Tanzania: Plans underway to benefit from lucrative regional rice market
A plate of rice! What could that mean to you? To many it may be one of staple food easily available and simple to cook. But for generation X people born from 1965 to 1980 in rural areas in Tanzania there, it is a different story altogether.
To them rice was more than food when they were growing up. It was so special diet cooked on special day of the week, most probably Sunday. They had to behave so that they would not spoil the day and miss the food.
Things have changed, rice is now being eaten regularly thanks to rapid population growth, increasing per capita consumption and a shifting consumer preference towards premium rice resulting from increased urbanization.
In Tanzania, rice is the second most important food and commercial crop after maize with significant national importance as a source of employment, income, and food security for millions of rural households. The country has a rapidly growing population and a political ambition to sustain rice self-sufficiency, with a margin to export to neighboring countries in the region.
Tanzania is the second largest producer of rice in Eastern and Southern Africa after Madagascar despite low yield levels with average levels of between 1.25 and 2.5 tonnes per hectare, according to the National Rice Development Strategy Phase II (NRDS-II).
The East African nation produced 2.6 million tonnes of rice in 2020/21 against the demand of 1,091,778 tonnes, according to ministry of agriculture statistics.
The government is keen to raise rice productivity and expand production to areas with high potential for rice production to meet growing demands from domestic market and a growing lucrative regional market.
Speaking at a regional workshop organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in Dar es Salaam recently, the Assistant Director of Extension Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, Upendo Mndeme said rice production increased from 1.17 million tonnes in 2011/12 year to 3.0 million tonnes in 2019/20 year.
She said in a presentation that 476,062 tonnes of rice valued at Tshs 837.8 billion were exported to the regional market in 2021 up from 222,145 tonnes valued at Tshs 399.9 billion in 2020.
Ms Mndeme said major rice export destinations are Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, and United Arab Emirates Zambia and Zimbabwe
Other export destinations are Oman, Botswana, Comoros, South Africa, Australia, United Kingdom, Qatar, Senegal, Iran and Tunisia.
She said there were existing opportunities for Tanzania to boost rice production which include a growing population worldwide that create a potential market, available land suitable for rice production under irrigation and rain fed, improved technologies along the value chain, presence of financial institutions willing to finance agricultural activities at single digit interest rate and conducive policies and political will.
Opening the regional workshop the Director of Crops Development in the Ministry of Agriculture, Nyasebwa Chimagu said the government was keen to adopt policy measures that will boost rice production to sustain self sufficiency of the food and commercial crop and meet growing demand of the staple food in the regional market.
He said the government would likewise be keen to tap into knowledge and experience of some Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand which are among the top three rice exporting countries in the world.
“We value experience of some of Asian countries that have succeeded to boost productivity in rice farming through various strategies including rice intensification system,” he said in his opening remarks.
Mr Chimagu who spoke from Dodoma in a teleconference representing Minister for Agriculture, Hussein Bashe, said the government encourages adoption of rice intensification system to boost yields of the food and commercial crop.
He said the new system that is aimed at increasing the yield of rice produced in farming, was important to sustain rice self-sufficiency and contribute to the regional self-sufficiency.
He said rice had recently grown to be an important cash crop outmatching major traditional agricultural exports.
FAO Assistant Director General and Regional Representative for Africa, Abebe Haile-Gabriel said in his opening remarks through a video conference that rice demand in Africa is expected to reach 35 million tonnes in 2025.
“In Africa, rice production doesn’t keep pace with consumption and growing imports is a drain
This year, Africa is importing half of its demand for rice meaning that African countries spend significant amount of foreign currency to import the food crop.
He said some countries within the region have witnessed a significant increase in rice production over the last few years, which is attributed to the political will and commitment of governments to put in the right policies, strategies, and institutional mechanisms to result in such significant progress.
Despite this achievement by some countries, there are still challenges as more than half of the African countries are still net rice importers.
“This represents an economic drain on other sectors of the economy, as significant foreign exchange that could have been allocated to other sectors is needed to foot the rice import bill,” said Haile-Gabriel.
The FAO Country Representative for Tanzania, Dr Nyabenyi Tipo thanked the government for accepting to host the workshop which allowed Tanzania to share its experience with rice policies, institutional framework and technical expertise and learn from other Asian and African countries in efforts to improve the sector.
She said Tanzania produced enough rice to meet her domestic demand but productivity remains low with an average yield of one to three tonnes per hectare.
The primary causes for low productivity include climate change, insufficient application of new technologies, use of low yielding varieties and low level of the private sector involvement in the rice value chain, she noted.
Other causes are insufficient irrigation infrastructure, low level of youth involvement in agriculture and lack of understanding of good agricultural practices among small-scale farmers, she said.