From one grain to another: The rise of rice in West Africa
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Last month I flew from Europe to green Abidjan via arid Ouagadougou for the Borderless Alliance annual Conference 2015. Through the plane window I could see the most real and convincing evidence of regional disparities and complementarities amongst West African countries. It strengthened my conviction that, if agricultural development and food security are to be achieved in West Africa, the under-tapped potential for regional collaboration and integration has to be unlocked. CAADP/ECOWAP and the rice sector Rapid progress was made on the CAADP (Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme ) process in West Africa since the Maputo declaration in 2003, reflecting a growing recognition that regional coordination is key for boosting Africa’s agricultural sector. ECOWAS (Economic Community Of West African States) is the first region to sign the regional compact in 2009 and also the first region to finalise its Regional Agriculture Investment Plan (RAIP), in 2010. The ECOWAS agricultural policy (ECOWAP), adopted in 2005, has prioritised key agricultural sectors. Rice has been selected as one of the strategic crops. This has led to the launch of a ‘Regional Offensive for the Sustainable Revival of Rice Production in West Africa’ in September 2012. The rice sector has also been put high on national agricultural agendas, and many countries, like Burkina Faso, also have a National Rice Development Strategy. Importance of rice in West Africa Rice is indeed a crop of utmost importance in West Africa. According to ECOWAS Commission and AfricaRice:
- It is widely consumed throughout the region and demand is spurring, reflecting long-terms shifts in dietary patterns. The growth rate of the demand exceeds that of the production in the region, especially in years of poor weather conditions.
- The region remains highly dependent on rice imports, mainly from Asia, with about 46% of consumption imported, at a cost of US$1 billion per year.
- Many rice production systems coexist in West Africa, but most producers in the region are small-scale farmers (predominantly women) growing rice for home consumption under very low productivity systems.
- The average yields for the region do not appear to have significantly changed over the past decade. This is primarily due to the small-scale farmers’ limited access to skills and inputs to improve productivity, reduce post-harvest losses, add value and market their produce.
- There is a high political sensitivity on rice prices, with powerful rice importers influencing policy-making. Pressures for tax exemptions on imports work against domestic production.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of ECDPM