Driving Rice Production in SSA

In 1961, annual milled rice production in Africa south of the Sahara was 2.8 million tons; this number reached an estimated 16.6 million tons in 2011.[1] Despite this increase, however, demand for rice in the region has outpaced local production, leading SSA to import more rice; according to a  journal article in Agriculture and Food Security, the share of imports in SSA’s overall rice consumption reached 43 percent in 2009. This trend has caused policymakers and experts throughout the region to attempt to strengthen the domestic rice sector.

The article examines the drivers of rice production from 2002-2008 in five countries in SSA: Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Mozambique. The study models production performance and production changes among 317 rice-growing households, looking specifically at the role of commercial drivers, improved farm technology, and macro-level conditions (such as states’ agricultural policies). 

In Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Mozambique, the article ranks rice number three of the five most important crops consumed. While the crop is less widely consumed in Malawi (rice and wheat together make up 4 percent of daily caloric intake in the country), consumption has increased since the 1990s in this country as well. Farmers have responded to this growing demand by devoting more planted area to rice. The study found that the mean area in rice among surveyed households increased by 17 percent from 2002 and 2008. However, despite this increased planted area, rice yields declined by 12 percent during the same period (due in part to weather-related shocks), resulting in mean rice production increases of only 2 percent overall.

The authors point out, however, that there was substantial variation in both area planted and actual production volumes between countries and villages. For example, in Nigeria, households planted an average of 2.46 ha with rice in 2008 which produced over 3,143 kg; in the same year in Mozambique, households only planted 0.29 ha with rice and harvested 225 kg. Similarly, both production patterns and harvest patterns over the course of the study period (2002-2008) varied significantly from place to place: in Mozambique, acreages declined but production increased in these years, leading to a 253 percent increase in yields in that country; for Ghana, however, acreage expanded but yields decreased by 67 percent. This suggests that the minimal production increases observed by the survey are due to a mixed pattern of extensification (i.e., expansion of area planted with rice) and intensification (i.e., increases in the productivity of the land already planted).

According to the study, prior to 2002, production was driven by a combination of expansion in planted area, improved market integration, the use of fertilizers and tractor plowing, and overall economic development in the region. From 2002-2008, however, production increases were driven mostly by expanded area and market integration; farmers who sold rice in both 2002 and 2008 saw about 50 percent higher production than farmers who did not sell rice. Similarly, households that withdrew from markets between 2002 and 2008, or that sold less rice in 2008 than they did in 2002, experienced a 56 percent decrease in production.

The study also found that the use of improved farm technology (such as improved crop varieties, fertilizers, and tractor ploughing) did not have as large an impact as market integration from 2002-2008. This could be due to improper or low use of fertilizers or to farmers’ inability to distinguish between improved and traditional crops.

The importance of market integration in increased rice production suggests that policymakers should focus on policies that combat market failures and increase smallholder participation; these could include policies to lower transaction costs, improved rural infrastructure, and improved information-sharing and market transparency. In addition, as land suitable for rice production becomes scarcer, emphasis should be placed on intensifying production on existing farmland rather than on expanding the area planted. These efforts could include improving smallholders’ knowledge about and capacity to effectively use improved farm techniques such as fertilizers and new crop varieties.  

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI


[1]Mohanty, S. 2013. Trends in global rice consumption. Rice Today 12(1):44–45.

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