enhance their chances of getting formal credit to acquire the needed inputs.


As a short-term strategy, areas in the most favourable ecosystems must be rapidly expanded: inland valleys, rainfed lowlands/hydromorphic etc. The most promising environment for the expansion of rice cultivation is lowland, especially inland valleys which offer the most robust environment, and where rice has a clear comparative agronomic advantage over other crops. However, rainfed lowland expansion entails the improvement of water-management techniques that reduce risks and provide a clear advantage over the upland ecosystem. Irrigated systems potentially allow for double-cropping, thereby increasing land-use intensity and expanding the annually cropped area. The major challenge for expansion and transformation of lowlands is of an economic and institutional nature. The rehabilitation of abandoned irrigated schemes should be the most efficient way of expanding irrigated cropped area in the short term (Lancon and Erenstein, 2002). Bilateral donor assistance should be sourced for the rehabilitation activities which accompany capacity-building for efficient management of the schemes.


To ensure a long-term strong and sustainable production base, it is necessary to increase rice yield per hectare in all the ecosystems. This would involve the adoption of improved research and extension packages. Efforts should be made to breed varieties to fit the major production ecologies and meet the taste of the consumer. For example, in order to develop an intensive upland rice culture, it is necessary to undertake the following measures:

Improved production technologies (including IPPM)

Both short- and long-term strategies involve the use of improved production technologies (including improved seed varieties, optimum fertilizer rates, weed control measures and disease and pest control) and the adoption of FAO IPPM practices. As a short-term measure, current production technologies recommended by research and extension agents must be used together with FAO IPPM practices. In addition, the recently developed interspecific varieties, such as NERICA (New Rice for Africa) (Jones and Wopereis, 2001), for the rainfed upland ecology, offer the opportunity to increase yields. The use of NERICA by rice farmers is therefore highly recommended for planting.

In the long term, new production technologies (including new high-yielding varieties) developed by research and extension institutions and FAO IPPM practices should be adopted.

Research and extension


There should be intensification of research in the following areas to enhance rice production while preserving the integrity of the environment. Research must address the following areas:


Dissemination of relevant materials and information at national, subregional and regional level should be undertaken through workshops, exchange visits, bulletins and leaflets, and on the Internet. Agriculture extension services, research institutions, farmers’ organizations and rice post-harvest operators have a major role to play in dissemination. Extension services must be strengthened and financially empowered to be able to access the Internet and interact positively with research institutions so as to reproduce relevant information in bulletins and leaflets for farmers and post-harvest operators. The linkage between extension and research must be strengthened. Exchange visits could be arranged by organizations of farmers and of post-harvest operators in consultation with extension services and research institutes. Where such organizations do not exist, they must be established; in countries where such organizations already exist, they must strengthened. FAO, on the invitation of national ministries of agriculture, could play a pivotal role in strengthening such organizations.

Provision of infrastructures

Physical infrastructures should be provided as part of both short- and long-term strategies. Governments must devote more of the AGDP(Agricultural Gross Domestic Product) to the development of infrastructures in rural areas to make rice cultivation more conducive to farmers. These include rural road networks, small-scale irrigation facilities in upland ecosystems, good rice-milling facilities etc. Provision of rural electrification would facilitate this process.

Access to inputs (including land and labour)

This is both a short- and long-term issue. To facilitate access to productivity and enhance inputs (e.g. improved seeds, agrochemicals, hired labour and irrigated fields), governments should make credit available through rural financial institutions at a reasonable cost to farmers. Measures should also be taken to improve security to land tenancy. The question of collateral - which tends to be an impediment to credit - could be tackled through farmer organizations and solidarity groups. Women should not be disadvantaged in this process.

Funding, including support from regional and international agencies

The microfinancing requirements of farmers and other entrepreneurs, such as rice processors and traders, should come from local financial intermediaries, and credit facilities from these institutions should be affordable for the applicants in terms of interest and fees. Governments should facilitate this process with sound fiscal and monetary policies to reduce inflation and attendant interest rates. High investment activities in research and extension, irrigation and the opening-up of new areas (e.g. valley bottoms) need support from bilateral and multilateral institutions. Support must be sought from both regional and international agencies responsible for financial services and research work. Agencies, such as the ADB (Asian Development Bank), AFD (African Fund for Development), World Bank, European Union, USAID (United States Agency for International Development), JICA (Japanese International Cooperation Agency), CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency), DFID (Department for International Development), DANIDA (Danish International Development Agency), UNDP (United Nations Development Fund) and FAO, should be approached for assistance. The African Union and subregional organizations, such as ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and other regional groups, should not be left out. On the research front, National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) must establish a networking of collaborative research through organizations such as CORAF, SACCAR, ASARECAand WARDA.

