By Bukar Tijani
Assistant Director General and Regional Representative
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
The past month has been a sad one for Ghana, for the collective world with the passing of the former Secretary General Kofi Annan. As a bastion of hope and a champion of the world, he saw that sustainable development is achievable, and he looks into agriculture as the fertile land where we can start ploughing for the continent’s future. To quote, he once said, “It is time to change the way we think. Farmers are not the cause of Africa's poverty; they are a potential solution.”
Africa’s economies are reliant on foreign exchange to pump prime development from improving education systems to road infrastructure, healthcare services, etc. As the countries try to stem the import bills, it is interesting to note that rice, a staple in many African countries, is still heavily imported.
Data shows that in 2015 alone, African countries imported about 36% of their domestic rice requirements, amounting to over 4 billion US dollars. Projection also forecast that by 2020, the amount would reach 4.8 billion US dollars annually.
Given the huge rice import bill and projection, self-sufficiency in rice production in Africa would save the rice importing countries immense financial resources—an opportunity to channel these savings into socio-economic development.
With the demand for rice consumption in Africa currently increasing at a rapid rate of 5.5% per annum, the only option for countries to be on track on development goals is to achieve self-sufficiency in rice production. This is through sustaining a higher rate of production and productivity along the rice value-chain.
In the prevailing circumstances, self-sufficiency in rice for Africa will be strategic and consequential, not just in terms of meeting consumption requirements locally, but also through its multiplier effects. These include reallocating the much-needed foreign exchange and investing in rice-value chain development, an area that has the potential of creating and expanding employment opportunities for youth and women.
Countries that have successfully increased their rice production point to government leadership in putting in place the right policies, strategies and appropriate and adequate institutional mechanisms. Such mechanisms include national rice platforms that have facilitated enhanced investment and effective coordination of multi-stakeholders in the rice sector. The national platforms have been an important feature of rice policy reform—a portal bringing together wide range of stakeholders including seed producers, farmers and women groups who have received support on business plan development.
The encouraging success achieved in increased rice production of a number of countries is also a proof and demonstration that with effective leadership and political will, as well as concerted efforts of all stakeholders, the twin goals of achieving self-sufficiency in rice production and ending hunger are achievable.
It is important to note that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is the custodian of the Zero Hunger goal of the SDGs. FAO continues to support regional and national efforts on sustainable intensification of rice production along the whole value-chain.
Currently, FAO is consolidating partnerships with regional and global development entities to support the transformation of Africa’s rice sector by boosting productivity, strengthening rice value chains, and supporting improved coordination of regional markets.
The organization works closely with AfricaRice, African Development Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Coalition for African Rice Development and International Rice Research Institute. All in an effort to support the African Union Commission, Regional Economic Communities, and country partners for the benefit of farmers and consumers alike. These partnerships promote and disseminate best practices on rice to other countries, and have contributed immensely to improvements in seeds, post-harvest, irrigation and technology adoption.
However, there is still a need in strengthening partnerships and collaboration among technical and donor partners at the country level, such as enhancing mutual accountabilities for results.
Enhanced leadership and increased investment by African governments in the rice sector would indeed help sustain the momentum towards the attainment of rice self-sufficiency and the creation of gainful employment for the youth and women along the entire rice value chain.
With the huge potential benefits for investments in Africa’s rice sector, the urgency of implementing appropriate strategies to realize the opportunities provided by Africa’s strategic commodities cannot be overemphasized. Against this backdrop, the High Level Ministerial Conference on Rice in Dakar, Senegal last week looked into these issues. The ongoing conference delved into strengthening synergies and effective collaboration between national governments, development partners, the private sector, and producer organizations.
To call into mind once again the words of the late Kofi Annan, farmers are a solution to sustainability. FAO, as a strong partner of farmers, will be on hand to propel Africa’s rice sector to achieve its full potential as a platform for regional agricultural growth and rural transformation.