Despite the potential, there was not sufficient support from national governments for the production of domestic rice in the past since it was believed to lack comparative advantage vis-à-vis imported rice, though evidence from empirical studies have repeatedly indicated that rice is competitively produced in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
For instance, on the basis of comparison between the main rice growing ecologies (irrigated, upland and rainfed lowland), rice yields in SSA are often comparable to those in other developing nations.
A survey conducted in irrigated rice farms in three Sahelian countries in 2005 showed that average paddy yield was 3.8 t/ha in Mali, 3.7 t/ha in Niger and 5.8 t/ha in Senegal. These yields are similar to those recorded in major rice exporting countries such as Thailand, India, and Vietnam, respectively at 4.2 t/ha, 5.2 t/ha and 4.2 t/ha. But, the aggregate yield of rice in Africa is low due a much larger share of rainfed rice farming systems in SSA (77%) relative to the rest of the world (45%).
A study conducted by AfricaRice and partners in five countries (Benin, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal) shed further light on the competitiveness of domestic rice production vis-à-vis rice imports and on the improvement in the comparative advantage of rice production systems in SSA.
The study showed that domestic rice production systems are generally competitive for domestic market vis-à-vis imported rice and exhibit positive returns for farmers. It is cheaper to produce a unit of rice than to import it. Rice production in these countries efficiently utilizes scarce domestic resources and its expansion is socially beneficial.