Harnessing Ethiopia's Rice Potential Featured

Rice has already become a major staple food in many parts of Ethiopia. This is because of the population growth and urbanization. However, the local rice production does not meet the growing demand due to low yields. As a result, the demand is currently being met by imported rice where in 2018, Ethiopia imported four million quintals of rice worth USD170.69 million. EBR’s Ashenafi Endale spoke with farmers, investors, experts and government officials to shed light on the matter

 

Addis Ahmed, 32, is a farmer who has been cultivating rice since 2005 in his farmland located just 55 kilometres from Bahir Dar and 625 kilometres from Addis Ababa in Fogera woreda, a vast flat land lying by the South Eastern shore of Lake Tana, and by the road from Bahir Dar to Gondar. However, he has not been able to earn much from it. This is despite going to china three years ago in a bid to find technologies that could raise the yield of rice, in which he hardly succeeded. “Until now, my rice production has remained insignificant,” Addis tells EBR.

Despite Addis’ failure, Fogera is one of the seven main areas known for their rice production in Ethiopia. The other areas are Gura Ferda in Southern State, Maitsebry in the state of Tigray, Pawe and Asosa in the state of Benishangul-Gumuz, Chewaka in the state of Oromia and Gode in the state of Somali. Farmers, who migrated from Fogera during the Derg regime, continued to practice rice farming in most of these areas. But neither the small holding farmers nor commercial farmers are able to satisfy the local demand.

In recent years, the demand for rice has increased significantly. Being a source of food by itself, rice flour is also mixed with Teff flour by most households in Ethiopia to make Injera. With an average increase of 50,000tns every year, the demand for rice is estimated to reach six million quintals in 2019/20. On the other hand, local production of rice increased to 1.6 million quintal in 2018/19, up from 1.2 million in 2012/13, according to the information obtained from Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Resources (MoALR).

However,  a significant portion of the demand for rice is satisfied by imported rice. The volume of imported rice increased from 2.3 million quintals in 2008/09 to four million quintals in 2018/19. In the same manner, the amount of foreign currency spent on rice importation rose from USD12.1 million to USD170.7 million in 2016. Ethiopia has a total of 39.35 million hectares of land suitable for rice cultivation. Out of the total, 5.8 million hectares is highly suitable, of which two million hectares each, is located in the states of Benishangul and Oromia, according to Molla Tegegne, the Food Crops case team leader at the at MoALR. Additionally, Ethiopia has 3.8 million hectares of potential land for cultivating rice by using irrigation. Such a potential, however, has not been able to bring the desired results and make the country self-sufficient.

“Rice is currently cultivated on land that fluctuates between 150,000ha and 250,000ha,” argues Dawit Alemu (PhD), an agricultural economist who is also the Deputy Secretary of the National Rice Research and Development Technical Committee. The Committee was formed in 2010 to develop Ethiopia’s strategy on rice production and establish a research centre. 

As of now, the government’s target to commercialize rice production has failed. This is demonstrated by there being only one commercial rice producer that is still operational, Saudi Star. The other, an indian company, left even after taking land in the state of Gambela. Saudi Star is cultivating rice on 6,000ha in Gambela, whose yield is expected to double in the next year. Saudi Star’s initial target was to export large volumes of rice to the Middle East countries. So far, little has been achieved, even though they installed a state of the art processing plant in Bishoftu (Debrezeit). According to the officials, the plant remains idle due to the lack of rice supply. On top of this, new entrants are less interested to engage on large-scale rice cultivation, despite the fact that the history of rice cultivation in Fogera has proven that the crop is a profitable.

Rice was first introduced in Fogera in the early 1980s, farmers expanded the crop to the entire rain-fed lowland areas of Fogera plain, mainly because the crop was adoptable and brought in good income. “It should be noted that rice cultivation expanded in Fogera without major public interventions,” says Kiyoshi Shiratori, the Chief Advisor of Ethio-Rice Project.  “In other few areas, farmers continue growing rice because of the crop’s advantages.”  Ethio-Rice project is a collaborative initiative by the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Dawit is amongst those who argue that cultivating rice has more advantages for Ethiopian farmers than any other crop. “The price and yield is higher, compared to other crops. Plus, rice is cultivated on idle land and its demand is very high,” he says. “Rice yields can reach 60ql per hectare, which is twice of that of Teff.” Currently, the average rice yield in Ethiopia is 30ql per hectare, which is higher than the 18ql average across Africa.”

Yoko Yamazaki, Project Formulation Advisor at JICA Ethiopia Office, which is providing a helping hand to Ethiopia to make the country self-sufficient in rice, agrees with Dawit, but with a different perspective. “Though rice has not been considered as a major food crop in Ethiopia, consumer’s demand has steadily been increasing in recent years,” Yamazaki argues. “This shows that there is a need for the rice value chain development as well as increased domestic production in Ethiopia.”

