Ensuring Rice self-sufficiency in West Africa by 2025

The SRI system

In April 2015, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Board approved a US$918 million loan to Ghana to support a reform program aimed at faster growth and job creation while protecting social spending.

The same year, Ghana’s import bill on rice was estimated over US$300 million. This translate that the amount on rice import is one-third of the loan facility Ghana had from IMF.

Rice is a primary staple food in West Africa. Member States in the ECOWAS sub-region in April 2018, set an offensive programme aimed at making the region self-sufficient in the production of rice by 2025.

The project aimed at increasing production of the commodity in the region to meet the high consumption needs and reduce imports bill to zero.

Statistics indicates that the overall rice production in West African increased by 24% from 2010 and 2016/17 to 9.9 million tonnes of milled rice as consumption was growing by 35%, faster than expected.

It is estimated that to achieve self-sufficiency of the commodity, the region must have the capacity and the machinery to produce more than 24 million tonnes of milled rice that is projected to be consumed by the set date.

This offensive target became necessary due to the high cost of import bill the sub-region has over the years been incurring from rice imports. In 2017, West Africa spent an estimated US$4.16 billion on rice imports and produced only 54 percent of rice consumed same year.

From 2012 to 2017, Nigeria imported about 17 million tonnes of rice and as at 2017, the country spent over US$ 5 million daily on rice shipment. The BBC reported that duties for imported rice were 60% and consumers had seen the price of a bag of rice double in the past 12 months.

Similarly, Ghana’s importation bills on rice heightened to a whopping US$1.2 billion as at 2015. The figure represents a shocking 800 per cent increase of US$152million in 2007.  Despite over 200 percent increase in local rice production in the last decade, statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture suggests that the gap for rice self-sufficiency remains 50 percent.

Improving rice yields with the tried and tested SRI

Ghana was one of 13 West African countries selected for the piloted survey of the System for Rice Intensification (SRI) from 2014 to 2016 as part of activities of the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP).

During the time frame, adaption of the project to lowland systems were largely successful.

“The study shows that in the areas covered by the surveys, SRI practice produced results much superior to conventional rice production practices, showing increased yields of 54 percent under irrigated systems, 65% in the rainfed lowlands, and 153 percent in the rainfed upland systems.

Similarly, the average income for farmers using SRI was 41 percent higher than for those using conventional practice. The study concluded that the project “has proven that SRI can contribute successfully to improving agricultural productivity in West Africa”, says the survey.

The System for Rice Intensification (SRI) has significant potential to close the rice production gap in West Africa. It was developed in 1983 by the French agriculturist, Henri de Laulanié in Madagascar. Currently, about 50 countries are practicing this system, but yet to be commercialized.

It is an agro-ecological method in rice cultivation where seeds are cultivated in roles instead of the using broadcasting method. The process keeps the soil moist which enhances it with compost and other sources of organic nutrients. The process also requires less seed, less water, less pesticides and chemical fertilizers can bring significantly higher yields.

This method makes the plants become stronger and productive, a method which is tried and tested and can increase yields by more than 50 percent, unlike the conventional rice production practices.

The group behind the survey have asserted that if 100 percent of rice farmers in West Africa had used SRI in 2017, rice self-sufficiency would already have been achieved with a 5 percent surplus. Thus, replacing rice imports with rice grown in the region would have saved US$4.16 billion in foreign exchange for 2017 alone.

When this method was applied in some selected areas in the country, irrigated system yields reached 3.76 hectare (t/ha) under conventional practices, while yields were 6.46 t/ha for SRI. In rainfed lowland systems, conventional practices yielded 2.63 t/ha as compared to 5.3 t/ha for SRI

The SRI is gaining ground across Asia as more and more governments come to rely on it for food security.

Speaking with the Goldstreet Business, president of the Ghana Rice Inter-professional Body (GRIB) Nana Kwabena Agyei Aryeh II said the practice of SRI is labour and capital intensive. He added that it is a system where water management and land preparation are key because it involves planting in roles instead of the.

“Can you imagine planting one-acre roles without a planter, you need at least eight, people to be able to do that in a week. You also need quality seed to do that”, he said.

As Ghana plans to be self-sufficient in rice production by 2025, it is import government focuses greater attention on SRI, as the system is capable of reducing the country’s imports bill on rice.

By Dundas Whigham