Increasing Rice Production in Sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges and Opportunities uri icon


  • Rice is cultivated in four ecosystems of SSA: dryland (38% of the cultivated rice area), rainfed wetland (33%), deepwater and mangrove swamps (9%), and irrigated wetland (20%). Many abiotic stresses (drought, flood, and variable rainfall; extreme temperatures; salinity; acidity/alkalinity and poor soils, soil erosion, and high P fixation) and biotic constraints [weeds, blast, Rice yellow mottle virus (RYMV), and African rice gall midge (AfRGM)] limit rice production on the continent. The changing climate is expected to further aggravate the abiotic constraints and reduce rice yields in all ecosystems. Rice production is also restricted by many technical, management, socioeconomic, health, and policy constraints.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) faces multiple problems. The main one is improving the lives of the 30% of its population that suffers from extreme poverty and food insecurity. As more than 70% of the population lives off farming and related activities, agricultural development will have to play a major role in improving this situation. Fortunately, Africa has an abundant supply of natural resources that can support a huge expansion in food, specifically rice production. Because of strong demand, rice area expansion in SSA is larger than for any other crop. Total milled rice production increased from 2.2 million Mg in 1961 to 9.1 million-Mg in 2004. Rice imports into SSA also increased from 0.5 million Mg of milled rice in 1961 to 6.0 million Mg in 2003 and SSA currently accounts for 25% of global rice imports, at a cost of more than US$1.5 billion per year. Therefore, many African governments accord high priority to developing their local rice sector as an important component of national food security, economic growth, and poverty alleviation. The abundant supply of agroclimatically suitable wetlands (similar to 239 million ha) and water resources can support a large expansion in rice area and productivity. Currently, less than 5% of the potentially suitable wetlands are planted with rice because of various constraints. Expansion and intensification of rice cultivation in SSA will not compete with other crops in terms of land and water resources because, during the rainy season, only rice can be grown on low-lying wetlands, including inland valleys. In addition, the labor-intensive nature of rice cultivation will provide additional sources of work and income to the rural poor, especially women. Should labor shortages become acute, however, appropriate mechanization can be considered. Small farmers want to earn money from rice farming, but lack modern inputs and capital to fully exploit their rice lands as these items are limited or not available. This is where an innovative public-private partnership is desirable to support the intensification of rice farming.
  • The constraints to irrigated wetland rice in the Sahel of SSA are similar to those faced by Asian farmers in the 1960s; therefore, well-tested irrigated rice technologies from Asia and elsewhere are being introduced and adapted to local conditions to obtain fast returns on investment. For rice in irrigated wetlands in the humid and moist savanna zones, rainfed wetlands, and drylands, locally developed NERICA (new rice for Africa) varieties and production technologies are being tested in target environments. The progenies of Oryza glaberrima and O. sativa subspecies indica are better adapted to rainfed and irrigated wetlands, while those of O. glaberrima and O. sativa subspecies japonica are more suited to rainfed drylands. In addition, research is ongoing to tackle SSA-specific problems such as RYMV and AfRGM and to develop efficient crop management technologies. Currently available best management practices (integrated crop management options) for different rice ecosystems are shown in Table XV. Additional support through the provision of technical advice through revamped national R&D services; a supply of good-quality seed and other inputs, including farm credit; and enabling policy are needed for profitable and sustainable intensification of rice cultivation in SSA. It is also critical to organize preventive health measures for farmers against wetland-related diseases (malaria, bilharzia, and so on), protect certain natural wetlands (e.g., with bird sanctuaries), preserve mangrove forests in strategic coastal belts and rich peats in inlands, and use chemical inputs efficiently to minimize pollution and maintain environmental quality while intensifying rice production. Anticipatory research is needed to tackle the impacts of changing climate on rice farming and the environment. Modern information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be exploited to reach out to farmers in remote areas and to deploy technologies effectively. In addition, the development of innovative private-public partnerships and the organization of farmers into user-groups will enhance the training, farmer education, and technology adoption required for intensive commercial rice farming. (c) 2007, Elsevier Inc.

publication date

  • 2007
  • 2007