If the rice is commercialized as per the target of the government, then the growing global demand for rice is also another opportunity for Ethiopia to capitalize on. In the past year,  China was the leading importer of rice worth USD1.6 billion, which constituted 6.5Pct of the USD24.7 billion global rice market in 2018. In terms of continents, Asia was in the lead by consuming 47.2Pct of the global rice produced, while Africa and Europe followed with 25.5Pct and 12.9Pct, respectively.

On the other hand, India was the leading exporter of rice in 2018, generating USD7.4 billion, which constituted 30.1Pct of its total export earnings. India was followed by Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, United States and China.

Experts  stress that for Ethiopia, import substitution must be the priority before capitalizing on the opportunities existing in the global market. However, Dawit says total import substitution is difficult since one country cannot produce all the varieties of rice. “For instance, China exports some of its varieties of rice, but also imports other rice varieties from Japan. Similarly, Ethiopia might be able to completely substitute some varieties locally and even export, but still import other varieties that cannot be cultivated locally.”

The Coalition for African Rice development (CARD), predominantly supported by the Japanese government is set to be one of the main initiatives to substitute importation of rice in Ethiopia. The government drafted the National Rice Research and Development Strategy of Ethiopia in 2010 with the support of CARD after realizing this potential. According to the strategy, the number of rice farmers in Ethiopia stood at 284,868 in 2009 while the area covered by rice was 155,886ha, with 498,332ql of production. The strategy targets increasing the rice production to 3.958 million quintals by close of 2019. Current production estimates show that the actual result is far behind that target.

According to Yamazaki, the key challenges in rice production are; low yields and competition from imported rice, which makes it hard for domestic rice to compete with on quality. “Also part of the challenges are; inadequate market development to link both domestic and international value chains, as well as the lack of skilled human and training resources in all aspects of the rice research and development,” Yamazaki explains.

The National Rice Research and Training Centre (NRRTC) was established in Fogera in 2018, with a fund that was received from Japan, to tackle such challenges.  The EIAR is also working with JICA using the Ethio-Rice platform.  Dawit underlies that the establishment of centres like NRRTC is monumental. “There are close to 60 agricultural research centres in the country, but none of them are working on rice. NRRTC is the first of its kind, including in the East African region, and can change the trend completely. They can be achieve this by actively engaging with the policy makers and farmers in diffusing research outputs.”

Addis says that despite the establishment of this centre, nobody is trying to improve the declining rice productivity in Fogera or the other areas. “The varieties of rice seeds used by the farmers have become weak and need to be replaced. The land is also overused for long periods of time which is depleting its productivity,” Addis adds on.

Rice productivity at Fogera currently declined to 20ql a hectare, from between 40ql to 50ql about ten years ago. “There is nobody to consult on mechanization technologies, which are critical for rice cultivation,” Addis Argues. “Locally cultivated rice fetches a much lower price than imported rice simply because we have no packaging technology.”

Absence of agricultural experts is the other major problem that challenged the government to support farmers, according to Molla. “We have already included rice under the agricultural extension programme. However, it has hardly helped the rice farmers, since the extension workers have no knowledge when it comes to rice.”

The MoALR recently finalized a detailed survey to boost rice production starting from the next fiscal year. In addition, the Ministry included rice on the list of crops under the Agricultural Cluster Commercialization (ACC), along with wheat, Teff, barley, maize, and sesame. Under the ACC, small-scale farmers identified uses for improved input, technologies and mechanization. The production under ACC is also directly linked to industries.

Large-scale rice cultivation with the use of irrigation has also became a part of the government’s new plan under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD). Accordingly, irrigation systems that will help with rice cultivation on 5,000ha, including other crops, is targeted to be built in 2019/20.  To this effect, the Parliament approved ETB11.3 billion budget for the development of irrigation systems just before the 2018/19 fiscal year ended.

“We will provide incentives like land, duty free import of machineries, up to five year tax holiday and facilitating more support if the investor uses irrigation,” says Molla. “We are finalizing preparations to further promote rice, apart from building capacities of existing farmers.”

Dawit argues that such mechanisms have failed in the past. “Commercial farming in Ethiopia has failed miserably. Investors usually come in to the country for the incentives,”

Rather than running after investors, Dawit suggests that the government should support indigenous farmers.  “What Ethiopia needs to do is to adapt the necessary technologies and build the small-holder farmers capacity, instead of wasting money on commercial farming.”


8th Year • Aug.16 - Sep.15 2019 • No. 77




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