WEST AFRICA – A report by Ecofin Pro, the Ecofin agency platform dedicated to professionals has highlighted that the West African countries have an abundance of unexploited irrigable land, to significantly increase their rice production and halt imports.

Entitled “More than ever, West Africa must boost its rice production”, the report specifies that the region’s rice market is by far the largest on the continent from a consumption point of view, with nearly 20 million tonnes of rice consumed each year.

Average consumption is around 45-55 kg per year per capita, double the average consumption in sub-Saharan Africa

According to the report, despite the potential, the region imports more than half of its needs for this basic food to meet domestic consumption which is increasing by 3% on average per year due to vigorous population growth and urbanization.

Ecofin Pro underscores that to significantly increase its rice production, the West African nations must manage to apply customs tariffs reconciling the interests of producers and those of consumers, to improve the marketing of local rice and strengthen technical and financial support for small farmers.

The untapped potential

The report indicates that West African countries have many assets to increase their rice production. In the region, the potential for exploitable land is significant, particularly for irrigated rice cultivation.

In Senegal for example, the Senegal River Valley (VFS) has a hydro-agricultural potential estimated at nearly 240,000 hectares with yields varying between 5 and 7 tonnes per hectare compared to 2 tonnes in rainfed areas, according to the data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In Mali, areas suitable for irrigation are estimated at nearly 2.2 million hectares with only 36% of the potential already exploited. Irrigable land is also abundant in several other countries such as Burkina Faso and Guinea.

At the regional level, production reached 14 million tonnes of milled rice during the 2021/2022 rice growing season, or 65% of the total production of sub-Saharan Africa.

This supply is mainly concentrated between Nigeria, Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Although it is progressing in most countries in the region, production still remains insufficient to meet domestic consumption which is growing by 3% on average per year.

The leading producers are, for the most part, also the largest importers and on most markets, national production covers between 30 and 72% of domestic demand. 

It is for this reason that the reduction in rice exports announced in September 2022 by India has aroused many fears in the region where the permanent availability and low price of rice is imperative for food security, stated the report.

Challenges to overcome

Despite these advantages that they have on the different links of the rice value chain, West African countries should still face 3 major challenges which weigh on the business environment and the performance of operators to be able to increase their production.

This first involves the adoption of a customs policy favorable to local producers without penalizing consumers. 

Currently, the Common External Tariff (CET) which came into force in 2015 is set at 10%, a low level compared to that of the East African Community (ECA) where this levy is 75%. 

Some countries such as Senegal Ivory Coast, and Liberia apply the CET, while Nigeria has decided to impose duties of up to 60% in order to reduce its purchases and increase local supply.

The report also recommended that countries in the region should also make investments in the areas of marketing, packaging, and packaging in order to market local rice whose organoleptic qualities are not only appreciated by consumers but also enjoy good competitiveness.

Lastly, governments should strengthen their support for small rice farmers. Although they provide the bulk of the harvests, they still suffer from the lack of credit in the medium and long term, the lack of access to quality seeds and fertilizers, and the weakness of support

Role of public-private participation

Beyond irrigation and questions of rice field productivity, the private sector should be increasingly involved in processing, alongside governments. 

This is the case for example in Nigeria where rice processing factories have flourished in recent years under the initiative of private actors. The latest is that of the Darma Rice Mill company located in Katsina State with a processing capacity of 120 tonnes per day.