We often say a hungry man is an angry man. This assertion has never been truer than in 2008, when a poor rice harvest sparked a global food crisis. Hungry masses were in deed mad at their governments for high food prices and regular shortages and took to the streets. Since then some governments have understood even more how crucial it is for their citizens to be able to put food on their tables.
So after Tanzania and Mali, some eight hundred participants from about sixty different countries are attending the third Africa rice congress in Yaoundé, Cameroon between October 21 and 24, 2013. The event is organised for the third time by the AfricaRice Centre, an advocacy and research group pushing for Africa’s self-reliance in rice.
· Africa imports a third of global rice trade
· Africa imports 40-50% of the rice it consumes
· India, Thailand and Vietnam are some of the biggest exporters
· In five years Africa’s production has gone up from 3% to 8.4%
Opening the event, Cameroon’s Scientific Research and Innovation minister, Madame Magdalene Tchuente, said “Africa needs the best existing science to double its rice production by 2018”.
Peter Matlon the American-born Chairman of the AfricaRice Board of Trustees called on rice producers, researchers, marketers, and policy-makers to exploit this platform to share experiences to help Africa produce its own rice and feed the rest of the world.
Better Harvests Higher Demand
Aliou DIAGNE an Impact Assessment Economist at AfricaRice says “Since 2008 Africa's rice production has gone up from 3% to 8.4%” a clear indication that governments in West and East Africa, as well as Egypt are upholding the continent’s production.
The Senegalese born economist however revealed that as harvests have improved, so has demand. “China is currently negotiating with Thailand to import a million tons of rice yearly” he said. This not only means Africa is facing competition but can push on with production, because the market is real.
Dr REN WANG Assistant Director at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, praised the increased production of Africa on new rice varieties, seeds which have been grown in irrigated systems, rain fed conditions, and others in dryer upland farms.
Cameroon’s Rice Report Card
More optimistic forecasts say Africa could become the world’s granary, exporting rice to the rest of the world if the rice sector is well-developed by 2025.
Cameroon is considered as one of the countries with the ability of leading this rice revolution, a potential rice hub. However the sector is still facing huge structural difficulties.
Like most of Africa Cameroon has a rice dream, putting an end to importation by adding four hundred thousand extra tons yearly to its current production figures.
Sali Atanga, Post-Doctoral Fellow, and Rice Researcher at IRAD says “Cameroon currently produces three hundred thousand to four hundred thousand tons of PADY yearly. When hulled production stands at about two hundred thousand tons. Cameroonians consume six hundred thousand tons yearly.”
As I blogged a couple of years ago, during the Agro-Pastoral show, this means current production falls short of demand by four hundred thousand tons. All of this rice is bought from abroad, a frustration for President Paul Biya who promised to put in place policies to reduce rice importation.
Has he been doing his job? So far rice production is driven mainly by the two government agencies SEMRY and UNVDA. Without a speedy involvement of private investors the goal of tripling rice production may remain just a fantasy.
Moreover the sector is afflicted by problems of its own. Sali Atanga says “there is need for seed production to be produced large scale. Farmers do not need new varieties, they just need the existing varieties to be in good supply.”
He added that poor post-harvest practices partly take the blame for the low supply of locally grown rice in supermarkets and local markets. “The Land Tenure policy makes it impossible for small farm holdings to expand production” he added.
Research and Innovation has proven that Cameroon can depend not only on irrigated systems, but also on upland farms to boost production. However industrialisation remains the missing link. For the country to multiply current production by three, government must go beyond small farm holdings by creating the environment that attracts the kind of money that leads to large scale quality rice production. Private investors.
How can a business be proven to be profitable, with an available market yet almost no private investors are grabbing the opportunity? This is the Cameroonian dilemma.