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Africa’s 15 million Hectares of Rice await Yield Improvement, No End in Sight for High Rice Price

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CEM REPORT, AGROFOOD | Nearly 15 million hectares of rice are waiting for yield improvement in Africa said Patricio Grassini, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor of agronomy as reported by ScienceDaily in its research publication released in February 2024. The continent currently battles high price of rice as more than 40% of its consumption needs is imported.

The largest producer of this all-important crop in Africa is Nigeria producing around 8.3 million metric tons; a volume that is less than its consumption needs which leaves a supply gap of about 2 million metric tonnes annually. Close to Nigeria in production volume are Egypt and Madagascar with an output of about 4.8 million and 4.4 million metric tons of rice, respectively.

On a combined scale, Africa is producing 60 percent of rice in the continent annually while the gap of 40 percent is sourced from import mostly from India, Vietnam, Bangladesh and others.

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“Africa’s heavy reliance on imports not only poses a significant threat to food security, but also leaves the continent susceptible to external supply and price shocks, as has happened recently when India imposed bans on rice exports,” said Martin van Ittersum, a professor of agronomy at Wageningen University.

Africa’s rice imports represent about a third of the rice traded on the global market, said Shen Yuan, a professor of agronomy at Huazhong Agricultural University and lead author of the article.

Boosting rice production in Africa, does it really require expanding cultivated area? No, a study has shown. The research, conducted by researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Huazhong Agricultural University, Africa Rice Center, and Wageningen University and Research, shows that Africa need to improve on yield per hectare. The research result said that current average rice yield in Africa is very low in relation to other parts of the world, indicating a substantial opportunity to enhance African rice production.

While rice yield in Nigeria’s as the largest producer of rice in Africa stands at 1.5 tons per hectare, in 2023, each hectare of a rice paddy in Vietnam was estimated to yield around 6 ton per hectare.

Attention is usually turned to developing and planting high yielding variety when talking about improving yield per hectare. However, the study shows that attention on agronomic practices involving improved land development, soil and plant nutrition, weed control and water management, as well as moderate cropland expansion is what is needed to boost yield on the continent.

Investment in the practices outlined in the above can go far in “meeting the future rice demand of 150 million tons by 2050 without increases in current rice exports while reducing the pressure to convert land for rice cultivation,” said Shaobing Peng, a professor of agronomy at Huazhong Agricultural University who also contributed to the study.

Indian Rice Emport Ban and Price Escalation

A recent publication by International Bank says that there is yet no end in sight for the high price regime for Rice as India is not considering lifting ban on export of rice.

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India slapped and implemented an export ban on non-basmati varieties of white rice in July 2023 while also smacking a 20-percent duty on parboiled-rice exports and applied an export-price floor on basmati at $950/metric tonne (mt). These measures, according the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, was taken to provide “adequate availability” of rice for domestic consumption and to “allay the rise in prices in the domestic market”.

Many believe this ban was a pollical manoeuvre by Modi to lower domestic rice prices and thus boost his appeal to voters. However, extreme weather conditions and lack of rainfall brought on by El Niño threatens Asia’s output of 2023-24 crops.

“Many crops, especially those highly dependent on water supply, will be badly affected by El Niño,” Muhamad Shakirin Mispan, an associate professor at Universiti Malaya’s Institute of Biological Sciences, told Bloomberg on October 11, adding that lower outputs from key producers would “significantly impact global rice supply, affecting not only South-East Asia but also reverberating across the world”.

The Government of Thailand, for instance, recently confirmed that paddy output will fall by around 6 percent during the 2023-24 season due to dry weather. The fall in rice production for 2023-24 season in India, Thailand and other Asian producers has ruled out improvements in supply of rice to the global market in the near term, thereby keeping price elevated

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