Regional markets

Regional markets need to be developed, strengthened and promoted. With the exception of Egypt and Morocco (which produce enough to meet local demand and export), most African countries import rice because of low local production levels (FAO, 2000).

In order to make the African region self-sufficient, intraregional trade in rice among subregions and countries should be stimulated so as to reduce, at least in the medium term, the degree of import dependency in the region. It is imperative to emphasize that, in order to promote trade within the region, policy-makers must show strong political will and commitment to the various treaties signed with the aim of integrating their economies and transforming the regions into a cohesive and strong economic block.

Furthermore, at macro-economic level, member countries should review all tariff- and non-tariff-related barriers to trade in food and other products, and negotiate and reform their trade regimes with a view to accelerating the integration of their national markets into a consolidated regional market. At legal level, they should also examine and harmonize phytosanitary and zoosanitary regulations in the light of Codex alimentaris and make them compatible with trade agreements related to agriculture under the World Trade Organization framework (Tshibaka and Klevor, 2002).

The following measures should be taken:

The role of women

Women play an important role in rice production, processing and marketing. In several production systems, women provide most of the labour for rice production. They are often discouraged from growing more than is needed for family subsistence because they are not allowed to control the cash obtained from selling the surplus. Since women frequently lack access to resources, especially credit, they are habitually left out of development projects and extension efforts organized by and for men (WARDA, 1993). Women’s involvement in the processing, distribution and retailing of milled rice must be recognized and it is important to ensure that women have better, cheaper and reliable access to land, credit, agricultural inputs, extension information and other resources. There is a need for improved access to processing technologies to remove drudgery, especially in harvesting.


There are numerous important constraints to the development of a programme to achieve self-sufficiency in rice production in Africa. In order to achieve early success in this direction, the following recommendations are made:

1. Avoid over-reliance on extensive rice farming systems (as opposed to intensive rice cropping) as a means of increasing output. Efforts should be made to raise the national average paddy yield from 1.5 t/ha to about 2.5 t/ha.

2. Gear efforts towards increasing the production technology of the rainfed ecosystem if any meaningful impact is to be felt in terms of rice output, since this ecosystems controls a large percentage of the total rice area in most countries. Efforts include:

- use of NERICAvarieties;
- capacity-building in water control;
- application of improved production technologies (including IPPM); and
- development of a strong research and extension linkage.

3. Intensify research to exploit the inland swamps and the valley bottoms, since they offer better fertility and higher moisture availability than the strict upland ecosystem.

4. Maximize rice output from the irrigated ecology where production can be better controlled than in other ecologies. The cropping intensity of two harvests is therefore imperative, except where rice is sacrificed for another crop of higher market value.

5. Avoid new large-scale conventional schemes, concentrating on small irrigation units in view of the high cost of development and the generally poor record of irrigation management in Africa. Capacity-building of farmers in irrigation management and irrigation agronomy is paramount.

6. In view of the high cost of inputs, provide subsidies to the industry and carry out research to improve the efficient utilization of inputs, such as insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

7. As pest population control (particularly of birds) is a major concern, make efforts to liase with environmental protection agencies to determine acceptable population levels and implement the necessary control measures when appropriate.

8. Invest more in research aimed at generating appropriate technologies to overcome the major constraints to rice production in the various ecosystems.

9. Provide the necessary enabling environments through government agricultural policies with increased resources for the development and expansion of the industry in order to achieve high levels of rice self-sufficiency. Emphasis should be placed on:

- provision of resources for inputs, credits, land, equipment etc.;

- promotion and marketing of agricultural inputs by the private sector;

- provision of favourable fiscal measures for production and harmonization of local production and imports;

- establishment of a decentralized rural credit system and the formation of farmers’ organizations to access credit;

- promotion of a partnership involving the private sector and NGOs in rice processing; and

- harmonization of markets, fiscal and monetary policies to trade (e.g. the implementation of the ECOWAS treaty for free movement of goods and people).

10 The extension services must make additional concerted efforts to assist the seed industry and seed associations in promoting the cultivation of good quality seed of improved rice varieties.

11. In the free market system where local products compete with high quality imports, farmers’ income is determined by the quality of their produce.

Harvesting methods and post-harvest processing must, therefore, be improved by discarding obsolete mills and introducing modern rubber roller mills for high out-turn and a high percentage of milled rice.

12. Focus research on the improvement of grain and cooking qualities (in addition to high yields and pest, disease, drought and cold resistance).

13. Continue collaboration between NARS and IARCs (especially WARDA and IRRI), ARIs, universities of the north and advanced universities in Africa, and the Chinese Agricultural Missions.


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